In education, when teachers have identified a learning objective, they design instruction in such a way that the student encounters the content in multiple settings using multiple modalities so that the student’s likelihood of achieving mastery is increased. For example, when a child is learning the alphabet, he might see the letters, say the letters, and sing the letters. He might write the letters with his finger on his desk or in the air before practicing with a pencil on paper. In life, I have found that the lessons I most need to learn are presented to me across various contexts through various means until I finally throw my hands up and declare, “Ok, Ok, I see what’s happening here!” At that point, I typically sit down and write about these observations so that 1) I can fully process them, and 2) I can create a public record of my learning in an attempt to hold myself accountable.
Today’s Lesson: Time, Tension, and Technology
Sometime last fall, I discovered that I often felt anxious around bedtime. I would lie down and begin to have restless thoughts about stuff that hadn’t crossed my mind during the day or even during the past several months or years. I’d begin to wonder if I had been a good enough mother — if I had made enough home-cooked meals, had enough candid conversations, or provided my kids with the lessons and assurances that breed confidence and independence. Then I’d move on to wondering whether I’d been a good enough wife, friend, sister, daughter, teacher, etc. I would fuss and stew over conversations and decisions that had taken place years ago, coming to no peace, of course, but rather escalating my anxiety further. I wouldn’t say I ever had a full-fledged anxiety attack, but these anxious thoughts were keeping me awake at night.
About this same time, I started seeing studies and reports about the increase in anxiety among teens, children, and young adults and some researchers’ theories that such anxiety was tied to the amount of time that kids spend on social media now that practically everyone always has a Smartphone in his or her hand. I got to thinking — I have a Smartphone in my hand most of the time, too. In fact, I often play Words With Friends, scroll through Facebook, read my Twitter feed, and check emails right up until bedtime. What if I took a break from that habit to see what impact it has on my bedtime anxiety?
To answer that question, I began to conduct some rather informal research of my own — a private and inconsistent case study. It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that I feel less anxious when I don’t use my phone right up until bedtime. I know, I know, this is a mind-blowing discovery.
In the midst of my ‘study’, I kept finding myself encountering content reinforcing my conclusion. I heard a podcast that, among other topics, talked about the need for boundaries in the use of technology. I had a conversation with my therapist about technology addiction. A friend shared a YouTube video about the impact of devices on our sense of peace. I read articles. I examined my life. I was convicted.
However, although I realized the benefit of using my phone less, I routinely fell back into old habits. And I’ve continued to have anxious thoughts.
One thread of anxiety I have been experiencing is related to growing older. At 51 I am hardly old, but I’ve begun to have thoughts (late at night when most unsettling thoughts plague me) that I’ve already lived more than half of my life, that my body will never again be as fit and agile as it once was, that other people must look at me, seeing my gray hair and aging body, and think thoughts about me that I probably thought about people older than me when I was much younger. I’ve begun to think about what I want to do with “the rest of my career” and to discuss retirement options with my husband. For some reason the thought that time is running out and the realization that life actually comes to an end sometimes pop up even when it is not my bedtime.
Ironically enough, one thing I do sometimes to ‘quiet’ the anxious thoughts is to get out my phone, play a game, check social media sites, and respond to emails. It’s a Catch-22.
For Christmas, one of my children got me a book, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman. The other night before bed, I lay down and opened to the first tale. Reading stories has always been a calming way for me to end the day. Much of what I read at bedtime is what I call “candy bar fiction” — stuff I can consume and forget about. The goal of such reading is not to get deep; it’s to fall asleep. To that end, I opened the book and began to read the two-page tale “Sum”. The tale suggests that when we die we relive all of our life experiences but that they are re-arranged so that similar events are clumped together. “You spend two months driving the street in front of your house,” it says, and “six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line.” As I read, I started thinking, If this really happened, how much time would I spend scrolling through Facebook, playing Words With Friends, having a cup of tea with my husband, reading good books, appreciating the sunshine?
It wasn’t a particularly good story to read for falling asleep, but it was an excellent concluding activity to nail home this learning objective, which is not that all technology is evil or that I (we) should shun all forms of social media but rather that if my (our) days and minutes are numbered, I want to consider my choices wisely. I am still going to check social media and play Words With Friends, but I am also going to be intentional about turning off my phone at day’s end, I’m going to engage with the people in the room, I’m going to have a cup of tea with my husband, I’m going to read good books, and I’m going to appreciate the sunshine.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12 NIV*
*I finished writing this blog and went to find the address for this very verse on Biblegateway. To my surprise, it is the verse of the day. Perhaps this lesson, too, will be ongoing.