Technology provides seamless and convenient travel for globetrotters everywhere. It’s the means for people to drive to the airport, fly to a distant land, take a train, taxi, Über, or use their shoes to walk to their desired location. As the summer travel season ends and the school year begins, this often means vacations are wrapping up. Parents and kids had a break from school and employees a vacation from work. However, while people may be on “vacation” this summer, they may not be taking a break from their work. The technology that helped them travel away from work, won’t let them actually leave work. These handy devices joined many on their summer vacation. Many people, including both authors on this website, have work e-mail tied to their phone. The option to check and reply to work e-mails is prevalent and may even seem necessary for many.
Why is disconnecting from work so difficult? In this two-part series, I (Luke) want to explore the topic of disconnecting. Let’s think about disconnecting as an intentional time of setting certain electronic communication aside to be fully engaged and present where one is located. This post will focus on the fear and difficulty of disconnecting. The second post will focus on the Beauty of Disconnecting. Let me suggest four fears that face us in disconnecting:
1. The fear that work will not be done.
By disconnecting, it means that certain things are not being done. This may mean that e-mails pile up, projects remain incomplete, or not started at all. It may mean that certain social media outlets experience a brief drought of pics and posts. It’s hard to let work “sit” knowing that it will be piled up and waiting for you when you return. But, a limited and intentional time away from work is not laziness but good self-care. Work is a good thing that is from God (Genesis 1:28-30; 2:15). But, in a world experiencing the effects of sin, work is also more difficult (Genesis 3:17-19). Disconnecting means that certain activities are put on pause for a certain amount of time.
2. The fear that others will be disappointed.
Disconnecting may mean that certain people are disappointed in us because work is not being done or we haven’t replied to our social media requests. It may be that others in the office will need to cover for you if you are disconnected. We think, “If I don’t take care of this e-mail or this project, then it won’t get done and my boss/client/team will be let down.” The problem is that there is always another project in the pipeline and e-mail in the inbox. Disconnecting will be a challenge and others may be disappointed along the way. You cannot control how others will respond. Practically, it will be a good idea to notify others in a work setting that you will be unavailable. Setting the appropriate “Out of Office” e-mail notifications, voicemail messages, and cluing in those that you are closest to that this is/will take place. It may also cause others around you to reflect about doing something similar in the future. You can control whether or not you stick to your word of disconnecting when the plague of people pleasing arises. The people pleasing plague is prominent with its red dots littering the screens of phones and tablets just waiting to be scratched. The problem is each time you scratch one red dot (i.e. open an e-mail, check social media, work on a project, etc.) it will reappear and wait to be scratched again. Disconnecting may in fact be an opportunity for others around you to step up at work or find help in unexpected places other than you.
3. The fear that something will be missed.
FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013 because of its widespread acceptance. We see beautifully filtered images on Instagram of friends laughing, a beautiful dinner, and an awe-inspiring sunset. We desire to be in that place, eating that food, and with those people rather than the the place and people near us. Snapchat provides windows into rooms and parties where we aren’t but wish we were or will leave to go there instead. Checking social media allows users to see what may be a better party, better food, or better friends (or at least it appears so). Social media is the pilot taking its passengers on a first-class adventure to other places while connecting with old friends and making new ones along the way. Perhaps, the danger of FOMO is that passengers miss the sunset outside their own window, the provision of food on their own plate, and the people within arms reach.
4. The fear that distracted time will reveal personal shortcomings.
The problem is never technology in and of itself. Disconnecting and distancing oneself from technology seems like a spiritual practice (which it may be). However, in that process of disconnecting, it is just as easy to use time poorly, struggle with discontentment, and grow angry. One man took a year off from the internet, hoping and dreaming he would be a changed man, only to discover himself turning to “offline vices” instead of those he used to find on the internet. Our wandering and restless hearts will find something to satisfy itself, with or without our technology. John Calvin described our heart as an “idol making factory” reminding us that the problem is not ‘out there’ but inside oneself. Disconnecting seems like it will solve problems but in fact may only expose more problems. Technology may serve as a band-aid to cover our wounds and longings. Disconnecting exposes our wound. When we disconnect, we are confronted with the reality that something is not right in our lives. We may choose to stay connected to our devices and digital vices in order to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation with our own shortcomings.
We can easily fall into making decisions out of fear trying to please others, fear of missing out, or fear of exposed personal shortcomings. In the next post, I want to share with you the Beauty of Disconnecting. I want to share what it is and why it matters.
What are other fears people (or you) have with disconnecting?