To Friends and Family I Love Who Voted Trump

I have quite a few friends, family members, and family-members-of-friends who have always been dear to me and who made different voting choices than I did during this election season. You voted for Trump, maybe because you were enthusiastic about him, or maybe because you just thought he was okay-ish—or maybe you really disliked him but really disliked Clinton more. There were lots of reasons, ranging from the economy to fears about terrorism to the Supreme Court nomination, that you voted as you did.

I’m coming to you with this letter (and feel free to call or message me later if you have questions or thoughts) not because we disagreed in our voting, but because there is an urgent matter that we agree on that I need to ask for your help about.

How do I know we agree about it? Because I know you. You are my friends and my family. I’m not writing this to an anonymous internet, but to you.

The issue that we agree about is this: cruelty and violence are wrong.

There’s been a lot of arguing over whether Trump, personally, is a racist or misogynist. The answers to this range from “He’s definitely a racist” to “He was using a racist platform just to get elected but doesn’t feel that way personally” to “He’s not racist at all and has been unfairly blamed.”

Many unsavory groups like the KKK supported him, and there has been a lot of arguing over whether Trump wanted that, or whether people are just blaming him for the actions of jerks whom he can’t control, such as David Duke.

I’m not here to answer these questions, because there’s something a little more urgent that we need to deal with right now. Whether Trump intended this, didn’t intend this, or is completely oblivious to it, the reality of today is that very bad people are feeling bolder about harassing, assaulting, and bullying members of minority groups, because Trump was elected. Many of them are directly mentioning Trump’s election in their attacks.

This link is a good place to start reading some of the many, many stories in the past few days of attackers who use Trump’s name to justify attacks on innocent citizens—non-white Americans, immigrants, women, and LGBT members, to name a few. You can find much more if you start reading and looking for other stories. The KKK recently announced a big party to celebrate Trump. Even in instances where attacks have not occurred yet, people are becoming so afraid that they are considering leaving the country, or are changing their daily behaviors to avoid trouble (one example of this is Muslim women who stop wearing their head scarves even though it’s part of their religious beliefs, because they fear being singled out).

Again, does Trump personally condone all this? I don’t know him, so I can’t say for sure. But whether he personally does or does not agree with these attacks and this fear, many attackers think he does, and they seem to believe that his election means they can threaten and attack others and get away with it.

And this is where you come in, my friends, because I already know you don’t believe in cruelty and assault. I know you wouldn’t want anyone to be treated the way the people in these stories are treated. I know because some of you have LGBT loved ones, and some of you reached out with sadness when I shared a Facebook status from a black man who was musing on the KKK’s support of Trump, and because some of you are people I grew up around who have demonstrated how you treat women and minorities.

So hear me: the increased hostilities against minorities are something that you and I have the power to deal with, and I’m hoping you’ll get on board with me about that.

There’s a lot of social peer pressure right now for Trump voters to ignore these attacks as outliers, to call them blown-out-of-proportion, or to believe they’ve been made up. I think people fear that if they admit people are assaulting minorities in Trump’s name, it will be like losing an argument against the Hillary supporters and political liberals. Or, they fear, we’ll be letting a biased media use scare tactics to pull the wool over our eyes.

I’m asking you not to give in to that peer pressure. Don’t believe that you will risk looking wrong or being a “bleeding heart” if you take these attacks seriously and recognize how frequently they are happening. Don’t believe that they are all inflated by a biased media, because frankly, it’s not the media reporting most of this—it’s everyday citizens. (That KKK story is the only media piece I’ve seen on the attacks; everything else I have seen since Wednesday morning has been real people reporting from Facebook and Twitter).

These attacks are happening on the street, in everyday situations, to people who are minding their own business. You and I are also on the street in everyday situations. We may run into an instance of harassment and have a chance to stop it. Or, we may have friends and loved ones who say mean or violent things against minorities, and we might have the chance to speak up and start changing their mind. Who knows—maybe your disagreement will make that person more hesitant to share their thoughts out loud, and then they won’t be fueling the anger and rage of their violent friends.

And here’s the important part: because you voted Trump, the people launching these attacks may listen to you more than they listen to me.

