Mobile ExCommunication: Keeping Tech in Check

“Freedom is thus not the opposite to determinism. Freedom is the individual’s capacity to know that he is the determined one, to pause between stimulus and response and thus to throw his weight, however slight it may be, on the side of one particular response among several possible ones.”
~Rollo May, Psychology and the Human Dilemma (p. 175)
     Mobile technology is nearly ubiquitous and has advanced our ability to access information, people, and ideas in amazing ways. Television, gaming consoles, phones, tablets, e-readers, and even digital paper have transformed the way we connect with one another. Friends are no longer constrained by distance or mobility. Scientific ideas, education, medical advancements, politics, and the majority of the human race is advancing at an unprecedented rate. Tech is no longer an optional luxury, but an integral part of daily life.
     Yet, most family therapists could attest to the increasing frequency of complaints parents and spouses have regarding the feeling of having to compete for attention with electronics. Even though tech has proffered new and easily accessible ways to connect, it seems the art of genuine connection is being threatened.
     Here are a few ways families and individuals can help put technology in its place and foster better offline relationships. We’re going to channel the great chef, Emeril Lagasse, and remember these helpful guidelines with the acronym BAM! Now, let’s take it up a notch!

Boundaries: Does My Tech Have a Place?
     The first step for integrating technology in a healthy way with your family and by establishing healthy boundaries. It is not uncommon to establish boundaries on time/length on television or game-play, but this can be more difficult with phones. They are so easy to access! The phrase “real quick” is the most frequent lie we tell ourselves and others about “just checking” electronics. That is why it is so crucial to establish and agree on boundaries as a family. If the family is not in agreement prior to establishing these expectations, it will become a source of contention rather than an increase in cohesion. There are three areas I encourage people to focus on:

  1. Amount: 
    • Money: The amount of money someone can spend on a device, how they get that money, and how it works into a budget can be a fantastic opportunity to build trust and teach budgeting skills. Dave Ramsey has some great tools to help children learn how to manage money! There are several tools online for this, but this is what I have used.
    • Devices: Confession time! I have three tablets at home that I haven’t meaningfully used in a year. THREE. I even have an extra smart-watch! Older devices can be re-purposed in all kinds of creative ways (children’s tablets, picture frames, security system, etc), sold online, given to friends, used for shooting practice, whatever! The issue is, do we need this stuff to stick around or is it just junking up our life? Prior to getting something new, what are the rules about managing the old? With my wife’s purses, there is a rule: No new purses until you get rid of one old purse. This may sound cruel, but it was born of necessity (love you honey!).
  2. Access: 
    • Length of time: How much time, per day, can we spend on a devices? Does this include time spent for work or school? Does listening to music while exercising count? Be specific!
    • Times of day: Rather than specific times of day, I have found it can be very helpful to identify general times when electronics should not interfere with family. An hour before bedtime, during meals, and after 9:00 at night. This helps people be more intentional about when they’re on their phone and more aware of what is going on at home. 
    • Physical restrictions: Is there a centralized place in the home for electronics? Do they have a house that’s not your pocket? In addition, do electronics go into bedrooms? I would discourage this for EVERYONE. You can use an alarm clock that’s not your phone. Want your children to sleep better? Want to connect with your spouse more? Leave the phones, TV’s, gaming consoles, tablets, iPod’s, laptops, smartwatches, VR units, and whatever else out of the bedroom. 
    • Electronic Restrictions: Security is important and there can be sensitive information on cellphones. However, if there have been breaches of trust in relationship, security may not be an option for you. Discuss this with your spouse or children if it’s necessary for work. Be willing to show what you can, when asked, with a positive attitude. In addition, is there a time of day when the Wi-Fi can be turned off? Do we really need to be connected 24/7?
  3. Age:
    • GPS tracking: This is a really cool feature of new phones! Pull up the right app and you can see exactly where you child/spouse is! If you’re going to use this feature, be honest with your children/spouse. Otherwise, it will serve to break more trust than it creates. Also, remember this: These apps only tell you where the phone is, not the person. A dead battery can result in all kinds of panic when this is the primary way of “knowing” where a loved one is. It’s cool to have and it’s not a substitute for regular communication prior to going somewhere. 
    • Strangers: We teach our children not to talk to strangers, and then we give them a camera and access to the entire planet that’s full of strangers. Educate yourself on dangers and protect your children from catfishing, schemes, and human trafficking. Just like you would in real life!
    • When to buy: Children mature at different rates. Some 7 year old children can handle a full featured phone. Others I wouldn’t trust with a stick. I can tell you the rule in our house is that our children can have a phone when they can afford to pay for a phone and the accompanying plan. That is the level of responsibility we are looking for prior to offering someone unfettered access to anyone with a wifi signal. 

