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Assorted technology in a trash can

Unplugged (Sort Of)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about God, it’s that he likes to throw monkey wrenches in our plans, and substitute his own. To disrupt us if we start to get too comfortable—not because there’s anything wrong with comfort, but because if we’re too comfortable for too long we start to get stagnant.

A week ago I shared my intention of delving into technology on this blog a little more. I specifically said that I was going to start with a review of an app called Moves, and that I was going to write said review this weekend. I actually started it this afternoon, and wrote for a little while until I had to go to 130 Jackson for sound check and band practice before the service. Once we’d gone through the sound check, and I’d got the mix about where I wanted it, I pulled out my phone and picked up where I’d left off (the beauty of cloud sync) while the band practiced.

Then the service began. [nlcf] is doing a series on the Seven Deadly Sins, leading up to Easter. Last week we started with Pride, and this week was on Gluttony. Jim defined gluttony more broadly than it is commonly used, to mean an unhealthy over-indulgence of anything, to the point of waste, and to the point of turning our focus away from God. At the end he brought up Lent, which begins on Wednesday, and encouraged us to think about something we could give up for the forty days, that could make room in our lives to grow closer to God. He gave a few examples of common fasts, including chocolate or Facebook. Even while he was still talking, I knew. I’m going on a technology fast.

I mentioned in last week’s post that my biggest time waster is technology blogs. It may not have come across in what I said there, but I’ve been realizing over the past several weeks that this is a big problem. Not because there’s anything inherently wrong with them, but because they suck away so much of my life.

In addition to the Seven Deadly Sins series, over the first four weeks of the semester, at [nlcf] we’re focusing on listening and hearing from God, and freeing up time to do so. That is, we’re spending the four weeks looking at it in depth—particularly in our Engage Groups, but enmeshed with everything we’re doing—in order to become a congregation that practices it habitually, setting the tone for the semester and beyond. A major aspect of it that we’re taking on is time management. This is something that has plagued me…probably as long as I can remember. But God’s been turning the heat up on this issue for me recently, and now that we’re honing in on it at [nlcf], it’s something that I really want to tackle head-on this semester. Not only to free up time for God (although that’s the most important reason,) but also to stay on top of homework better, so I’m not getting it done late at night when it’s due the next morning, and to have time to do other stuff that I just can’t now. All that stuff that falls under the umbrella of “being a good steward of my time.”

Part of this has been looking at things we can prune back. The amount of time I spend on tech sites (or their app counterparts), YouTube, and the like, jumped quickly to my mind. So I’ve already been thinking about ideas for regulating my time spent on non-school-related or unessential surfing. But after Jim’s sermon tonight, I’ve decided that for Lent, I’m going cold turkey.

My plan is to only use my iPhone, iPad, or laptop to do the things I actually need to do. It’s unrealistic to unplug from email, texting, or even Facebook, because I need to be able to stay in touch with people, and all of those are necessary for that at some point or other. So I’ll launch the Facebook or Facebook Messenger apps if I get a notification, I’ll take appropriate action, and close them. (Historically, wasting time on Facebook has not been a huge issue for me like it is for a lot of friends. I have other issues.) Same goes for email—I’ll open it when I get an email, respond accordingly, and move on. (More on email below.)

It’s unrealistic to stop managing my schedule and to-do lists in their appropriate apps. (Well, technically this one’s probably doable, but I don’t think it’s necessary or beneficial. I’ll still be carrying around my phone, so I may as well use the calendar and task management apps. I’m not about to go out and buy a paper planner. I really think that would just make it harder to be effective with my time.)

It’s certainly unrealistic to stop using the apps and websites I need to do homework and stuff.

But other than the essentials, I’m unplugging. I’m not gonna read up on the latest iThing and everything it can do. (I think that’s gonna be the hardest part of this for me. What might Apple do between now and Easter, that I’m gonna miss? I’ve heard rumors of updated iPads sometime this quarter, and of an up-and-coming iWatch sooner or later. Of course, if they do something big, I’ll hear about it somehow or other. But I won’t get to read all the juicy details myself.) I’m not gonna browse the App Store looking for apps to experiment with. I’m not gonna play Letterpress or Angry Birds Star Wars. I’m going to resist the urge to pull out my phone anytime I’m standing in line or waiting around for class to start, just to fill the time. Or to reach for it when I wake up and spend the first minutes of my day reading a review of Blackberry 10.

I’m going so far as to rearrange my home screens to put the apps I’ll need on the first one. And not even go to the others. (This is actually a very strategic step. As long as my home screens look like they always do, I won’t think twice about tapping open my News folder and tapping one of the icons sitting inside it, before realizing what I’ve done. But if that folder is nowhere to be found on that first screen, I’ll remember that I’m supposed to be staying away from it.)

I’m even going old-school and pulling my old (imitation?) leather-bound Bible off the shelf. The one with pages and stuff. (The books I’m reading are stuck in iBooks, though, and I think it’s still worth reading those.)

And during these forty days, I’m going to be thinking long-term—about what boundaries I can set on myself in this area for once Lent is over, and about other steps I can take to manage my time a little better.

I will probably still be blogging some. Maybe even a little more frequently, because with more time to hear from God I’ll probably have more stuff to share. But if you were excited about hearing about apps, sorry. I’ll leave you with a consolation mini-review. (Last chance to plug an app here for a while—and this is actually relevant.)

Going back to email, I actually just started using an app that I think will really help in the battle of the inbox. It’s called Mailbox, and it conveniently just launched the other day, although I’ve been waiting for it for months. The basic premise is that the only emails in your inbox are the ones you need to address at this moment. The app badge actually shows the total number of emails in your inbox, rather than the typical unread count. You can archive or delete an email, move it to a list, or snooze it. This snooze feature is where the innovation really lies. You can tell it to snooze until later today, tomorrow, next week, or even later. It will move into a Later section (where you can still go to see the emails you’ve snoozed) and will come back to your inbox whenever you told it to, so you can deal with it then. Sure, it’s a fancy way to procrastinate, but it’s a good way to handle those emails that you’re leaving in your inbox until it’s a good time to take care of them. It makes me really think about each email—whether I can respond to it now, or if there’s a better time when I actually will. In the meantime, I can get back to “Inbox Zero.” Which feels really, really good.

They’re launching for just iPhone and Gmail and will expand from there. (In anticipation of this app, I set up yet another personal address over break, at Gmail, and have my previous email addresses (iCloud, etc.) forwarding to it. Virginia Tech mail is conveniently Gmail-based.)

They’re also rolling it out first-come, first-serve, slowly at first, but speeding up exponentially. I was fortunate enough to hear about the up-and-coming app back in December, from a blogger who got let in on the private beta and said it was the best thing since sliced bread. I got on the waiting list way back then, so I was only #18,728, and I got access to the app only a couple days after it launched last week. People getting in line now could be waiting a month. (While you’re waiting, the app shows the number of people in line in front of you and behind you. Last I saw, there were more than 600,000 behind me.) But I think the app is worth the wait.

If you’re an iPhone/Gmail user, you can read more about Mailbox at, and get it on the App Store here.

Back to Lent. Seeing as it starts Wednesday, I have a couple days to think about this some more, and see if there are any other ways I can unplug. (If you have ideas, drop them in the comments below.) In the meantime, I’ll probably start easing into the ideas I have so far, before going all-in on Wednesday. So there you have it. This could be an interesting six weeks. But I think it’ll be good. Really good.

(Also, in case you were wondering—my iPad and keyboard only stayed in the trash can long enough to take the picture. I actually wrote this on that iPad, with that keyboard.)