Friday, July 19, 2013

When to Say Yes to Tech

I just read the recent Barna report on what tempts us, where 44% of Americans confess a new temptation of "Spending too much time on media." It reminded me of some of things I wrote in The Time for Yes. So I'm posting them, and I'd love to know your responses.

I begin with a quote from Mother Teresa, "God speaks in the silence of the heart," and offer this guideline: When we disconnect from tech, we can reconnect with God and listen for God's deep yeses for us. 
1.        Realize that technology can obscure the view of the stars. By this I meant, alongside the 17th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, that we lose track of what’s around us in the natural world. When we have too much to distract us, we easily lose track of the awe and wonder of the natural world, where we are often ready to hear the Author and Creator of nature.

2.        Recognize that ours is an age of distraction. Since Say Yes to No came out, there have been numerous studies that indicate when we are wired to respond to immediate stimulus, it even gives us an extra shot of that neurotransmitter of happiness (and specifically interest), dopamine. The problem is that, if we’re checking our email while we’re on the phone with our sister, and if we’re texting while we’re watching a DVD, we’re conditioning our brains never to concentrate on any one thing for very long. But to hear that deeper Voice, we need to be able to focus and not seek distraction.

3.        Use the power of no to restrict technology’s reach. This one builds on the last. It’s ok to say no to those devices that distract us. One study done at University of London found that constant emailing and text messaging reduce mental capacity by an average of ten points on an IQ test. The effect of all this distraction is essentially equivalent to smoking a doobie, i.e., a marijuana cigarette. (Actually this is worse news for men than women; guys lose 15 IQ points, women 5.) Our “smart phones,” it seems, can make us dumb.

4.        Turn off the TV—or Hulu, or Netflix on your laptop—most of the time. Our TVs are on too much, and they suck away our time. As Csikszentmihalyi discovered, watching TV rarely puts us in “optimal experience.” And my contention and experience are that it’s in flow –that sweet spot between too many yeses and too many nos—that we hear God’s yeses for us.

5.        Do things you love to do. And so we come to the point to say yes to what we love to do. Is that scrapbooking? Is it playing the violin? Is it reading Karl Barth’s theology, while sipping Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo, with nice Chico sunlight coming through the windows of your living room? (Was that too self-disclosive?) Those are the places where we “come to ourselves” and there we become quiet.

6.        Center on the Center. When we do what we love, we find ourselves at a deep Center where we can encounter God in our lives. At the Center, we hear a tailor-made yes. I know no better description than Psalm 63: “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” That’s where I want to be.

7.        Open the gift of solitude. It’s going to be hard to listen to God’s voice if there are always other voices around. And we live in a talky, noisy world. Not that other people are bad, but I’m afraid that we haven’t learned to take in the way that being alone can be entirely renewing.

8.        Begin each day by listening. That’s key to this chapter. If we start each day, going away from the insistent demands of the day, toward the deepest values we hold dear, that will make a difference. If Mother Theresa is right and listening begins prayer; we also ought to begin our day listening.

9.        Learn to “let it be.” So much of finding the yes is not forcing yes, but letting God lead what we’re doing. Grace in the New Testament means, at its root, “gift.” In other words, it’s something we receive, not produce. And I know most of the best things in life have come to me. Moreover, we are created to respond to a Yes that comes from beyond us, and yet resonates within. When we lay down our desire to control and micromanage our lives, in that place, we can begin to listen.

10.     Groove with the spirituality of samba. Chapters 12-18 are on grooving with the right rhythm of life. For a model, I love the mesmerizing Brazilian samba, which for me perfectly symbolizes what it means to groove with the right rhythms. It’s not all notes (yeses). It’s not all spaces (nos). It’s a human rhythm of yeses and nos.

Are there two or three of these guidelines you need to start practicing right now? Create a table with one column marked “One Step to Hearing Yes” and a second “How I Will Take this Step.” (For example, “I will begin by quieting myself.” In the next column: “I will take five minutes three times a week in my living room without any distractions to be silent.”)
Commit yourself to this practice, and do it for 40 days. (That’s biblical and remarkably close to what scientists have learned is the time we need to form a habit. Once we form a habit, the hard work has been done.) Say yes to it. And be sure you tell someone who will ask you in a week or two about whether you’re doing it.
Getting ready to hear God's Yes?