s-STRESS-large300.jpgI know that I would be a happier person if I could keep my online chatter to a minimum, spend a maximum of two hours online, and check my email much like I eat: four or five times a day.


So why don’t I do that?

Because I am using all the will power that I have–and scientists have declared we have a limited amount, like coal–towards better eating, sleeping, and exercising. I keep my caffeine intake to two cups; I don’t drink alcohol; I exercise at least five times a week for an hour or more; I try to eat carbs sparingly, and I stay away from white flour when it’s mixed with pure sugar because I know I’ll be cussing in front of my kids an hour after I eat that stuff.

I am pro-health, pro-mindfulness, pro-holistic living.

Which is why my addiction to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and all the other social networking programs has me puzzled.

I completely agree with Maggie Jackson, the Boston Globe columnist who recently wrote “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Age.” She says, essentially, that all of our cool gadgets are robbing us of intimacy. The technology itself isn’t. But the distraction that the gadgets cause definitely are. Gone is the capacity to concentrate on one person, place, or thing, which she argues are the building blocks of a culture.

My theory of the day is that distraction–all the social buzz that keeps us from focusing on one thing at a time–is desired because it is so much easier than intimacy, which requires focusing on one thing at a time. Moreover, unplugging and uni-tasking demand the same kind of attention that a loving marriage does (and we know the stats on those aren’t pretty). Focus means staying with something or someone through times of confusion and rebellion and rage. It means apologizing when you think you’re right. And setting the table when you’d rather read the paper. Concentration involves staying planted in one garden when rumor has it there is better soil, water, and light at another place. It’s loyal and patient. And selfless. It does not seek to be congratulated or commended or even named.

Ultimately I think the task of unplugging is one of healing, which is why it is so difficult and painful.

Being quiet for a period of time each day (I aim for 15 minutes, but again, anything is better than nothing) is much harder than getting my kids dressed for school, pulling together breakfast, swimming 120 laps, or even writing a chapter of a book. It takes discipline and self-love, two things that I could use more of.

For me, standing still is so much harder than running.

Spiritual author Henri Nouwen writes:

As long as you run from where you are and distract yourself, you cannot fully let yourself be healed. A seed only flourishes by staying in the ground in which it is sown. When you keep digging the seed up to check whether [it has email … kidding] it is growing, it will never bear fruit. Think about yourself as a little seed planted in rich soil. All you have to do is stay there and trust that the soil contains everything you need to grow. This growth takes place even when you do not feel it.

Originally published on Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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2 Responses
  1. Dr. Kevin Keough

    Therese, something has happened. You have written a gem on the central predicament of our age (something like seeing a caterpillar become a butterfly; no you weren’t a caterpillar). It’s extraordinary how close to perfection you are to what is sold as the keys to the Kingdom. You know about fish in and out of water. It’s so easy to maintain an addiction to idols of 2013-Twitter (I refuse just because) Facebook, Linkedin, Gmail, igoogle, Skype or Google + hangouts, and so on and on—————–than to drink, drug, gamble, cheat, smoke, etc. because we inhabit a Culture of Death that casts a spell. The idols must be used (unless one has the ability to live off the grid) to navigate the social and financial worlds.

    Not surprisingly the “gadgets” are viewed much as first generation gadgets like the television. Tv remains as American as apple pie though it happens to be the most dangerous drug on the planet. Imagine how the equation changes when the gadgets of 2013 replace the Tv. If Tv was/is the most dangerous drug on the planet how do we protect ourselves from the sheer number and content and buzz of the “time of Twitter” ? Who needs protection from the things we collude to agree that our gadgets are good and necessary things that require a maybe a little self restraint ?

    You describe a world in which you would be considered daft if you were not so plugged in. Besides you are bringing in some money to support your family. Therese, it is so easy for you (the collective you) to electrocute (distract, intoxicate, impair) yourself with these gadgets because “everybody” does it so it must not be too bad. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to convince people he didn’t exist————–in Twitter et al. Really, how does your addiction differ from heroin or meth addicts ? How are we any less pathetic or intoxicated then the “low life people” ? No difference. We agree to pretend and forget that we are pretending that we will use the most dangerous drugs on the planet by denying there is any danger.

    You needn’t fear the social wrath experienced by alcoholics, drug addicts, etc. because your drug of choice has been declared essential, mandatory, and “so damn cool” that if you aren’t fully engaged you are not part of the elite. Your addiction is ego-syntonic to a considerable degree. And your addiction is rewarded in so many ways. You are the fish in the water. You are a denizen living in a Culture of Death during the most decisive time in history. You are in denial or a trance. You can’t seem to see your kids lose as much mothering to the gadgets as they would if you were shooting heroin. Think about it.

    Therese, you have written an astute and accurate portrayal of the stakes associated with unrestrained use of gadgets. We have better feelings toward our gadgets than most people and resent anyone who interrupts our “buzz”. Yet, we dislike the people pulling at us through the gadgets.

    Love requires a lot of work. Human relationships require lots of time and sacrifice. We needn’t worry that human relationships will become the idols of the age. We are drifting apart. It is an insidious process. We are living in “interesting times” The only way to survive these times is to follow Nouwen’s instructions.

    You are becoming a “novelist (writer)as diagnostician” as Walker Percy self-identified. WP’s Kathleen Parker is a “syndicated columnist as diagnostician” “taking the pulse of the nation twice a week….” Now it appears you are joining the tradition of this extraordinary group of writers.

    Congratulations and welome home. Now get to unplugging with the perfection you have achieved in that long damn list of keys to the kingdom.