Living in a different country from the one where I was born means I cannot visit my family or old friends as frequently as I would like. So, I truly appreciate the ability to stay connected using the internet.. can you imagine waiting for handwritten letters to arrive by ship overseas, like in centuries past?
Having the ability to keep updated with family and friends is a blessing.
On the other hand, the internet has a dark side that I’m sure I don’t need to explain. Even within the nearly 10 years that I have used social media, its usage has evolved. Social media, instant messaging, e-mail, and the internet in general has changed the way that we communicate.
Notifications can make even the smallest text feel as if it carries a sense of urgency. Online, there is less of an emphasis on community, and more on maintaining a virtual reputation.
There is also a lot of fakery that goes on: an example being that on Instagram, people may follow your profile in the hopes that you will return the favor and garner them even more virtual popularity.. only to unfriend you the next day.
Before I go any farther, let me just say that despite living in the rural countryside, we do not live off-grid. We have smartphones and a TV. My husband and I both do part of our work online. At least for now, we are far from “un-plugged”.
I also do not believe that the internet, media, or messaging services are evil – but they certainly have the potential to be used for evil purposes, depending on how much space and value we give them in our lives.
These past few months, I’ve been seriously evaluating what that means, and how I want to use technology in my daily life. After evaluating, I’ve been making changes in slow steps, and learning what it means to have healthy boundaries and the freedom found within them.
Following are some ideas that work for our family to help guard our time, energy, and health.
Despite being written in list format, these ideas do not exist to be used as arbitrary “rules” or “regulations”, but rather as guidelines and inspiration. Your boundaries might be different then ours, and I encourage you to prayerfully consider what is appropriate for your family and lifestyle.
Tips for Healthy Boundaries with Technology
1. Keep phones out of your bed.
In the book “Slow at Work“, author Aoife McElwain encourages readers to purchase an alarm clock, rather than chain-scrolling on the phone each morning. Although the idea itself is simple, it was Aoife’s choice of words that left an impression on me.
The vocabulary chain-scrolling brought to my attention the similarity between smartphone addiction, and other unhealthy habits.
My husband and I didn’t end up throwing our phones out of the bedroom, but we did come up with a creative solution to clear up the technological clutter. I drilled a hole in a decorative “treasure chest” on our nightstand, and we inserted our mobile wi-fi charger and phone chargers into the box.
This means that our phones are literally “out of sight, out of mind“, and it keeps our technology from being an eyesore.
2. De-clutter your e-mail inbox.
Although gmail does a helpful job of sorting messages into categories, my inbox has been a mess for some time. Cleaning it up is a feat that is ongoing..
To start with, I unsubscribed from promotional mail lists, and e-mail lists that no longer interest me. After unsubscribing, I copied the e-mail address from each mail list, pasted it into my e-mail search bar, and mass-deleted every mail from the senders.
So far I have deleted thousands of e-mails, and it has made a big difference in my time management. I can devote attention to e-mails that interest me much more quickly, and I don’t have to wade through as many meaningless messages.
3. Delete unnecessary apps from your phone.
This one is simple: if I do not use an app frequently, I delete it off my phone. The fewer apps that clog up my phone, the less temptation to waste time.
4. Clean up your Facebook News Feed.
Have you ever spent time on Facebook, only to find yourself feeling riled up after a few minutes? Part of this is due to the way that FB’s algorithms work.
Unfortunately, conflict is a (profitable) way to keep people online. But, there are ways to reduce your exposure to negativity while using the site.
One way is to block posts from specific pages from showing up on your News Feed (useful to weed out posts from untrustworthy sites). Another way is to snooze people from showing up on your News Feed, or even unfollow them altogether (while still remaining friends). If you unfollow friends, you can still view their content on their profiles occasionally, without having a daily barrage of negative posts.
I have found it helpful to reduce the content on my News Feed, and after making adjustments, I no longer feel overwhelmed with updates, and am more likely to read meaningful content that would have otherwise been buried.
5. Don’t be “on-call”.
One of the problems with having the ability to reach people by phone is that it can lead to feeling as if you must be available at any hour. This can be especially dangerous for those in ministry, or with other demanding jobs.
While God is available 24/7, that does NOT mean that you must be, too. Although there certainly are emergency cases and exceptions, setting boundaries around your family and private time is important.
My husband and I know some ministry leaders who do not have a cellphone for this reason.
While we have not gone as far as that, we have made it our boundary to not feel the need to answer calls immediately- including via online. In addition, my husband and I share one cell number.
When I was working a previous job, we each had separate cell numbers, but after I faced too many off-hours calls and texts, we decided that having one number was healthier for both of us.
6. Don’t bring your phone or tablet with you wherever you go.
A phone fits easily in a pocket or purse, and you might even feel separation anxiety without it. There is an element of feeling “safe”, too – having a phone constantly at hand means you can call in an emergency, or be updated about immediate current events.
But, staying constantly connected comes with a price, and leaving your phone behind (even if just in another room!) can improve your mental health.
7. Turn off notifications.
Notifications often instill us with a false sense of urgency, and turning them off is something that I did a year or two ago. After getting tired of constant “dings” and untimely phone calls, I turned off all of my phone notifications (aside for Japan’s emergency weather alerts, which cannot be disabled), and never turned them back on.
It may take longer to reply to something at times, but my mind is much clearer without constant interruptions.
8. Make communication meaningful.
It might sound like having boundaries serves to keep people at an arm’s length, but in fact, the purpose of setting healthy limits is to allow the freedom to pursue true community.
If someone is a member of my friend’s list, it is because I am genuinely interested in the person. I want to invest in and value the lives of the people who are a part of mine. So – I will comment on your blog. I will message, call, or offer to meet. I will send a handwritten letter, read your novel, and take an interest in your career.
I will cheer you on when you accomplish an achievement, and organize a lunch with mutual friends. I will like your photos and send a postcard at Christmas.. because that is friendship.
I do not just want to “watch” my friend’s lives unfold.. I want to participate in them as an active member, no matter how near or far our zip-codes.
Let us communicate in ways that are intentional.
How do you set healthy boundaries with technology?
Is there one thing you would be willing to change this week to decrease your dependence on it?
Please leave a comment below.