Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Technology and the Christian - Part 4

(For context, please refer to previous postings. Part 1 here; Part 3 here)

In the last several articles we have discussed the fact that the distractions and multi-tasking that come from the way we use our technology can lead to a mind that is unable to focus and take in the important things in life.
In today's article I'm going to provide some suggestions as to how to retake control and rewire your brain back to a less distracted state. It can be done, but it is difficult. It must be something you really want to do. The following are suggestions, not rules. Depending on your situation, you may find some more helpful than others.

  1. Discipline yourself to check email at set times in the day—perhaps first thing in the morning, once in the middle of the day and then again once in the evening. This of course is not referring to email you need to be attending to as part of your job. But even then, when work is over, do not refer to work email at all. This same suggestion applies to your Facebook and Twitter access as well. Schedule times and don't look at it in between.
  1. Learn to disregard email or message alerts until the appointed time. If you are reading an online newspaper and the email icon shows up, don’t interrupt your reading to check on the email. Teach yourself to avoid the urge to switch gears. Remember, you are trying to program your brain to focus for longer stretches of time, not shorter ones. This will seem difficult and you will ask yourself why you should wait. The answer is that it is good for your brain. Even in my work setting, I learned that I did much better if I forced myself to finish one task before breaking to check email.
  1. When you are working on tasks that don't involve the computer, don't just leave your computer up and logged in to email, Facebook or other social media. Your temptation to check it out will be strong every time you walk by your computer.
  1. Read a good book or serious magazine articles. Force yourself to attend to it for a long stretch of time, 30 minutes or more, without looking at your phone and without trying to watch TV at the same time. If you can't read for that long of a time, start with a shorter time and then build up your endurance and concentration.
  1. Resist the urge to look at your phone every time you sense a message has come in. Don't resort to your phone every time you think of a question – What temperature is it? Why is the deer population so high? What year was the first Chevy Impala produced? You don't have to know the answer to every question just because it crossed your mind. Reaching for your phone every five minutes is an addictive behavior. Take control and resist the urge, no matter how much it hurts.
  1. Make it a matter of specific prayer, asking God to enable you to extend your ability to focus and pay attention. But at the same time take the needed steps to break bad habits.
  1. Be faithful in having a daily time in prayer and in the word. Force this to be an undistracted time. Make it a priority ahead of email and Facebook.
  1. If you are a parent, let me encourage you to help your children adopt better technology practices in order to avoid the issues discussed here. Apply the above list of suggestions to your children. In addition, research shows that teens need 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Many teens keep their cell phones nearby during sleep and even if they don't respond to it, the sensation of alerting them to an incoming message disrupts the deep sleep necessary for properly wiring the mind and sorting out learning from the previous day. I would keep all technology out of children and teens bedrooms.
  1. Reduce the time your children spend with technology. In spite of what they say, they will not die if they can't be in constant contact with their friends.
  1. Lengthening a child's attention span begins long before they begin to use technology. Reduce the number of inputs your small children are subject to. If they have 50 toys to pick from for play time, the choices involved create conflicts in their decision-making. Reduce the choices and encourage them to finish playing with one category of toys before switching to another. Switching gears frequently and having too many choices all the time contributes to a low attention span and trains the brain to be distracted.
Part 5 available once it's been published here.

PDF Version of the Complete Series

Bauerlein, Mark. The Dumbest Generation. New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2008.

Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.

Challies, Tim. The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Jackson, Maggie. Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2008.

A CNN web article, “Does Life Online give you ‘Popcorn Brain’” about the changes in the brain caused by constant multi-tasking.

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