It would be easier for people to write me off when I stand up to this because they can just blame my angst about Clinton losing. But if someone who voted as they did were to speak up for the oppressed—at the dinner table, on Facebook, by intervening in harassment on the street—it will be harder for them to believe that Trump’s election means they can oppress people.

So what does this look like for you?

Maybe it looks like a really awkward comment at the Thanksgiving dinner table when a relative has made a blanket statement about needing to keep Muslims out: “Hey Aunt Joan, you know that I take terrorism seriously too. I hope our country will protect us from that. But if we start blaming that on all Muslims, we’re going to be blaming a lot of innocent people, too. I don’t want to hurt innocent people. Let’s talk about the vetting process, and talk about counter-terrorism, but not talk about ‘Muslims’ as one category, okay?”

Maybe it looks like saying, “You know, I have a friend who is transgender. She’s a really nice person, but right now she’s nervous about going out alone, even just to run errands. It makes me sad to imagine that a stranger might yell at her or get in her face; that would be awful.”

Maybe it looks like standing up to a sexist joke from your friend, for the first time ever, and saying, “Hey dude, seriously. Jokes about women aren’t funny to me. A lot of my friends/sisters are worried about being assaulted, and that is making me really sad for them; how is that funny?”

Maybe it looks like all of these people gently laughing at you, raising their eyebrows, and worrying that you’re going to “the other side,” the too-PC side—and maybe it looks like insisting to them, “No, we all know this is wrong, and we are being peer pressured into pretending it’s okay by some of our political friends, and I won’t pretend anymore.”

Maybe it looks like lurking on social media for a few days, taking in the stories of people who are different from you, and then telling those stories to other friends and family who don’t believe how serious things have gotten. Maybe it looks like actively taking to your blog or Facebook to write about what’s happening and say, “I recognize that this is happening and I am telling you that this is not what the next presidency should be about, and this is not how any of us should ever behave, toward anyone, for any reason.”

Maybe it means you stop an assault. Maybe it means you openly cry, in front of friends or family, when you see that someone has spray-painted, “Black lives don’t matter, and neither does their vote” in public.

Whatever you do, don’t say “I and my friends who voted Trump aren’t racist, so his candidacy isn’t about that. Why are people so afraid of him?” Like it or not, intentionally or not, Trump getting elected has resulted in some dangerous people feeling entitled to attack others. Even if the mathematical majority of Trump voters don’t want to attack minorities, even a fraction of Trump voters being violent has huge implications for the safety of our society, and we need to recognize that.

Yes, you and I both know that you don’t go around hating anyone—and that is exactly why you need to speak up when you see hate. That is exactly why you, as a Trump voter, need to say, “I see stories of fear and assault. This is not okay. This should never happen. I will hold others accountable to stop.”

So here’s the next part of the equation. This is the more difficult part to write, especially to people that I love. But if I don’t “go there” I don’t think I can keep my intellectual integrity.

Right now, there are a lot of minorities asking very hard questions of Trump supporters. They are pointing out that you had enough information to know that his candidacy was encouraging awful, violent people. They are saying that we all had enough information to know that a Trump victory would make violent, dangerous people bolder.

I have personally heard people from disadvantaged groups asking hard questions. They say, “Yes, there were reasons to vote for Trump other than racism, like the economy and such. But how were any of those reasons more important than my immediate safety?”

Understand that I am reporting what I have personally heard others asking.

These accusations probably hurt you, because you don’t want anyone to get hurt. You don’t like being blamed for actions you yourself would never do. Neither do I; neither does anyone! However, those questions and accusations are poignant and worth pondering. It hurts to examine things like that, but those things are serious enough that they sort of demand reflection—right?

Let me tell you a story about myself.

You probably know that I’m big into feminism (you don’t have to agree with feminism to understand this metaphor, I promise). I read about it, write about it, and examine how it intersects with my faith. Several years ago, I became aware of the fact that minority women are often ignored—or outright dismissed and victimized—by mainstream feminism. Mainstream feminism often focuses on white, middle-class women, and those women can be pretty elitist when we want to be.

