Thursday, September 20, 2012

No Technology Sunday: Part 1... "Mommy, when can I be a client, too?

A mom sits at her kitchen table catching up on work. A forlorn-looking daughter walks slowly from behind and asks, "Mommy, when can I be a client, too?" Do you remember this commercial? Even though I was more than ten years away from becoming a mom when I first saw it, the idea behind this commercial struck a chord and has stayed with me all of these years. (Here is a link to the original AT&T commercial of this series, but I couldn't find a link to the exact commercial I'm referencing above). I'm embarrassed to admit that more than once since Clara has been born, my husband has come up to me when I am spending too much time working at my computer to ask in a pseudo-Clara voice, "Mommy, when can I be a client, too?" 

Most of all, this question effectively and directly calls upon my deepest reserves of working mommy guilt. It is hard for me to admit that in addition to the hours I spend at work each day that I am guilty of spending too much time at my computer at home when I want to be spending time with my daughter. Last month, when I posted photos that Clara had taken around the house, I deliberately left some of her photos out, namely her photos of me, many of which happened to be photos taken by Clara standing behind me... as I sat at my computer. Seeing these photos in front of me was an all too real reminder that this is how Clara sees me too much of the time and an eerie reminder of that AT&T commercial. I wanted to change that.

Just as I was trying to determine how I was going to transform how I spend time with Clara at home and especially how to change my use of the computer, the stars aligned and within two weeks, I came across several "signs" that gave me some ideas about how to proceed. Here's a sampling of what happened that week:


Sign #1: No Internet in Maine. 

At the end of our summer, we spent a week in a log cabin in Maine where there was no Internet access. It was a beautiful and transformative week. We all felt more relaxed than we had all summer. After getting over the initial panic about not having Internet access, I found that I loved the quiet of this vacation both mental and physical. It was a relief to be free from the bing-ding-rings of my phone that typically interrupted daily life at home. The absence of these sounds felt freeing. I could finally rest without the fear of an urgent text or email or phone call breaking the silence.

The stillness of Maine- no Internet to interrupt living
Sign #2: Technology Sabbath. 

Upon returning home from Maine, I eagerly awaited the arrival of the newly released book, "Happier at Home" by Gretchen Rubin, a follow-up to one of my favorite books of the past couple years, "The Happiness Project." Rubin provides simple, yet concrete tips to improve daily life. I admit that I do not read books linearly. In fact, I often skip to the end. In this case, I skipped right to page 129 to the chapter about time- probably the area in my life where I feel I need the most help. She shared techniques that others use to preserve their sense of control over time, and many of them involved controlling the technology that otherwise controls them. One person doesn't check email for the first two hours of each day so I've been trying that to some degree of positive results. Although, I admit that I'm plagued by a bit of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). What if the most important and time-sensitive email in the world comes through between 8am and 10am and I miss it? The idea that stuck with me the most in this chapter is the idea of a technology Sabbath... the idea of turning off technology for one day and just completely unplugging- a mini-version of my Maine vacation.

Sign #3: The Emptiness of the Internet.

My high school friend, Josh Robin, is a reporter for NY1 news. He created a series called "The Tangled Web" about the relationship between Orthodox Jews and the Internet. I am not an Orthodox Jew, but I was fascinated to hear how the rabbis on his show talked not only about the negative religious implications for using the Internet, but they argued clearly and effectively how the Internet is simply a waste of time.

Eytan Kobre, one of the Jewish leaders interviewed, said the Internet is "the greatest spiritual and moral challenge to mankind. Ever."

"It's so vapid, so empty, so nothing. There's like nothing there," Kobre said, according to Robin's report. 

I am not forsaking the Internet for good, and I don't agree unequivocally that the Internet as a whole is "so empty" but something about this story resonated with me. I do feel a sense of emptiness when I spend hours at the computer. In an hour- by-hour comparison, I would certainly rather spend an hour with Clara than an hour glued to my computer, yet I sometimes feel compelled to catch up on the latest blogs, Facebook posts, and work emails instead. I want to change that.

Sign #4: Technology Addiction.

Within those same few weeks, I read several articles about the dangers of too much time spent connected to technology, such as this article in the  New York Times. When even executives from Facebook are talking about the dangers of technology addiction, it grabs my attention.

With all of this information fueling my already instinctual desire to create some distance between technology and me, I hatched a plan. I would adopt a variation of the technology 
Sabbath explained in Rubin's book. No TV, no computer, and no cell phone on Sundays. I tried this for the past two Sundays, and I have to say it has felt like an amazing release.

I want to write more here about how Clara and I spent those Sundays, but this is getting long, so I will save the details for another post. For now, I will say that my working mommy guilt/angst was significantly lifted by my adventures with Clara on those days. Oh, and I felt happier, too. It didn't feel like I was racing to get from one moment to the next, but more like I was living each moment as it came. From morning to night on both Sundays, it felt like Clara and I were both very important clients.


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