The Joy in Putting Down the Electronics

I grew up in the 80’s, back in the days when MTV was good and big hair ruled supreme. I’m the first born and quite a bit older than my siblings, so there was a good deal of time in my early days where it was just me.

My parents didn’t have much money when I was very young. They had me when they were in their early twenties, but I never really wanted for anything. When I was around three-years old my parents moved to Manhattan, Kansas so that my dad could attend Kansas State University. I saw my parents sacrifice a lot so that they could improve our lives. My mom worked while my dad went to school. We didn’t have fancy things, for sure. Dominos pizza about once a month was a highlight for us. I had few toys and most of the time I didn’t have a bedroom, because my uncle lived with us to help with rent. What I lacked in material things, my parents made up in their time and attention.

Though my mom worked, she was always there for me. She’d come home and always make a simple, healthy meal. I realize now how much love she was showing our family by expending even more energy to give us a home-cooked meal. In our backyard, we had a clothes line and my mom would take a sheet, throw it over the lines, and make me a “playhouse.” I loved playing under it with my CareBears out in the beautiful sunshine. Sometimes on the weekends, she’d make me cookies and surprise me by bringing them out to me in my playhouse. She’d sit in the shade under the sheet and share a snack with me. She, also, always made time to take me to the library and help me pick out books. To this day, I relish reading a good book and I know it was because she laid that foundation. Sometimes in my mind, my mom is still that beautiful, young woman hanging laundry in the sun at our simple house in Manhattan.

Because my mom worked, I was with my dad a lot when he wasn’t in class. No money meant that we spent a lot of time at parks or the free zoo behind my house. Every time my dad took me to the park, I was his focus. We’d make up silly songs together that we still remember to this day. He’d push me on the swings, chase me around, and watched me as I explored the park. Since my parents only had one car, my dad and I would pick up my mom everyday after work. A lot of times, we’d get there a little early and sit and wait for her. Normally, that would be terribly boring, but not with my dad. He’d make up games for us to play on the fly and we’d sing funny songs together. Sometimes I would sit on the window sill of the car and tap out songs on the roof for him to guess. Isn’t it funny how just sitting in the parking lot with my dad holds some of my favorite memories as a kid?

Now days when I take my kids anywhere, I’m surrounded by people buried deep in their phones. It truly hurts my heart. Those seemingly meaningless days of my youth are the days I remember the most because when I was there, my parents were present. My dad played with me and creatively thought up fun ways for us to be together when things weren’t super exciting, like waiting for my mom. Because he was so present, it seared joyful memories into my mind that will always bring a smile to my face. Because my mom pressed through her exhaustion and gave me time, I look back on her as a young mother with immense fondness. She was there, she was present.

Back in November, after the elections, I quit all social media except my Passionate Purpose stuff. I needed to decompress and reset myself. The first couple of days I felt withdrawal symptoms, which really bothered me, because I don’t like being controlled by anything. Then after while, those feelings subsided and I thought of my phone, social media, and the internet less and less. I felt more engaged in my days and with my children. I found I had lots of time to do lots of things. I sat outside just to be outside. I read books and magazines. I was present for my children and I felt more joyful.

Now that I’ve reset myself, I’ve given myself freedom to use social media if I want and, funny enough, my desire for it is gone. Gone. Gone. Gone. I can hardly stomach it anymore. I actually have to force myself to get on and engage with my Passionate Purpose site. I also see things in a different way now. Mostly what I’ve noticed is that, as a people, we are consumed with electronics. Consumed with a capital C. We simply can’t put our phones down. If there is a half a second pause, the phone comes out. If we are waiting for anything, the phone comes out. If we are sitting in our cars with our kids, everyone is on something. We go out to eat and families are zoned out staring into their screens. This is not life, this is not living.

I wrote about my dad and mom because they were parents before the invasion of electronics. How different my childhood would have been if while waiting for my mom, my dad and I just stared at screens. How different my childhood would have been if my mom had just absorbed herself in screen time when she got home from work. How different my life would have been if while at the park, my dad sat on a bench engaging with people who weren’t right in front of him. I shudder to think. Those moments that I hold so dear, wouldn’t be dear anymore. What would my memories be? “Hey, Dad, remember when we used to sit and wait for Mom and stare at our screens? Wasn’t it the best?”

Electronics are robbing us of an authentic life, folks. They are useful tools, but we have allowed them to consume us. In ten, twenty, thirty years how many of us are going to wake up and look around and go, “Oh my gosh, what have I done? All this wasted time in front of a screen.” We can’t get that time back, but we can make sure it doesn’t continue.

Test yourself. Let your phone lie for an hour and see how many times you reach for it like a pack of cigarettes. Evaluate how if there is a second of down time, your mind wanders to your phone. Be honest with yourself. I’m not here to shame, we’ve all been sucked in. This is not the human experience; to be constantly engaged with electronics. Our lives are meant to be lived in the present with those right in front of us. It’s okay to be bored. It’s okay to not be plugged in. It’s okay if people don’t know every detail of our lives. Our lives seem to pass so quickly and that makes sense because we lose minutes, hours, even days lost in shuffling through newsfeeds. Our children, our spouses, our friends, need us to be ever present and we need it to.

I was reading something in a magazine this past week on technology and I think it really sums up all I’m trying to say.

“Technology bestows efficiency and connectivity but rarely contentment, self-knowledge or that rare elusive quality, happiness.” –Gary Shteynagart

Joy will be found when we lay down the electronics and start looking up. We have to be intentional with our online usage. It’s so important to not allow it to be a constant presence in our life, but instead just an added addition, to be used once in a while. Technology, in and of itself, is not bad. The way it has become addictive for nearly the entire population is bad. We aren’t going to find joy sitting behind screens. There is so much out there for us to explore that is beautiful, true, good, and simple. We need to allow the electronics to collect a little dust while we are out living our lives with purpose and intent.

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