You ask a question, and he does not seem to hear it, because his attention is on his computer monitor.
You set aside quality time to spend together, but during it you notice him glance down at his phone to check his messages.
He pays attention to you for short periods, but departs anytime a call comes through on his cell.
He says he will come to bed after doing "just one more thing" on the computer, but he is consumed for hours.
He justifies his actions by claiming, "I have got work to do" but you sense that there is more to it -- that his use of technology comes from an addiction more than a real need.
If your husband (or wife) is like this, you may be living with someone in a growing population of people we may call "the constantly connected."
In some ways, it's an entirely new species, one that has arisen with the technologies of our age, significantly different than the past. The communications tools popular in past years, such as radio and TV, were often communal activities we did with others, had us in a passive role receiving information, and could be limited to one room or area of the house. The new tools of our day, cells and computers, are generally personal (we rarely use a phone or computer together with someone else), interactive (there is usually a back and forth, a giving and receiving of information), and they can easily be carried with us just about anywhere we go.
This new communication, whether it is via a cell call, text message, email, Facebook update, or Tweet, occurs almost exclusively with people not present in one's immediate environment. If your partner can limit this to work, that is one thing; it is quite another if he or she carries it home, unable or unwilling to "disconnect."
With such a person, we often feel "secondary," that as a non-digital living person standing right next to him or her, we may be nice to interact with at times yet we know that the person can (and often will) ditch us any moment technology "calls."
How, we might ask, do we better understand and engage such a constantly connected person? As a member of the club, I share my top three secrets below.
1) See His or Her Underlying Desire for Connection
What the constantly connected fear most is disconnection. However, the difficulty is that they view "connection" occurring only through technology. When online or on their cell they view themselves as "disconnected." Connection occurs through technology, not direct interaction.
Rather than fight their need to connect by saying something like, "God, you are so addicted to your stupid Blackberry," a likely more effective way is to help them see that connection can be accessed just as much off-, as it can, on-line. Rather than fight their desire to connect, help them see other ways to "connect." Follow rather than resist their need for connection.
2) Acknowledge the Need for Both Tech and Non-Tech Time
Know that there are likely times your partner really does need to be online or communicating via his or her cell. Honor this and make room for it, but then insist on "non-technology time" as well. Instead of saying, "I don't want you using our cell at home," it is likely best to offer, "Lets set aside 5pm to 6pm for doing what we need to do via our cell or computer, then turn them off for an hour and go for a walk."
It is important to stick by this. If both people bring their cells on the walk, for example, it is an invitation for interruption. It's just too tempting. Take care of whatever you need to with the gadgets, then put them away so that in the non-tech time, you can deepen your connection.
3) Make it About Something Bigger
If we asked people what they felt their true purpose in life was, few people would likely respond, "My goal is to be constantly connected all the time." Most people, if they thought about it, would say that caring for family and friends, being a good husband or wife, and finding a meaningful way to contribute to the world are much more important than any gadget.
Rather than start a discussion with, "Why can you never put your Blackberry down?" a likely better approach is to speak to their deeper purpose by saying, "Lets talk about what is truly important to us, what will matter on our deathbed, and how we can better align our life with that." This way, rather than only trying to stop a certain act, we are helping to broaden the context, so we can then put the technologies we use in their rightful context. You can then explore how these technologies can serve, rather than distract you from, this greater purpose.
As the signs say in Vegas casinos, "You must be present to win." The Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote, "The greatest gift we can give another is our presence." It is only reasonable that that our partner is present for us as well as for those calling on his or her cell, and that this greater gift is adequately shared in a relationship.
Soren Gordhamer works with individuals and groups on living with greater mindfulness and purpose in our technology-rich age. He is the author of Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected (HarperOne, 2009) and the audio series Meditations for the Constantly Connected. Website: www.sorengordhamer.com
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