For a long time I ignored all this. It was too painful. Feminism—the system that I believed in and loved—could be oppressive and harmful? But feminism was about throwing off oppression! How could I be expected to take something that gave me so much joy and enthusiasm and recognize that it could be used for exclusion and harm, too?

I still haven’t resolved this tension, but I keep looking at it. I look at it painfully, and realize that the comfortable white feminism that I am so content with will have to be traded in for a feminism that’s more inclusive. That is a frustrating process, because it puts me into circles where I am not an expert, and it forces me to ask why I have been lazily complicit in oppression sometimes.

Maybe comparing feminism to who we vote for is a clumsy metaphor, but I think there’s a common message. Sometimes people will accuse you of being part of something that hurt them. You will think that’s unfair, especially if it’s something you really believed in. But it is your responsibility to look at that accusation anyway, determine how much it might be true, and then own it. I’ve done that. It sucks.

It is completely necessary to being human, though.

I don’t pretend to know what each of you will end up thinking about your vote for Donald Trump in five, ten, fifteen years. But I am asking you, with as much humility and love I can muster as your friend, to consider the words of the people who feel like they’ve been hurt by it—even though I know, and you know, that you did not mean harm when you cast that vote. Saying you had good intentions is not the end of your answer to someone’s pain; it is only the beginning of an answer that will hopefully take more time and reflection.

I don’t know how else to say any of this, so I will end with a plea for you to hear me, if you’re my friend. I need—no, people far more disadvantaged than me need—for you to join me in unequivocally calling out and condemning attacks again minority groups. I need you to openly say that these acts of fear against our fellow man are wrong and must stop. I need you to help change other people’s minds, even when it’s awkward, and I need you to step in right away if you see something scary happening in public.

These are beliefs and actions that should not be controversial to any of you. I know you. I know your heart and what you believe. But my greatest fear is that you won’t join me.

Your friend, your family, the redhead you watched grow up, the daughter and granddaughter of people you respect and the wife of someone you love,

Rachel Elizabeth

#LoveGrowsMutuality — I Really Believe That

In the past few months, writers and theologians who hold conservative views on gender roles have made a lot of claims that misbehaving men are the only reason women feel they need egalitarianism/feminism, and that if all boyfriends and husbands treated women well, women would abandon these ideologies and slide happily into complementarian life.

We egalitarian wives and girlfriends know better, though. Many of us have grown in our convictions about egalitarianism and/or feminism precisely because of wonderful egalitarian husbands/boyfriends who treat us well. Yes, egalitiarianism and feminism do “call out” men who behave badly. However, at the end of the day, we believe egalitarianism works because we’ve seen it work in our lives–not because we mistrust men and imagined up a system that would make them behave. We believe it through positive reinforcement, not negative.

Several of us blogged about that this week. Here is my contribution to the week of proving that #LoveGrowsMutuality.

There are several areas of life that have shown Jaron and I that feminism (or Christian feminism, or egalitarianism, they’re all interchangeable to me) is the way to go. Here are just a few…

Co-Leadership Grows Confidence and Productivity

Early in my marriage, I struggled to work through comp versus egal theology. Jaron and I married with the agreement that we would practice two-way submission instead of husband leadership, but I hadn’t thought it through any farther. I’d heard tons of subtle comp messages about the role of a wife, and they came to haunt me as I tried to figure out my adult self—especially in the area of my passions and career.

Comp theology pushed the husband’s path as determinative for the family, with the wife’s goals important but fitting secondarily around his. How could I get excited about my personal life goals when I didn’t truly have the authority to see those goals through? What if I got really invested in something and then Jaron’s path or heart told us my passion had only been for a season?

If Jaron was my leader, and I should view my life through his plan for our collective family rather than my plan for myself, how could that not cool my enthusiasm for my career and passions?

In contrast, our burgeoning Christian feminist beliefs allowed my passion to blossom and made our marriage that much more exciting. The possibility that my plans might set the precedent for our family in certain seasons—that God not only allows, but expects me to step up and take the lead in what I do—strapped a rocket pack to my energy. Knowing that Jaron supports my work equally makes me happy, secure, optimistic, and willing to give his work that same support.

