Why I've sworn off constant contact and you can, too.
Dear Loved Ones:
As most of you know, I don’t carry a mobile device. The cell phone that my wife uses, and I periodically share, has no texting or internet access. We aren’t on Facebook. We don’t tweet, although we do email and use the internet daily. Most days I bike, run, or bus to work as we have only one car. We don’t have cable. We still have an answering machine that moved one of my friends to leave this message: “The 80’s called, and they want their answering machine back.” Many of you undoubtedly think I (we by association) am stuck in the past, or losing it all together. You make a valid point.
But before I’d be willing to completely cede to your viewpoint, I hereby offer my reasons why I (we) choose to remain in the dark ages of communication and technology. Most who know me well will cite my frugality, difficulty accepting change, and apathy (in learning new technology) as my primary reasons for not keeping up with the rest of the world. You are partially correct. But there are some other reasons, and that is what I hope to explain here. In no random order, here is my list of excuses for why you still have to call me on a landline.
I desperately need clarity of mind, the ability to control frustration, and to sustain attention. As a father of six young kids, a husband of one extraordinary woman, and a pediatric psychologist with too many side callings for my own good, there is nothing more important to my life, and that of my family, than my ability to think as clearly as possible and sustain attention when needed. Especially when I see diapers disintegrating on the floor while trying to answer a math question.
Like everyone, it isn’t about reaching 100% capacity, but more about just trying to run on the most mental cylinders I can.
With all the distractions today, the buzzes, tunes, rings, and dings that signify incoming calls and texts would be too much. It would scatter concentration and even if I could appear focused on the task at-hand, I doubt I’d have the brainpower to really be so. Research suggests humans are generally poor multi-taskers, especially when they think they do it well. Add me to that list. In a day that already has eons of demands, I worry that my efficiency would tank, and my ability to meet my most important requests would follow right behind.
Silence is a commodity I consider the most valuable. One of the best things about riding a bike to and from work is the silence. The roadways may be active, but the only voice or tune is the one ringing in my head. The quiet trip into work is a great way to collect my thoughts for the upcoming day; my ride home is a great way to de-stress, as I prepare for the noisiest moment of all—when the front door opens.
A year ago, I gave a presentation to a local group of youth ministers. Their director recalled the day he received his cell phone and pager at work for the first time, and then mourned the reality that people could (and did) contact him on his way home from work when he used to quietly process his day. Although many people use their transit time (often against safety guidelines) to catch up on calls, I really do need it to catch up on my life, which seems to be sprinting ahead of me.
Mobile devices and Facebook would make me a worse communicator, and thereby a worse friend. Okay, now I hear some of you clicking off this essay and onto C-SPAN. Let me clarify first. Yes, you would have more ways of getting messages to me. But I am convinced (and believe that I am not the only one) that my ability to respond, and respond meaningfully to them would seriously suffer. I know there are times I fail to adequately respond to a phone message or email, or at all. But give me many other ways that I can be reached, and my response rate (and quality) would really drop off. Part of me knows I would enjoy being more aware of all that is going on, but I just don’t have the time or neurons to manage everything. And when I do talk to you, I actually want to have some real time, and capacity, to focus on our conversation and not be distracted by other things (except for one of my kids falling off a chair, of course).