How long can you go without checking your cell phone? Do you feel your leg vibrate and reach for your phone – only to find that your phone is actually across the room? Could you go 24 hours without using your mobile device or some other similar form of technology? If you see a beautiful sunset but don’t Instagram it, does it really exist?
Are these challenging questions for you or do they make you shake your head and feel sorry for today’s society? Either way, it is important as both practitioners of social work and followers of Jesus that we are aware of both ends of the technology spectrum. What are the implications of technology on practice, and more importantly, on our own self-care? There are many, both good and bad.
In a blog post I wrote a while back, I shared how mobile apps can impact practice. You are likely reading this blog post digitally and have recently used the Internet to research a social work/practice related topic. Hopefully, you’ve listened to NACSW’s podcasts, read other posts on Shared Grace, participated in a webinar, or taken one of NACSW’s online CEU classes. You might even follow NACSW on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. You get the idea: technology can be a useful tool in your professional life.
On the other end of the spectrum, for some, their technology use can be classified as an addiction – constantly (maybe even sub-consciously) checking their phones for the latest message, tweet, or posting. Many teenagers sleep (cuddle?) with their phone and respond to texts in the middle of the night. Texting while driving, biking, or even walking can be dangerous to everyone’s health. Checking Facebook or other personal media while working and posting inappropriate things about work or clients can be very hazardous to your professional life.
I haven’t even touched the problems that can occur in your personal life if you are checking your phone instead of talking to your children or spouse. If you were to look at my Instagram feed you would observe that I’m often guilty of taking pictures of everything instead of always enjoying the moments at hand. And there are the kids of all ages from infants to teenagers who are constantly glued to a phone or tablet device. I’ve seen kids at the grocery store and at restaurants who play with their iPads the entire time they are there, though I try not to judge.
As with much in our lives, there is a fine balance to be struck. Truly, it is a personal balance that each of us needs to work out with those around us. A group of Jewish Rabbi’s is trying to help regain some of that balance by declaring Digital Sabbaths and Days of Unplugging (March 7-8, 2014). More profit-minded individuals have created digital detox camps, where participants pay a lot of money, give up their technology for a week, and reconnect with themselves.
Mashable.com has this to say about the National Day of Unplugging: “With 66% of people claiming they are addicted to the Internet, the day was designed to get people back to re-connect with family, friends and oneself, away from technology.”
In the same article Mashable notes that, “Caribbean nation St. Vincent and the Grenadines is challenging travelers to leave smartphones, tablets and other gadgets behind as a part of their new digital-detox vacation package, complete with a guidebook explaining how to function on a trip without tech, and a life coach” (http://mashable.com/2012/03/22/national-day-of-unplugging/).
Sometimes we do need to turn off the technology and step away. Yes, I do it occasionally – not always voluntarily. Minnesota is noted for having 10,000 lakes and most of them are amazing. Many of them are also remote enough that they don’t have cell phone reception and make for having a great opportunity to go tech free for a weekend or longer! I personally hope that our state parks will also stop making wifi available for public use in the parks. Not all of us are able to do this – your work might require that you are accessible at specific times, so turn off your devices a different day or even for a few hours. .
Where is the balancing point? How can you find your balance? This is something only you can know and work out with your friends, family, and co-workers. However, I’ll leave you with 5 steps to help you work towards your personal point of balance:
1) Reflect – How much tech do you use? Ask your friends and family if you use it too much. Are there things you could cut out? Times you could get away?
2) Create a plan – creating a plan saves a lot of time. Check your social media accounts at specific times each day. Most days I spend some time in the morning and evening checking blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc and try to avoid doing it in between.
3) Work your plan – plans are useless unless we use them.
4) Evaluate your plan – do you feel better about the time you spend using technology? Is it easy to follow? Most importantly, are you succeeding? What can you change to make it successful?
5) Sabbath – Actually take some time to step away from your device. Do it every week, once a month, you choose, but give it a try. What is appropriate for you? We often see this done around Lent, which can be a good time to start. Do what is most meaningful for you and find a way to use the “free” time.
Bonus: Weed out your lists – you can save a lot of time and mental energy by getting rid of that person you met 3 years ago and with whom you have had only 1 real conversation since. Reducing the number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends will reduce the “noise” in your life and could cut down on the amount of time spent on various sites.
This post was edited from a published article by Nick Cross in NACSW’s October, 2013 issue of Catalyst. Nick Cross, LGSW, is a School Social Worker in Minneapolis and Social Media Consultant. He has been a member of NACSW since 2003 and can be found on Twitter at @mps_crossSSW.