Creating Guidelines For Technology & Social Media (Before They Start to Sink You)

0946-business-1100021818-10182013 - CopyThere is more technology in your smart phone than there was in the first Apollo spacecraft that went to the moon.

I read that somewhere. And it makes sense to me.

As Richard Lischer writes, “Technology is the new symbol of power.”

Technology is all around us. Computers and concord jets, CT scans and smart phones. In 2011, a UN report said that there were 6 billion cell phone subscribers globally.

And we get promised things:

Exactly 50 years ago a senate subcommittee said that the future for Americans was bright: Technology would allow for a 22 hour work week and retirements at age 38.

Um, didn’t quite happen.

What does this tell us? It means that technology holds great promise.

But it can either help you… or hinder you.

There are so many benefits. I think of some of the technologies that help with my family’s health, or that ensure I don’t have to wash all the dishes with my hands!

But that’s not really what I’m talking about here. Here I’m more thinking of screen time. Phones, video games, TV, laptops, that sort of thing.

I’m concerned for myself. And also for my kids.

I’m concerned for you too.

Too much screen time can delay brain development in young kids. Some studies have shown increased aggression in children who see violent imagery on TV, the internet or video games. Plus, it seems fewer families are eating together—TV is the controller of the dinner hour.

And some young people and adults are becoming more anxious as a result. As I’ve written elsewhere there’s even disconnect anxiety: “feelings of disorientation and nervousness when we are deprived of Internet or wireless access for a period of time.”

I’m not sure about Canadian stats, but in the U.S., by the time a boy is 18 he’s seen about one million images of sex and violence on a screen. That’s right: I said one million.

The idea with this blog is to help me, you and us create guidelines around technology and social media.

So that we can be here and be now. Present in this day. Helped by technology and not harmed by it.

Yes, it can help. It can be fun. Who doesn’t like checking in with Facebook to see what people are up to or downloading the latest episode of Downton Abbey to relax?

But the key is mindfulness.

It’s easy to be too accessible or too plugged in. Personally I find that I have to set some guidelines or else I’ll miss the rest I need, wallow in distraction, and be otherwise aloof from the tangible needs (and joys!) around me.

1. Be Aware

That’s the first thing. Just be aware that the technologies in your life can be helpful, or harmful. It’s one thing to think you have a Garter Snake in the house, but another if it turns out to be a Rattler.

2. Have Tech-Free Times

Set certain times when there’s no technology happening. No screens or distractions. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to connect with someone without your pocket beeping or vibrating. Or maybe when you go for a walk or to the grocery store, leave your phone at home.

3. Have Tech-Free Zones

Or maybe it’s a space, like a bedroom or family recreation area. I truly feel that a home can and should be a sanctuary—but not if you have no walls of protection. A lot needed to happen before the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. But it seems nowadays that we often have a widen-open-to-whoever policy. Make a refuge.

4. Be Unavailable

There are certain times when you just need to be with your family, friends or resting. Face time. Down time. When I’m away I set vacation responses on my email or phone. Why not? It teaches people that you’re doing what’s important, vital, and life-giving.

5. Take on a “Virtual Ethic”

Augustine, Aquinas and C.S. Lewis all talked about “virtue ethics,” meaning cultivating virtue and moral character. I’ve added a bit of a twist by changing “virtue” to “virtual”—bringing virtue to how we act in the “virtual” world. Here’s why:

One of the most colossal epidemics in our time is the barrage of violence and pornography streaming into people’s homes and phones. It’s easy to access (and just as easy to make excuses). “It’s harmless.” Author Joe Dallas calls pornography “dark magic,” a kind of drug that withdraws you from the world that is real.

So establish zero tolerance. A stream of violence and pornography kills your brain, relationships and capacity to live. When the heart becomes polluted, nothing remains unaffected.

6. Be Active

We all need activity. I’ve found that out especially for myself. When I was young it just naturally happened with sports, track and field, the list goes on.

Now I have to create time to exercise. But with so many screens around, you can stimulate the mind and not have proper physical release. So get out there! It’s good for adults, and definitely for kids.

Oh, and those are often the memories and moments upon which lifetimes and legacies are built.

Wrap Up

I really think we’re in a new time. In Canada, 80% of Ontarians are now online; the fastest growing group of internet users is seniors; for those under 50, internet use is taking over TV watching; and over 14 million Canadians use Facebook every day.

So be aware. Have tech-free times. Or tech-free zones. Be unavailable. Take on a “virtual ethic.” And be active.

To paraphrase someone I know, “Technology was made for man, not man for technology.”


  1. Great blog Matt 🙂

    I don’t know about Ontario but in Vancouver we have a pub owner who has a breakdown in conversations in his pub. So he initiated the lockbox. Each table is fixed with a clear lockbox. If you’re table is up for the “game” you ask the waitress to unlock it and everyone places their phones in the box – it is then locked until you pay the bill. Should someone “need” to unlock it to check their phone, they pick up the tab.

    What I find interesting is the technology that has allowed us to maintain long distance friendships is what’s preventing us from having real community with the people around us.


    1. Hey Curtis, thanks for sharing this. I love that idea! Yes, technology can help with many things, but it also threatens us with an aloofness which can withdraw us from the hear and now — the “real community” you speak of. I hope you are well and thanks for the thoughts!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s