At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I must first direct you to the Impact Nations website. There you will find a 2009 review of the biosand water filter project. Though I am always certain that I could have done more, I am nevertheless proud of our accomplishments this year. I try to update that page about once a month with news of our progress, so if you are interested in our project, I encourage you to join the Impact Network and follow that particular page.
And now for my personal reflections...
Do you ever get dizzy on December 31st, as you spend the day looking back and forth, at both the past year and the one to come? It's been that kind of week for me. Looking back helps us know where we need to go as we move forward. Actually, looking down gives me a pretty good idea too. When I look down, I see evidence of a 2009 that was spent sitting at my computer and consuming carbohydrates. So, 2010 must contain less time stuffing my face and sitting on my butt. I am determined to lose some weight.
Less time on my posterior means less time with my faithful friend, Mr. MacBook. I struggled with this one a lot in 2009. I'm sure many of you became more intimately acquainted with your computer this year too. The difficulty is that the further we get into this century, the more we find our everyday activities being transferred to the computer and it's dastardly cousin, the internet. This is even more true for those of us who live overseas and desire to stay connected to the western world.
A few years ago, reading the newspaper meant sitting at the kitchen table and spreading out the inky pages. It meant saving a section for my wife so that she could read an article I thought might interest her. Reading a national magazine could be done while having a nice hot bath. Now I begin each day by browsing my favorite periodicals online. Instead of saving articles for my wife, I tell her to check the link that I left on Facebook!
In fact, all of my reading is done on my computer now. I even switched to reading the bible on my computer a while ago. A regrettable decision. My bible is remarkably bereft of my own handwriting and has long since known the loving touch of a highlighter. Instead of curling up on the couch with my bible and my God, I have tried to fit my quiet time into my deafening, digital day. How can one hear the still small voice when my internet browser—only a click away—is forever beckoning me with its promise of another photography tip or news of Tiger's proclivity for extra-marital activities?
Before moving to the Phils, we could visit with friends and family while actually being in the same physical space at the same time. Walks in the park with friends, or a game of golf with my father were not out of the question. Now my time with Dad is restricted to 17" of real estate. Instead of crazy adventures with my best friend, we settle for a binary beer on Skype. Bethany and I can no longer gather with the rest of the Stewart family to watch the hockey game, so I am left to listen to it. On my computer.
Like many of you, my job is performed at the computer as well. This is where I do all of my correspondence, emailing people from all over the world every day. 2009 saw the creation of the Impact Network, where I spend time (on my computer) coordinating communications between our donors and our project facilitators. I also spend time creating promotional materials such as sales presentations and brochures, and researching clean water technologies. Sometimes I do get away from my computer, only to sit in the car for several hours in order to attend a meeting and make a presentation. On my computer.
My hobby has me chained to the computer too. Sure, I must get off my duff to take a photograph, but it takes 1/250th of a second to capture an image. A memory card full of images can take me down a rabbit trail of editing that brings me hours of enjoyment. On my computer.
Each of these are perfectly good reasons to plunk my keister down in front of the almighty motherboard, but the end result is a need for larger pants, a weaker faith, and a lonely wife.
Yesterday Bethany and I had a "discussion" about all this. She makes the excellent point that whatever my activity on the computer is at any given time, the physical reality is always the same. A laptop (particularly that of the 17 inch variety) creates a physical barrier between the user and the rest of the world. It says "don't bug me, I'm busy". My eyes can't help but be drawn to the bright screen, even when I'm conversing with somebody.
So what is a 21st century man to do? After yesterdays "discussion", I retreated to the shower, where I do my best thinking. I was searching for a practical solution—self-reflection is good, self-actualization is better. My answer? Boundaries, of course! Firm rules that will help me to stay plugged in to the real world (pardon the irony of that metaphor). I have also placed some new rules that will help me invest in my family's spiritual growth without the use of any glorious gadgetry.
The new rules:
- I will put my computer to sleep at bedtime. I have a tendency to stuff my earbuds in and listen to podcasts when I go to bed, which can alienate my wife and distract me from a time of self-reflection and prayer. If I can't sleep, I will turn to the traditional method of reading an actual, physical, made-out-of-paper book.
- I will not open my computer again until after breakfast. I have fallen into the habit of checking my email when I first wake up, which then leads to either working or reading periodicals before I have greeted my family or my God.
- I will read a devotional aloud to Bethany at the breakfast table. If the computer can't be turned on till after breakfast, then there is plenty more time for me to invest in my family at the beginning of the day.
- We will not watch television during dinner. At some point in the last few years we got into this habit, and it's just one more way that keeps us from relating to one another. I don't have anything against TV, but the dinner table is an opportunity to talk to one another about our day. I don't want to miss that anymore. As an aside, we watch tv on my computer, so this is one more instance where I am demoting the marvelous MacBook.
- We will read a bible story to Promise at bedtime. We already have a pretty good bedtime routine with Promise, and unlike the rest of the day, it does not include a computer. Regardless, in an effort to develop a good habit that will strengthen my family for years to come, we will add the element of scripture to a time that I really do treasure.
So, those are my new rules. I was ticked off when I pronounced them after my shower yesterday, so I committed to keep them only to the end of January. But honestly, I truly hope that we will spend this month developing good habits that will continue throughout 2010 and into the years beyond.
I have stated the new rules here for two reasons. First, I humbly ask for your accountability. Feel free to ask me at any time how we are doing with the new routine. If you learn that I have slipped, you are hereby permitted to give me a good tongue lashing. Secondly, there is a distinct possibility that the temptation of a digitally dominated life is not my burden alone. If you have found yourself in a similar struggle, perhaps my reflections will give you the courage to take action.
Oh, and Happy New Year and all that jazz.