As a result, in the last 10 years I have worked in nearly all my dream fields: in journalism, education, ministry (admin at a church—that counts!)  freelance writing, and am prepared to launch the web comic I’ve dreamed of. I credit my success in part to Jaron being a supportive husband—but he’s able to be supportive in the ways I need because of his feminist convictions about my work not coming second. Feminism makes him a supportive husband, and being a supportive husband leads him to feminism.

Preventing Resentment

All couples get aggravated with each other. Let’s be honest; sometimes we have ongoing disagreements. Jaron and I appreciate that feminism helps prevent additional, unnecessary resentments that would make marital bliss harder.

Frankly, it would be hard not to feel confusion and frustration that someone who was my equal intellectually, educationally, in age, and in experience was arbitrarily gifted the status of leadership above me just because he was born a different gender. It seems natural that this frustration would breed resentment, however small, however nice he was trying to be. It seems nuts to suggest that wouldn’t happen.

Comps suggest that resentment against husband authority is Satan’s temptation and that women can fight it. Jaron and I have found an easier solution by not introducing it in the first place.

I don’t have to wonder if he really thought through how important something was to me before he made his decision—instead, he trusts me to say when something really matters to me, and then to make the decision myself. That gives me an incredible sense of security and respect in our relationship. I don’t have to talk myself into feeling equal with him even though my essence is defined by what I can’t do in comparison to him.  He lives out my equality daily by acknowledging and honoring my leadership. That makes me feel truly loved and valued.

I’ll keep that husband rather than the version that tries his best to make the decisions I want him to make in my place. Who needs that level of temptation to resent each other?

Digging Deep to Get Past Assumptions

Feminism insists on looking beyond assumptions and labels about gender, so it leads us to questions that help us understand ourselves and make us better partners.

I’ve asked why I accept limitations that make me feel disempowered, such as the stereotypical assumption that women aren’t good at building or fixing things. I realized that I was waiting around for Jaron to do “hands-on” things, making me frustrated and him overwhelmed with the honey-do list. We’re working on it, and we both feel better.

After watching friends welcome babies into their lives, Jaron realized he was besotted with infants. Feminism’s insistence on going beyond stereotypes helped him push himself outside a typical male comfort zone. He was able to learn about infant care when our twin godchildren were born, which made him a priceless partner during the crazy season of supporting my best friend through twin motherhood.

It’s helped us understand our goals in life. Jaron has admitted that he doesn’t hang his ego on being a financial provider, and my admission that I do have ego in that area has helped me work through frustrations that otherwise would bubble unlabeled beneath the surface.

We enjoy the benefits of not simply accepting things about ourselves, but digging to really uncover who we are. It makes us more attractive to each other. It makes me feel loved to know that he will accept whatever I find in myself, that he will delight in seeing me discover the real Rachel. He thinks it’s cool when my personality doesn’t fit the feminine box, which makes me feel super good, because if there’s one thing I’m bad at, it’s climbing into boxes.

I’m not saying it would be impossible for complementarians to ask those questions or make those discoveries. However, if I’m honest, it was feminism that pushed us down this road. No sermon we ever heard about husbands loving wives well pushed us that direction. Feminism brings that out more naturally in us. So we stick with it.

Tools of Cultural Critique

I can’t stress this one enough. Feminist rhetoric has taught us how to examine the role that culture plays in shaping beliefs.

This means Jaron is really good at, for instance, spotting rape culture messages. He grasps how things that seem like normal “boys will be boys” attitudes can feel threatening to me—even attitudes that sometimes come from Christian teachers. Do you know how cherished and valued I feel when he sees those things and points them out? He also recognizes how culturally constructed our notions of beauty are, and understands my struggle as a woman in that world (for that matter, feminist’s cultural critique of beauty standards helped my body image more than all the “God cares about inner beauty” platitudes ever did).

It makes me a better wife to acknowledge Jaron’s right to be emotional and vulnerable. When I’m tempted to demand that he take on my struggles and have none of his own, I call that out for the bankrupt cultural patriarchy that it is, get over myself, and help him through his rough spots.

