Setting Boundaries With Technology Can Help You Maintain Your Sense of Self and Identity

Last week I shared with you some of my thoughts from my talk at the ECHO Conference. In the post, Is Your True Sense of Self And Identity At Risk As You Navigate An Online World I explored more in depth some of the technological hindrances to self and identity in an online world…so today I want to discuss some basic boundaries you can set with the technology in your life that can help you better maintain your sense of self.

Boundaries
Boundaries are important in all areas of our lives, and they are often not easy things to put into place. Anytime we put a boundary into place with someone (spouse, friend, family, boss) it is more than likely that we will receive some resistance from them. Boundaries are healthy markers that help us understand where we begin and end in relationship with people and things, and without them, we can slowly lose our sense of self in those people and things who prefer to live without boundaries. Boundaries can keep us from being suffocated, swallowed up, or absorbed by other personalities. They help us maintain our identity.

But boundaries don’t begin and end with people, but can and should be applied to things that we use, such as technological tools. If we don’t, we can be suffocated by them as well.

Boundaries are also hard work. You just don’t place a boundary and then sit back and watch it work. Boundaries take constant vigilance, maintenance and perseverance. So don’t expect to begin these boundaries with the technology in your life and expect miracles. They will take hard, daily work to keep them in place. But I promise, once you maintain them, you will see the results in your life.

Boundary Suggestions
Let me now suggest to you some boundaries that I think are helpful. These are boundaries that I have experimented with myself and continue to use. And they are ones that others have found beneficial in their own lives.

  1. Time Limits: Bottom line…you should have a time limit with the amount of time you spend online on your computer, the amount of time you play with your phone, etc.  If you don’t have time limits in place, you can easily get consumed by the technology.  Placing time limits on technology allows you to be in control, and not the other way around.  If you can’t place time limits, then I would say, you probably have some form of addiction to technology.  There are various tools (web apps) that can help you do this, as well as you have the ability to control time limits from your computer server.  Some people say to me, “I work with computers all day, I can’t be offline?”  My response is usually, “Really?  You can’t ever be offline at all?  If that’s the case, then there are other problems.”  You should still be able to set time limits.
  2. Physical (Basket, Car, Closet, etc.): Find some physical thing such as a basket, your car, or a closet to put all of your technological items in at some point in the day.  The physical place is a reminder to set your stuff aside.  It not only reminds you, but it reminds your family as well.  It also serves as a symbol to you, your family, etc, that they are more important than the technology that so often gets in the way of relationships.  They can look over at the basket and be reminded of a family’s priorities.  You can do this various ways, but what works well for me is that we have a tray that I put my phone and computer and other tech items in every night when I walk in the door.  Those items remain in that tray unless I may need them for some reason, but it has to be a good reason…not just browsing or killing time.  One family I know has everyone put their laptops and phones in their basket every night at 9pm, and no one can access the basket till 8am the next morning.  John Dyer has a good post about this, Why You Need A Technology Basket At Home.
  3. Tech Sabbath (Various Rhythms): I am always reminded that God created the earth in six days and then rested on the seventh day.  There was a rhythm of work and rest in his life, yet we seldom feel the need to model this example, instead working or being plugged in all seven days.  I think that an important boundary people can set in relation to their technology is a sabbath.  One day a week…Five to six days a month…Two to three weeks a year…where you are unplugged.  A sabbath is a reminder to us that our life is not dictated by work or technology, but that it is a life given unto God, rather than the tools we use.  I believe everyone should have at least one day a week where they don’t get online, check email, Twitter, FB, blog, etc, etc.  Most people can do this.  It’s rare that you have to/must check email everyday.  Often the inability to unplug from email one day a week says something more about your inability to create healthy boundaries, than it does about the reality of people not really needing you immediately, and as badly as you think.  Experiment with different rhythms, but setting time aside to be unplugged is not only restorative for you, but a great model to your family.  It reminds them of who is the most important…them, not the technology.
  4. Ask Others (Galatians 5:22-23): My favorite professor in seminary said to our class one day, “If you really want to know if I’m someone who lives out the fruit of the spirit that Paul talks about in Galatians, then ask my family who lives with me everyday…don’t take my word for it.”  We often have a false sense of reality.  I may think that I’m good with establishing boundaries with my technology, but that may not really be the case.  The people who would really know would be my wife, my friends, my children, my co-workers, etc.  Go to your spouse, friend, etc. and ask them, “Give me an honest assessment about my use of technology.  Do I have healthy boundaries?  Am I on my phone too much?  Does my use of technology get in the way of our relationship?”  Don’t take your word for it.  Ask others.
  5. Strive for Face to Face: When at all possible, strive to meet with people face to face.  If you can talk face to face, rather than text…do that.  If you can sit down over coffee, rather than email, then do that.  Anytime we have the opportunity to meet face to face, take the opportunity.  You can read about my attempts in 2009 to take my online community offline, and in person.
  6. Experiment/Be Creative: You know your life, and your use of technology better than me.  So be creative and experiment with some different boundaries you can establish.

The better able we are to establish healthy boundaries with our technology, the better able we are to be ourselves, and maintain our identities in a world that is asking us to surrender it to all the latest technology.

What are some boundaries you have established with your technology?  What area are you struggling in the most when it comes to setting healthy boundaries with your technology?

12 Comments

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  3. by angela on August 14, 2010  8:35 am Reply

    I loved the quote you used about making the person you're with feel like the most important person in the world at that moment. (Is that right?) I cringe when I think about the times I've made my children and husband feel less important than my phone.

    • by Rhett Smith on August 16, 2010  3:57 pm Reply

      Angela,

      Below is an excerpt from this post, and it contains the quote I used: http://rhettsmith.wpengine.com/2010/05/3906/

      I recently just finished a really great book by Ronald Rolheiser, The Restless Heart: Finding Our Spiritual Home in Times of Loneliness. In one section of the book Rolheiser writes about a conversation he had with a nun. In that conversation the nun said the following:

      “my vocation is, at each moment, to make the person in front of me the most important person in my life!”

      • by angela on August 16, 2010  6:06 pm Reply

        Thanks. Maybe I'll read "The Restless Heart." I was about halfway through "Passionate Marriage" before Echo, a convenient coincidence.

  4. by angela on August 14, 2010  8:35 am Reply

    I loved the quote you used about making the person you're with feel like the most important person in the world at that moment. (Is that right?) I cringe when I think about the times I've made my children and husband feel less important than my phone.

    • by Rhett Smith on August 16, 2010  3:57 pm Reply

      Angela,

      Below is an excerpt from this post, and it contains the quote I used: http://rhettsmith.wpengine.com/2010/05/3906/

      I recently just finished a really great book by Ronald Rolheiser, The Restless Heart: Finding Our Spiritual Home in Times of Loneliness. In one section of the book Rolheiser writes about a conversation he had with a nun. In that conversation the nun said the following:

      “my vocation is, at each moment, to make the person in front of me the most important person in my life!”

      • by angela on August 16, 2010  6:06 pm Reply

        Thanks. Maybe I'll read "The Restless Heart." I was about halfway through "Passionate Marriage" before Echo, a convenient coincidence.

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