Alternatives: Is There Something Better Than My Tech?
     In an attempt to encourage better engagement in personal relationships, parents and spouses can accidentally engage in a power dynamic that further injures the very attachment they seek to strengthen. Here’s a fictional example:

Jennie: “Tom, why don’t you put the phone down and hang out with me?”

Tom, staring intently at his phone: “I just have to finish this email real quick!”

Jennie: “If you cared about me as much as you did that stupid email, our relationship might be better!”

Tom, looking angry and dejected: “This is for work! The thing I do to bring home money so we can eat and do all the stuff you enjoy doing!” 

     I don’t know an actual Tom and Jennie, but I suspect all of us have been guilty of being a Tom or Jennie at some point. Jennie, focusing on Tom’s engagement with his phone to the exclusion of her, has interpreted his behavior as a rejection of her. She wants Tom to notice her, but has gone about it in a way that makes Tom want to spend even more time in his phone!
     Both Tom and Jennie have this in common: a sense of rejection. Tom feels rejected because, in his mind, he’s working diligently to “bring home the bacon”. Jennie feels rejected because Tom is paying attention to his phone when he could be paying attention to her. Here’s the challenge: What are Tom and Jennie doing to cultivate a relationship where spending time together is a better alternative than spending time on the phone?
     One of the most seducing aspects of technology is its relentless availability. There is a persistent, nonjudgmental, and welcoming invitation to connect. Are families, friends, and couples, working to provide that same welcome? Neither Jennie or Tom are necessarily “at fault” here. We can talk about why Tom shouldn’t be on his phone or why Jennie shouldn’t be yelling at him. But that only solves one problem: boundaries around the phone. There is often an underlying issue of connection! In our relationships, we must be willing to ask what we’re offering that’s an alternative to technology.

Modeling: Do as I Do

     When people are struggling with addictions, it’s not uncommon to enlist the help of family members and the support networks to get involved in with treatment. If a family member is dependent on alcohol, it’s not very fair the rest of the family still gets to drink and keep alcohol in the home. At best, it’s unsupportive; at worst, it provides unnecessary temptation. However, many families regularly, and subconsciously, engage in this undermining behavior when it comes to electronics.
     How often do you ride in the car without listening to the radio? Is the television on just as background noise? Is the phone always within arms reach? There are many subtle ways to communicate the message of tech-dependence. If you want your children or your spouse to engage with technology in healthy ways, we must be willing to model this behavior ourselves!

     Using BAM can help provide a framework where families and individual can put tech in its place in order to encourage healthy relationship with others. We must be willing to implement this framework in our own lives, in an intentional way, and with support from others. Technology, when kept in its proper place, can enrich our lives, work, and relationships.
     Please share how your family has kept tech in check!

Mobile ExCommunication
Nathan D. Croy, (C) 2017

Sesquipedalian Trepidation.

     Revelation is marked by mystery, eternal happiness by suffering, the certitude of faith by uncertainty, easiness by difficulty, truth by absurdity; if this is not maintained, then the esthetic and the religious merge in common confusion. … The religious lies in the dialectic of inwardness deepening and therefore, with regard to the conception of God, this means that he himself is moved, is changed. An action in the eternal transforms the individual’s existence.

— Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
     Most people go to the ocean and surf, frolic in the foam from the breakers, build sand castles, swim, splash, exercise, and enjoy themselves. Some enjoy this life so much they spend ludicrous sums of money to live on the beach. However, people rarely find great treasures during these activities. Usually, finding treasure requires two things: Attentiveness and excavation.
     The first requirement is being attentive. We must look, be aware of our surroundings, discover and notice that which seems out of place. Some treasure hunters use metal detectors or do research when looking for treasure. People that stumble upon a long lost wedding ring or loose change are noticing something that hundreds of other people may have stepped over. Regardless, a requirement to finding something means being in the process of looking. Which brings us to our second requirement for finding treasure; excavation.
     Excavation is different from digging. Dogs dig. Squirrels excavate. Digging has no purpose other than making a hole. It is certainly fine if something turns up during the digging, but that is not its purpose. With excavating, the idea is to remove dirt in order to expose something. It inherently assumes something exists below the soil that is valuable enough to work to retrieve. Sunken treasure is called sunken treasure because it sinks. It takes special equipment, training, and intentionality to find these treasures.
     Perhaps I am being too jaded, pessimistic, or negative, but it seems to me there are very few people willing to do the hard work required which brings about meaning in life. Meaning is a treasure, it reveals who we are and what we value. Our tendency to stick to the surface and be distracted by any new trend or quick flash of NEW NEW NEW!!!! robs us of the necessary energy to find meaningful treasure and it distracts us from noticing found treasure.
     Sesquipedalian, is a word used to describe very long words. The word “sesquipedalian”, is sesquipedalian. Self referencing meta-words just make me happy. “Sesquipedalian Trepidation” means being afraid to move forward in regards to big words. Many people are often hesitant to read Kierkegaard, May, or a hundred other incredible authors because they use large words, discuss complex concepts, or ask questions they cannot answer. Yet, this is the mental and spiritual excavation that aids in uncovering our personal deep meaning. It takes effort and strain to maintain an attentive vigilance in order to find meaning where it lies; even in the mundane.
     Some people show up to the beach and money is washing up on the shore. Some people wake up in the morning with a newly acute awareness of what it means to be real, to have meaning, to be who they are. These people are lucky, rare, and waiting for money to wash up on the beach probably is not the most sound retirement plan. If you desire meaning, purpose, and authenticity, then you must be willing to do the hard work of excavation and attentiveness. To quote Teddy Roosevelt: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
     Your treasure exists. All you have to do is find it.
Sunken Treasure.
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2014

Something Completely Different

     I am working on the fourth post about Love, but life is happening! In the meantime, I wanted to share a couple of things that may interest and benefit you.

     Firstly, I would like to share a free resource for you from They are offering an 8 week course on Kierkegaard and Existentialism. It is free, includes a certificate of completion, and has links to all the reading material for free! You really have no excuse not to take this course. A special shout out to my cousin and blog contributor extraordinaire Paul Haughey for letting me know about this.

     Lastly is a bit of levity from Juston Streby. We had this conversation the other day and I felt it bears repeating.
     From Juston: New topic of discussion: Obesity in The Matrix. The first time Neo enters the construct with Morpheus after being freed from the matrix, Morpheus explains that the way Neo looks in the construct/matrix is his residual self image. As best as I can remember he explains it as Neos mental projection of his digital self. This brings me to what I was thinking about while driving to pick up some lunch. What is the cause of obesity in the matrix? I will have to rewatch the movie to double check but i am pretty sure there are some fat people in there. I have 3 theories.
     Theory 1: People who are still plugged into the matrix have an avatar that the Matrix is able to control. I don’t believe this to be the case as Neo looks exactly the same in the matrix before he is freed as he does after. 
     Theory 2: The matrix regulates the nutrition your body is given in the real world based on how you eat and take care of yourself while living in the matrix. Basically it would be just like the world we live in. If you eat to much and don’t exercise enough, you get fat.
     Theory 3: Obese people in the Matrix see themselves that way because of low self esteem or other mental factors and therefore their residual self image is fat but the body in the real world that is plugged into the matrix receives the same nutrients as everyone else. I tend to lean towards this theory. What I find interesting is that based on this theory, only people with low self esteem would see themselves as ugly. So any fat person you see walking down the street who think they are much hotter than they really are, would actually be hot in the matrix. Just as all those models who starved themselves because they think they are fat at 85lbs would be fat in the matrix. And that is what I wasted a good amount of time thinking about.
     From Nathan: I like it! Can I use it as a guest post on my blog? Totally fits with Kierkegaard’s statement that perception is reality. I want to add one thing to the third theory: body dysmorphic disorder. It’s when the body you have is perceived incorrectly. The 85lbs girl actually sees herself as fat. The overweight person in daisy dukes thinks their particular attire is appropriate. Explain the disconnect and provide a resolution i.e., how can we alter perception to match reality? Should we even try?

     Juston asked that I correct his grammar, but I chose to leave it as is because that’s how it was received. So, I wanted to ask this question to the existential community that happens to look at this blog. How do we explain the disconnect between reality and perception? More importantly, how do you explain your disconnects between reality and perception? Johari’s window excellently addresses our blind spots and the inherent lack of ability to address these blind spots without help from others.

(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2013
Body Dysmorphic Disorder