I could go on with these examples. Suffice it to say that feminism teaches us to get outside man-man paradigms of gender, while complementarianism, for all its talk of “not being of the world,” is quick to pigeon-hole man-made beliefs about gender as being hardwired by God. So that’s another area where we won’t be trading feminism for kind complementarianism.

Disagreements

Because we don’t believe that I’m ultimately called to submit to his authority, when we disagree, we have to talk it all the way through to a mutual solution.

I can’t overstate how vital this has been to each of us becoming a better spouse.

If submission factored into our marriage, there would have been times where, exhausted from the hard work of hashing things out, we would have “called it” and said it was time for him to make the decision. But without this belief, we’ve had to go farther and deeper into the heart of disagreements. I’ve come to depths of understanding about how he thinks (and how I think!) that I couldn’t have reached if we’d taken the relational shortcut of submission.

In moments where you don’t have one person’s answer to reach for, you have to exercise patience, perseverance, love, selflessness, and compassion at a whole new level. Jaron’s ability to do these things for me has only grown over the years. Would he be like that—would I be like that?—if we had stunted our practice in these areas by defaulting to him when things heated up?

Conclusions

These are just a few of the ways in which the health of my marriage works as an endorsement for Christian feminism. This is why I don’t buy the idea that well-practiced complementarianism would make feminism look dingy.

Having said all this, I realize that some complementarians will argue that they do these things, too—thinking outside stereotypes, valuing the wife’s work, making sure both people’s opinions are heard. I’ve heard complementarians say it’s a fallacy that their system doesn’t allow this, and that in fact they recognize its value.

To which I respond: then you agree with a whole lot of feminism, and I’m not sure why you want it to go away. Why this insistence that husbands should act better so feminism will disappear? Feminism is in tune with husbands acting better. You’d have as much luck boycotting meat to make vegetarianism go away.

I’ll go a step further. If you resonate with my list, you are so in tune with basic feminist principles that you may in fact be an accidental feminist without knowing it, all except for your belief that men “technically” do have some God-given leadership over wives.

(If someone wants to bring up that feminists supposedly have to believe in abortion, and therefore the whole movement is bankrupt, I addressed that in a previous post, so don’t reinvent the wheel in this comment section or you will look like a ninny.)

I realize that the theology of marriage is a very personal decision. I don’t want to pressure anyone into seeing it my way (though yes, I secretly believe it would be good for anyone!). By the same token, don’t assume that feminists have simply misunderstood what men are supposed to be about. Feminist men know how to treat women right—and a wife who’s experienced a feminist husband will accept no substitute.

 

Love Grows Mutuality

During the week of April 25-29, myself and others will be blogging on the topic Love Grows Mutuality. (Feel free to use that as a hashtag on Twitter!)

In the past few months, writers and theologians who hold conservative views on gender roles have made a lot of claims that misbehaving men are the only reason women feel they need egalitarianism/feminism, and that if all boyfriends and husbands treated women well, women would abandon these ideologies and slide happily into complementarian life.

A few of us decided to respond by blogging about how our relationships with wonderful men who treat us well have only increased our passion for egalitarianism/feminism. I will be adding to this list of synchro-bloggers all week, so stay tuned. My own post will drop Monday night or early Tuesday. Until then, check out these great thoughts:

A Psalm For An Egalitarian Husband by Sister Mary Dandelion

Just You Wait….the biggest lesson I’ve learned in 10 years of marriage by Meredith Broughton

Love Grows Mutually by Jax Hill

A Picture of Manhood at Scratchpaperthoughts

The Joys of Egalitarian Marriage at Women and Church

80s Babies Lesson 2: Technology May Need Boundaries, But It’s Pretty Wonderful

ob ginger thumbnailThis is Part 2 of a series (inspired by the article “Why 80s Babies Are Different Than Other Millennials”) in which I argue that 80s babies are actually the magic Rosetta Stone of figuring out a healthy balance between using technology and unplugging. Due to our weird place on the timeline of technological development, we have a perspective the world needs.

