Tech Wise Family: 7&8. The Deep End of the (Car) Pool & Naked and Unashamed

7. The Deep End of the (Car) Pool

CAR TIME IS CONVERSATION TIME.

 

8. Naked and Unashamed

SPOUSES HAVE ONE ANOTHER’S PASSWORDS, AND PARENTS HAVE TOTAL ACCESS TO CHILDREN’S DEVICES.

For countless generations, sex was hardly ever easy, and it certainly was not everywhere. It was not easy, above all, because it was intimately connected to the begetting of children, and the arrival of a child is one of the most gloriously complicated events that can befall a human being. As far as possible from being everywhere, sex was meant to be confined to a single lifelong marital relationship, where –as almost any married couple can tell you- sex can be fulfilling and rewarding, but it is by no means always easy.

The easy-everywhereness of sex is dramatically increased by easy-everywhere access to alcohol, cannabis, or other drugs.

The norm, now, is for sex to be everywhere, available to everyone at every stage of life and in every configuration of desire, and to be easy –that is, unencumbered by consequences hang-ups, or commitments.

With sex dissociated so completely from the family, it is perhaps not surprising that family itself, so totally the opposite of easy-everywhere life, is being reconfigured.

Growing up without one’s biological father, specifically, is related to everything from early onset puberty, to early initiation of sexual activity, to vulnerability to sexual advances from nonbiologically related household members like stepfathers and half siblings.

 

The New Normal

Evidence is piling up that the earlier and the more you use porn, the less you are capable of real intimacy with real partners. There is no lasting sexual performance, let alone satisfaction, without the development of wisdom and courage.

All addictions feed on, and are strengthened by, emptiness.

So the best defense against porn, for every member of our family, is a full life. This is why the most important things we will do to prevent porn from taking over our lives and our children’s lives have nothing to do with sex.

A home where wisdom and courage come first; where our central spaces are full of satisfying, demanding opportunities for creativity; where we have regular breaks from technology and opportunities for deep rest and refreshment (where devices “sleep” somewhere other than our bedrooms and where both adults and children experience the satisfaction of learning in thick, embodied ways rather than thin, technological ways); where we’ve learned to manage boredom and where even our car trips are occasions for deep and meaningful conversation -this is the kind of home that can equip all of us with an immune system strong enough to resist pornography’s foolishness.

 

The Naked Truth

All sin begins with separation -hiding from our fellow human beings and our Creator, even if, at first, we simply hide in the “privacy” of our own thoughts, fears, and fantasies.

Martin Luther said, we can’t stop birds from flying over our head, but we can stop them from building a nest in our hair.

People who plunge into addiction can emerge from that shallow madness, retrain and rewire their brains, and rediscover real intimacy.

Tech Wise Family: 5&6. Learning and Working & The Good News about Boredom

5. Learning and Working

WE AIM FOR “NO SCREENS BEFORE DOUBLE DIGITS” AT SCHOOL AND AT HOME

The best and richest experiences of learning, it turns out, are embodied ones. Physically taking notes with a pen or pencil on paper –the act of forming physical letters by hand, with the twists and turns of the letter forms and the accumulating fatigue and need for rest- turns out to aid memorization and learning, even if we never consult the notes again.

All human thought requires embodiment, and without bodies we could not think. We can have a faint idea or hunch in our mind, but it is only when we speak or write it that it becomes clear, not just to others but to ourselves as well.

 

Dangerously Easy

The last thing you need when you are learning, at any age but especially in childhood, is to have things made too easy. Difficulty and resistance, as long as they are age appropriate and not too discouraging, are actually what press our brains and bodies to adapt and learn. We are designed to thrive on complex, embodied tasks that require the engagement of many senses at once.

The biggest problem with most screen-based activities is that they ask too little of us and make the world too simple. When our children could be making candy, they are playing Candy Crush.

 

Difficult and Rewarding

We most often give our children screens not to make their lives easier but to make our lives easier.

The truth is that our children, just like us, will spend far too much of their lives tethered to glowing rectangles. We owe them, at the very minimum, early years of real, embodied, difficult, rewarding learning, the kind that screens cannot provide. And that is why a family that cares about developing wisdom and courage will exert every effort to avoid the thin simplicity of screens in the first years of life.

What applies to children can apply to us adults as well. Our screen based work will be far more productive if we balance it with plunges back into the complex, three-dimensional physical world that reawakens both our brains and our minds, both our bodies and our souls.

