I grew up in a home without a dishwasher or microwave. They existed, but my family never bought them. Our source of heat was a wood-burning stove in the middle of the living room, because the electric baseboard heaters were too expensive. Our first computer was purchased when I was in high school, and it ran on MS DOS. I used a typewriter for school reports. Our first video game, given to us as a Christmas gift, was “The Legend of Zelda.” That was the extent of technology in my life, and that was 1992.
Fifteen years later, as a mother of three, my life only remotely resembles my childhood. Besides hustling children to and from school, games, and lessons, cleaning the house, fixing meals, and fulfilling my Church responsibilities, I also find my family life is fully steeped in technology with multiple home computers, cell phones, iPods, Wiis, Tamagotchis, e-commerce, online banking, social networking, e-mail, and family blog sites.
My family is an anomaly, though. Both my husband and I work in the technology industry and follow trends in the market for our employment. There are many times that I wish the Internet was not such an embedded part of our lives and that we could focus more on relationships with our family and neighbors.
As I think of the 25-to-85-year-old women that I know, I’ve realized that very few of them use online technologies that are available for personal consumption. Most women who are not employed outside of the home do not spend much time on a computer. The little time they do use a computer might be on a family blog that they use in place of paper scrapbooking and journaling, or for a family e-mail account that they check a few times a week. Some use the Internet for recipe exchanges, online shopping, support groups, and family history research. In the last few years, I’ve seen more friends enter the social networking world, but typically they are younger than 25 and have fewer time commitments with their young families. Very few of them use mobile phones for online experiences. Most of this information is from personal observation, but research has shown that the typical Generation–Xer (ages 27-40) does not spend as much time on the Internet or use technology such as media players or podcasts, as those who are younger. The percentage of those who use the Internet vs. TV or newspaper and books decreases for older populations. (http://www.frankwbaker.com/mediause.htm) Up until about age 11, most children prefer books, TV, and hands-on toys to computers. (http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticleHomePage&art_aid=88340) This trend seems to be changing as more children are introduced to computers in school. The typical Internet users who are adopting new technologies appear to be between 11 and 26 years old.
So what are these women doing while I chug away designing Church applications? They’re visiting each other, baking casseroles, giving service, teaching their children, volunteering at schools, improving their personal skills and education, and getting outside; they are having face-to-face experiences with other people and their families. In my high-tech world, my computer has replaced many personal contacts, and I’m secretly jealous of their time to build relationships.
There is a lot we can learn from these women and their freedom from technology.
I’ve found a little secret to gaining some sanity back from my computer: it’s offline time. I learned this from a colleague, and it’s becoming an important part of my routine. One day a week is technology free. I leave my computer turned off. I leave my mobile phone off. As a family, we leave the TV and video games off. Usually this day falls on Sunday, which has helped me observe better Sabbath day behavior. I’m also carrying this policy over to my meetings during work—I turn off my laptop and phone. The first time I tried this, I discovered there were only two people in the room not working on their laptops—the presenter and myself. It is amazing how many people miss important decisions when they aren’t giving their full attention. I’ve decided that, if I want to be effective in meetings and speak up about decisions, I need to keep my laptop closed.
Getting Back to Family
The second part of my effort to gain freedom from technology is to spend quality time with my family. We turn the TV off, put away the Wii remotes, and do something together that requires me to look at my children and husband. My children love to play board games, go on hikes, and play outside. When I come home, it is tempting to get back on my computer after dinner to finish up an assignment. Last month, I made a commitment not to do this. Instead, I give my time back to my family. I have time to go outside and enjoy the neighborhood.
Using Time Wisely
When I do use the computer, especially when I’m on the Internet, I’ve tried to be more efficient and not spend hours surfing. I make a task list and stick to it. My projects take less time, and I can turn off the computer when it’s family time.
Designing Technology with Caution
My job is to design user interfaces and create user experiences with technology. The impact that my designs have on someone’s ability to work can be both good and bad.
“As someone who makes a living from technology, I now feel the need to really evaluate deeply the products and solutions that I might be responsible for introducing. It seems very possible to design something (even a Web page or application) that can negatively change the way that people interact with other human beings. Am I taking essential and beautiful human behaviors and giving them to the computer? Or am I designing things that enhance and amplify humanity?”
- John Dilworth, design education manager, LDS Church
As we enjoy how the advances of technology globally connect the Church and spread the gospel, we also need to consider the responsibilities that go with these new inventions. It is easy to become self-absorbed and “hooked” on the computer, listening to music, surfing the Web, and generally wasting time. To gain our freedom back, we need to moderate our use of technology and make an effort to spend time with our families and loved ones.
Emmy Southworth is a senior interaction designer for the Church.