I Wish I could Give you this for Christmas

Let me tell you a story about my family. My family came to visit me in October. We were sitting at a restaurant, and my dad got a waiter to take a picture of all of us. It was sweet. It was heartwarming.

And then before I knew it was happening, he posted it on Facebook.

Then a few minutes later, he leaned over to me and pointed to his phone and said “Look! It’s already got 10 likes and 2 comments!” And that was when, right there, I decided that I wanted some limits on phones and internet around me.

For me, the moment was enough, and when he needed to seek external validation on Facebook for his special moment with his family, I really began to wonder what was wrong with my family, if my dad wasn’t the only one with this unhealthy relationship to technology.

Lest you brand me a luddite, I’ve been online since before I was a teenager. I got online every chance I could.

Many of us grew up with the internet. Many of us started emailing really young, and now texting seems like second nature.

We’re swimming in this media ocean. We’re in front of our screens all day long. But some of us are feeling more isolated than ever.

Lately I’ve been wondering about the media environment we swim in.

Have you read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman yet?

I’ve been reading three books. One is called Alone together, by Sherry Turkle. One is called The Shallows, What the Internet is doing to our brains. And one is called Amusing Ourselves to Death. This is the book I wish I could give you for Christmas. To see why, please read below.

Here is a piece of the foreword from Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman. Here, he talks about Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and 1984 by Orwell.

“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history.

As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.

What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.

Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.

Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.

Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”.

In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain.

In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us.

Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

Here’s the thing that blows my mind.

This book was written in 1985, about TV.

But it could have been written yesterday, about our relationship to the internet.

What does this mean for you?

As nonprofit people, we are communicating with each other, and with our donors, all the time. We’re using emails, print mail, even texting and linkedin to connect with each other.

#1. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, technology could be the reason why.

Frankly, the upshot of these books is that the culture of constant communication makes us have to be ON all the time, and on top of that, it makes us exhausted. We work so hard but we often work on things that will never pay us, things like texting, or posting on facebook, or twitter, without any particular benefit for ourselves other than self expression. We don’t need to be constantly communicating.

Thus. my question at the beginning of this post. What are you swimming in?

As I’ve been discovering in Sherry Turkle’s work, technology is like a polluted river. You don’t have to swim in it all the time. You can come out sometimes.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your job, overwhelmed by everything there is to do, please remember that part of what is making you overwhelmed is this culture that you have to be ON and RESPONDING constantly.


What are the implications for your nonprofit?

#2. Your DONORS are going to be more short-tempered, less patient and harder to reach than before.

Oh, you may reach them, but are they answering an email while they talk to you?

Are they fiddling on their phone when they meet with you?

What about paying attention to what is truly important? Are they much more likely to pay attention if you entertain them? According to Neil Postman, the answer is yes.

Now, you could entertain them with a dramatization of your story. You could make them pay attention by being a good storyteller.

But now you’ve got to have pictures, the story, and new stories all the time to hold people’s attention, because we have gotten used to the 24/7 news cycle, and if you’re not reporting on what is happening, then as far as they’re concerned, nothing is happening.

I’m not saying we have to stop using technology.

That would be absurd. I love technology, and I love how it has enabled me to help people all over the world.

#3: What I am saying though, is put some limits on technology.

You’ve got to declare a hard boundary on when and where people use technology.

Because if you don’t, you have a world full of distracted people that can never fully pay attention to anything.

Will they be TRULY connected to your cause?

Will they REALLY have a heart centered connection if they’re always on the go, paying attention to their devices? No. We may always be on the phone, but if we are, we are never truly TOGETHER.

We might want to pause that phone to pay attention to the person we’re with.

We might want to read these books and take a break from smartphones and computers for even one day to see what feels more fulfilling to you.

What do you think? How have you noticed your relationship to technology changing?

What action would YOU like to take after reading this?

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