How to… Keep Technology from Consuming You

2-11-13 Abraham LincolnWhat can we learn about instant messaging from Abraham Lincoln?

Even though Abraham Lincoln had no precedent for how to use it, he brilliantly integrated the new electronic communication of the day to help save our country. He did this by using the telegraph system to stay in touch with his generals in the field during the Civil War, and was the first president to use this quick, long-range communication method in this way.

Lincoln seemed almost obsessed with this tool at times, much like we are today with instant messaging, emailing and texting. That’s not to say that he used the telegraph as his only mode of communication, but he certainly grasped the importance of using it to help him in his job as Commander in Chief.

“Lincoln had done more than simply counsel on strategy; he used the telegraph to take command… The president telegraphed direct orders to generals in the field, moving men around as though on a chessboard… The wire became a way for the president to stay informed and assert himself… [The telegraph was] the tool Lincoln used for reinforcing his resolve and making sure that neither distance nor intermediaries diffused his leadership.” (Tom Wheeler, author of Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails)

What does Abraham Lincoln’s use of the telegraph have to do with our prolific use of technology today?2-11-13 Telegraph

Not only does Lincoln’s use of the telegraph reveal another element of his timeless leadership genius, but it also reveals to us how the technology of the day – whatever that might be – can draw a person in and seemingly shut out the rest of the world.

In other words, technology can make us closer and further away at the same time.

“Lincoln hardly left his seat in [the telegraph] office and waited with deep anxiety for each succeeding dispatch… The president consumed the electronically delivered updates… No longer was Lincoln content to sit idly by and await information, he was actively in communication with the front.” (Tom Wheeler, author of Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails)

While we can understand why Lincoln obsessed over these messages during this pivotal time in our nation’s history, we can also understand how doing so likely affected the other areas of his life. The correlation between T-Mail and E-Mail might not be perfect, but it does help to understand that technology always has had and always will have the potential for consuming us.

So how do we keep technology from consuming us?

2-11-13 Email

If we had the time, we could discuss how Lincoln took frequent carriage rides with his wife, how he loved interacting with his son even while working, and how he often corresponded in detail by hand-written letter. Doing so would help us see that while technology at times consumed him, he also knew the importance of face-to-face and more detailed interaction.

With the idea that technology in any form can easily steal our attention from the people we love, let’s look at ways to keep it from consuming us.

  1. Leave it. Don’t take your cell phone or tablet with you to church or out to dinner with friends. Make leaving it a regular habit to help reduce its pacifier hold.
  2. Turn it off. When reading or playing family games, during dinner, and when friends are visiting turn off technology and focus face-to-face. At the very least, turn off the sound.
  3. Avoid it at dinnertime. Make this a daily habit. Don’t let technology consume this important touch point.
  4. Have tech-free family time. Play cards or a board game. Have a family reading time. Exercise together. Make technology off limit for everyone during these times.
  5. Have tech-filled family time. Technology is not evil. In fact, it has tremendous value, especially when used to build relationships. Have a family Wii night or play electronic Scrabble together. Spend time together in technology.
  6. Let technology help you. I’m a huge proponent of keeping a personal calendar and making lists. My tablet is an indispensible tool in these habits that are crucial to my sanity and thus to the function of my family. Not only that, but staying connected as a family, especially with a husband who travels a lot for work, is made a lot easier through technology.

When Lincoln went home, he did not have the telegraph with him since telegraph wires were not yet run to the White House. We don’t have that built-in off switch. We have to choose to use technology rather than let it consume us.

DISCUSSION: How do you keep technology from consuming you?

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Be determined. Pursue simplicity. Find balance. Be curious. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Age gracefully. Make the most of every opportunity.


February 11, 2013 at 11:31 am

Funny story. One day at a Maundy Thursday service I was helping a fellow pastor prepare to serve communion. At that time my late husband was ill at home and I had the cell in my pocket. I had forgotten to SILENCE it! and yes, it went off at the communion table! thankfully with the music only a few people heard it, but the fellow pastor and I have laughed about it many times since.
I never thought I would be so into technology. People like you Kari are in my life because of it. I am grateful. And I am writing this in the semi and have been catching up from the weekend at home when email is not a priority! Been doing it for a couple hours already while we drive around Chicago. When we are home I don't worry about email unless I have something personal that needs attention.

    February 11, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Managing technology is high individualized. BUT, we do all need to manage it, or it will consume and manage us. Just being aware of how we use it and how it can potentially disrupt life is often enough to keep it at bay. Technology can be a great tool for connecting, but it can't ever replace real, face-to-face interaction. Your funny story actually represents an important truth in this concept… We can't make assumptions aboiut others and their use of technology. We just don't always know the context well enough. Just some additional thoughts.

Mark Allman
February 11, 2013 at 11:50 am

I would have to say this is something I do not do well. I need to consider your suggestions and make solid plans to do some of them.

    February 11, 2013 at 11:55 am

    You're not alone, Mark. Not alone in letting it consume you, and not alone in your struggle to find balance. Admitting something is a problem is the first step to struggling with it. Struggling means you're not giving in! Let me know if I can help. You bring tremendous value to this corner of technology. Don't forget the value you bring as you consider your plans. Yet, I realize that other priorities trump this too.

February 11, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I never knew that about Lincoln. That's pretty fascinating.
I've seen how being plugged in to technology can be such a distraction during family time, so I just stay physically away from the computer. I have my phone but I don't take it out.
I really appreciate your comments on the benefits of technology. I think so often people throw the baby out with the bathwater and demonize Email or gadgets instead of realizing the great things that they bring us.

    February 11, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Lincoln's life gets more fascinating the more you get into the details. The recent movie about him was a good start into some new aspects of both him and the time period, so I was personally glad that his assassination got little attention. I read a book called "Lincoln's Melancholy," which I found to be so interesting to see into his thought processes a bit. Very inspiring for those of us with similar personalities too. There are some other aspects about him that I will be working into future blog posts. I'm just fascinated with his life and how his mind worked. Just like the LOVE of money and not money itself is the root of all evil, so too is the OBSESSION with technology and letting it consume us that is evil and not the technology itself. I mean, books can be evil too if we allow them to take us away from connecting with our families. It's the value and the priority we assign and not the object itself that causes the problem.

February 11, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Awesome points… I can see the attraction and distraction of tech on my sons and their families. Funny my oldest does as you suggest. In fact he is hard to reach at nights after he comes from work. My other son and his family are almost always connected with their IPads, laptops and smart phones. Even their kids ages 2-9 walk around with the cell phones and laptops. I would hate to see their reaction of their tech got cut off.

    February 11, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Definitely tough on a parent in this tech age with kids who have known nothing but tech. We are quite strict on our kids by limiting their use of their tech, but it takes quite a lot of diligence. Yet, we know it's worth it when we see our boys have good attention spans, still play with Legos, and actually enjoy hanging out as a family. Not saying other kids don't, but I do notice a difference. Our kids like tech too, but we are determined to not let it consime them whikle we have any control. So very tough in this culture of technology & busyness though. I also am very aware that it's not even always a technology issu and that the problem is sometimes much deeper and complicated.

February 11, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Excellent observations. I agree with your comments and glad to hear how you are handling your family. I remember choosing to leave the corporate world years ago because of the constant connection with growing technology usage. I never felt free from contact. Thanks again for the insight.

    February 12, 2013 at 7:10 am

    My husband has struggled some to disconnect from work, but we are managing it pretty well as a team. He needs me to gently remind him once in a while; otherwise, he could work non-stop. He has farmboy tendancies, if that makes sense. Anyway, at whatever level, it does take purposeful diligence.

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