 

6. The Good News about Boredom

WE USE SCREENS FOR A PURPOSE, AND WE USE THEM TOGETHER, RATHER THAN USING THEM AIMLESSLY ALONE.

In the history of the human race, boredom is practically brand new –less than three hundred years old. The English word does not appear until the 1850’s. Boredom –for children and for adults- is a perfectly modern condition. I’ve come to the conclusion that the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get.

The problem, as with many short-term solutions, is that solving the immediate problem requires leaving a bigger problem unsolved –and actually makes the bigger problem worse.

 

How Videos Bewitch

The entertainment we serve up to our children, and ourselves, constantly fills the screen with movement as swift as the meteor’s and colors as brilliant as the cardinal’s. It is purposefully edited to never require too much concentration or contemplation; instead, it grabs our attention and constantly stimulates our desire and delight in novelty. But in doing so, it gradually desensitizes us as well.

A world in which The Sopranos can seem innocent is a world ratcheting its way toward being unable to be shocked by anything –which is to say, a world completely full of boredom.

The very analog world is itself charged with beauty and surprise.

And the ones who used to be able to see this ordinary abundance in all its glory, in all its full capacity to delight and transfix our attention, were children. Children were the ones who simply went out to play in the ordinary world, even with no toys at all, because they had something far better than toys: grass and dirt, worms and beetles, trees and fields. The world they played in was rich, substantial, and rewarding of attention: the closer you looked, the more you saw; the more you listened, the more you heard.

Technology does little do develop our abilities to wait, pay attention, contemplate, and explore –all needed to discover the abundance of the ordinary.

The first people people to be bored were the people who did not do manual work, who did not cook their own food, whose lives were served by others. They were also, by the way, the very first people to have lawns.

 

Distraction and Delight

Boredom is actually a crucial warning sign –as important in its own way as physical pain. It’s a sign that our capacity for wonder and delight, contemplation and attention, real play and fruitful work, has been dangerously depleted.

We are not bored, exactly, just as someone eating potato chips is not hungry, exactly. But overconsumption of distraction is just as unsatisfying, and ultimately sickening, as overconsumption of junk food.

They have left me, as the ring left Bilbo, feeling “all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”

 

Screens on Purpose

The problem isn’t with our devices themselves –it’s with the way we use them. We simply have to turn off the easy fixes and make media something we use on purpose and rarely rather than aimlessly and frequently.

So when we do sit down in front of a TV screen, it will be for a specific purpose and with a specific hope, not just of entertainment or distraction but of wonder and exploration.

The good news is that the more often we resist the easy solution, the easier the solution will be to find –because our children (and we ourselves) will start to develop capacities to explore and discover that will make them less prone to be bored in the first place.

When we do put on a video or otherwise fire up a screen for a purpose, we’ll follow another principle: never entertain your children with anything you find unsatisfying, just like you shouldn’t feed your children anything you don’t enjoy eating yourself.

Tech-Wise Family: 3&4. Structuring Time & Waking and Sleeping

3. Structuring Time

WE ARE DESIGNED FOR A RHYTHM OF WORK AND REST. SO ONE HOUR A DAY, ONE DAY A WEEK, AND ONE WEEK A YEAR, WE TURN OFF OUR DEVICES AND WORSHIP, FEAST, PLAY AND REST TOGETHER.

We are supposed to work, and we are supposed to rest.

We are meant to work, but we are also meant to rest. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work –you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns” (Exod. 20:9-10). One day out of seven –and, even more radically, one year out of seven (Exod. 23:10-11) –the people of God, anyone who depended on them or lived among them, and even their livestock were to cease from work and enjoy rest, restoration, and worship.

This pattern is fundamental to human flourishing, and to the flourishing of the whole world that depends on our care, but it has been disrupted and distorted by human greed and sloth. Instead of work and rest, we have ended up with toil and leisure.

 

Toil and Trouble

How likely is it that any of the employees who now work in that building (a building previously used to make artisanal furniture, now houses a group of techies around a startup company) are creating anything that will be seen as a treasure even five years from now, let alone five hundred years from now?

If technology has failed to deliver us from toil, it has done a great deal to replace rest with leisure –at least for those who can afford it.

