Internet AddictI spent a weekend down at my grandparents’ farm in southern Alabama with my wife recently and we had a wonderful time hiking in the woods, catching catfish, eating until we felt like we were going to explode, and relaxing in the living room gleaning wisdom and insight from two respectable people with 70+ years of life experience under their belt. We had an excellent time and we took the opportunity to capture the memories on our digital camera.

Now, I would not naturally classify myself as a person who is technologically savvy seeing how I never successfully completed a course in computer keyboard typing and I have a cell phone that neither sends nor receives text messages. However, at the close of the weekend with my grandparents, I was reminded of how tech-saturated I really am as I tried to explain to my grandma how to upload pictures from a digital camera to her computer. Something that would take the average person in my generation a few seconds to figure out would have taken my grandma another lifetime to finagle.

This experience has caused me to reflect on the fact that we, as a nation, are becoming more and more technologically advanced and, in turn, more technologically dependent (an issue I would like to define as “Techpendence”). Let’s face it, if all the computers vanished from the face of the earth this instant, the majority of us would only last a few days. We depend on the functional operation of our technological resources way more than we probably think. Most of us get our food and clothing from some sort of store. Well, what if we didn’t have the technology and organization to coordinate the schedules of the corporate manufacturers who produce the things we need? Can you shave a sheep and crochet your family some clean underwear? Do you have the green thumb necessary to grow your own produce? Have you ever butchered a cow to make a homemade “Big Mac?”

I suppose I was really awakened to some of these sobering, personal insufficiencies when I spent four months in Palau (a small, pacific island-nation). From August to November, I was an intern at a private, all-boys boarding school as a teacher, coach, musician, and church worker. It was during this time that I had no cell phone, telephone, computer, TV, radio, or car. I was stunned at how vulnerable I felt when these accessories were stripped from my life. At first, I struggled immensely learning how to cope without being able to instantaneously call a friend to invite them over, shoot an e-mail to my family, drive to the grocery store to get some grub, kick back and watch the game, listen to some calming music to help me drift off to sleep…etc. However, after a few weeks of being without, I began to notice a couple of significant things.

First of all, it proved that even though I am not a tech-connoisseur by American standards, I am still a tech-addict. What I mean is that the “techpendence” is ingrained in my culture. I am accustomed to instantaneous satisfaction, whether it is getting somewhere speedily by car or having the capability of successfully communicating a message within moments.

The second thing I found, as a byproduct of my “techpendence,” was that I am extremely negligent of my immediate circle of relationships. While I was in Palau, I didn’t have the luxuries normally associated with everyday, American life. As a result, I eventually found that I was able to get to know the people around me on a much more personal level. It’s strange to realize that without those “luxuries,” the world was still spinning, there were still 24 hours in a day, and there was a collection of people around me that I would have never connected with if I rushed through my day. Sometimes, the things intended to amplify our productivity and proficiency can detract from the things that really matter…in this case, the power of deep and meaningful relationships.

Upon returning to the U.S., this idea was further impressed on my mind as I found myself sitting in silence in my family’s living room as four other people sitting on couches surfed the web on their personal laptops. I simply looked around and thought about how peculiar it seemed that something such as the internet, created to connect people across theCell globe, had severed the potential depth of the relationship of the people sitting within feet of each other.

So, what’s the point of this musing? I suppose what I’m getting at is a series of questions:

1. Are you satisfied with the relationships you have with those who are closest to you?
2. Are you striving to build those relationships that are most important (husband, wife, children…etc.), or…
3. Are you spreading your time thin with things that don’t have that much long-term value?
4. How “techpendent” are you really?

Here’s a challenge for the brave:

Unplug your computer and TV, turn off your phone/ipod/cd player/radio, and spend a full week intentionally focusing on building the relationships that are most important to you. Eat meals together. Learn what they like or dislike. Ask what they’re struggling with. Offer advice. Share stories. Yes, this IS possible! People have been living without those accessories for thousands of years. Try it…I dare you.