If toil is fruitless labor, you could think of leisure as fruitless escape from labor. It’s a kind of rest that doesn’t really restore our souls, doesn’t restore our relationships with others or God. And crucially, it is the kind of rest that doesn’t give others the chance to rest. Leisure is purchased from other people who have to work to provide us our experiences of entertainment and rejuvenation.

No amount of leisure can compensate for the sense that your life, whether poorly paid or well paid, is ultimately in vain.

 

Peak Leisure Home

What happens to families when the home becomes a leisure zone? One of the most damaging results, as the philosopher Albert Borgmann has pointed out, is that children never see their parents acting with wisdom and courage in the world of work. Even if the adults’ jobs still require skill and insight, even if those jobs are quite meaningful and rewarding, that work now takes place far from home.

Children no longer see their mothers or fathers doing something challenging, fruitful, admirable, and ultimately enjoyable. Instead, the family’s life together is reduced to mere consumption, purchasing the results of others’ work or toil.

 

Thou Shalt

Honestly, most of us can’t do much to change the nature of our work –or toil. But there is one thing most of us can do –and all of us are meant to do. It is to rediscover rest: real rest, in harmony with one another, our Creator, and all of creation. The biblical word for this kind of rest is Sabbath.

Keeping Sabbath, along with honoring our father and mother, is one of the “thou shalts” –one of the positive things we would have been called to do even if we had never fallen into sin.

A life of abundance, gratitude, rest, and quiet. It will only happen if we choose it, but if we choose it, the experience of our family and many friends has been that God blesses it.

 

One Day a Week – and More

Sabbath was not just a day but an organizing principle. Sabbath will be most powerful and helpful if we let its core pattern of work and rest become the defining pattern of our lives.

Build into every single day an hour, for everyone in the household, free from the promises and demands of our devices. For many of us, this will most naturally be the dinner hour. For families with small children, the better hour may be the hour just before bedtime, where baths and stories and cuddling can happen without digital distraction.

On a Friday before a vacation, I clean out my email inbox, set up a filter that will send every single message straight to an archive, and activate a “vacation message” with the stark subject line, “Unfortunately I will never read your email.”

And it is gloriously true. For two solid weeks, my inbox stays completely empty. (Part of true rest is not having work accumulate relentlessly while you are resting!)

 

The Brightly Lit Cage

We need to be clear: Sabbathless toil is a violation of God’s intention for our lives and our whole economy. Any serious commitment to Sabbath involves doing our best to ensure that the people who serve us are provided wages and benefits that allow for hourly, weekly, and yearly rhythms of rest.

The beautiful, indeed amazing, thing about all discipline is that they serve as both diagnosis and cure for what is missing in our lives. They both help us recognize the exact nature of our disease and, at the very same time, begin to heal us from our disease.

 

Legalism and Work

Something has gone wrong with our disciplines when we become more obsessed with the mechanics and mechanisms of fulfilling them than with the gift they are meant to give.

 

4. Waking and Sleeping

WE WAKE UP BEFORE OUR DEVICES DO, AND THE “GO TO BED” BEFORE WE DO.

Sleep seems, in a strange way, to be where the learning required to be a accomplished human beings actually happens. It is the way our bodies deal with the immense complexity and demands of growth of all kinds –intellectual, physical, emotional, and even spiritual. Heart, mind, soul, and strength all are nurtured while we sleep.

A Jewish day begins in the quietness of dusk, sharing the evening meal as the world settles in to rest, lying down to practice the “quietness and confidence” that Isaiah said was the source of true strength (Isa. 30:15 NLT). And then in the morning (neither anxiously early nor slothfully late) we rise to our work. Rather than resting to recover from a hard day’s work, this way of seeing time suggests that we work out of the abundance of a good night’s rest.

 

Bright Nights

Fatigue and isolation compound our immaturity and susceptibility to temptation –especially for teenagers but also for adults. At their best, social media, like all media, substitute distant relationships for close ones.

The devices we carry to bed to make us feel connected and safe actually prevent us from trusting in the One who knows our needs and who alone can protect us through the dangers and sorrows of any night.

There is something for you to discover in these moments just after waking that you will never know if you rush past it –an almost-forgotten dream, a secret fear, a spark of something creative.

Give your devices one more minute in their “beds”. Practice the grateful breath of someone who slept and awakened, given the gift of one more day. You slept and allowed God to be enough. Now, for at least a moment, wake and be still, letting him be enough for this day. Then you can say good morning to whatever the day brings.