In Part 1, we established that 80’s babies understand the internet should be an event, not a lifestyle—even if we have trouble living that belief out sometimes.

 

80s Babies Lesson 2: Technology May Need Boundaries, But It’s Pretty Wonderful.

When you focus on how technology has overtaken our lives, it’s easy to become an old cane-waver on a porch, repeating the phrase “good old days” and seeing only the bad side of technological advances. Most of us born in the 80s don’t fall into this trap, because the techno revolution happened when we were still young and impressionable and not set in our ways.

If you can distinctly recall the excitement of walking into your weekly computer lab session and seeing a room full of Apple 2Es displaying the start screen of Oregon Trail, you’re a member of this nameless generation, my friend.

As Garvey’s article points out, our generation had computer class as a regular part of public school, and it laid an important foundation: from an early age, we understood that technology was the way of the future. It was so important that they had to teach us about it alongside Algebra and reading. We were taught it would be part of our future jobs (although the ‘80s Apple dinosaurs our school district could afford in 1997 did not, shockingly, use the same OS as computers at my current job).

Our brains, as the article says, were “curious sponges.” We were open to technology. By and large, we had little emotional struggle about integrating more and more technology into our daily lives.

We’ve seen technology provide breakthroughs in the medical field that help suffering patients. We’ve experienced the convenience of making complicated connections through cell phones, the relief of hearing a loved one’s voice on the phone when they were supposed to be home two hours ago. We’ve broken barriers of isolation by using the internet to find people who share our interests and struggles. We’ve realized that we can keep records and write notes and craft letters without killing so many trees. We’ve gotten access to medical journals from other countries, kept in touch with old friends halfway around the world, seen corrupt power exposed through the strength of social media.

I actually think this makes us appreciate technology more than the generation that was born into it.

After all, as Garvey says, we were “the first children to grow up figuring it out, as opposed to having an innate understanding of new technology the way Millennials did.” We’ve seen its transformative power, whereas today’s kiddos can’t imagine life before that transformation.

We know technology can be used for wonderful things—even though we admit that it can be too all-consuming.

And, like it or not, we accepted a long time ago that technological change isn’t going away. We were the first generation that was old enough to question the negatives of technology but weren’t able to just put our heads in the sand about it. People from older generations can, if they so choose, learn just enough tech to survive and coast. Our generation has spent, and will spend, the entirety of our working lives in a world that demands we be neck-deep in technology to stay relevant. By the time we’re our parents’ age, tech will be too ingrained and changing too fast to not constantly learn about it. That’s a tall order, but we have risen to the occasion.

So just because we 80s kids recognize that technology can quickly overtake you, and that it is a powerful force to use with sober judgment, we don’t see technology as bad. We see it as a tool—a tool we knew from a young age would do wonderful things, if used well.

Tune in next week (or use the Subscribe button above) for 80s Babies Lesson 3: The Value of Direct Human Connection.

(Missed Part 1? Catch it here!)

What 80s Babies Know About Balancing Technology

 

ob ginger thumbnailBack in November, I wrote a blog post about how much the internet has taken over our lives, and never got around to Part 2. I couldn’t figure out where to go from there—until I ran across the recent article “Why 80’s Babies Are Different Than Other Millennials,” and realized that 80s babies are actually the secret weapon to figuring out this modern technology conundrum.

No, seriously. I’m becoming convinced that my generation of Millennials—the earliest Millennials, the 80s born-and-raised Millennials—are the Rosetta Stone needed to decode this mess of technology vs. real-world experience. If you’ve ever said, “I need and love technology, but I kind of miss using my legs to walk around, and I haven’t seen a human face since Christmas,” then find yourself someone who was born between 1977 and 1985.

The article that clued me into this (and which I will reference as the source of many of my ideas) has this to say about 1980s babies:

A big part of what makes us the square peg in the round hole of named generations is our strange relationship with technology and the Internet. We came of age just as the very essence of communication was experiencing a seismic shift, and it’s given us a unique perspective that’s half analog old school and half digital new school.

The article is a nostalgic backwards look at what it means to come of age during the technology revolution—not before, not after, but during. I belong to that group. Our childhood was analog, our adulthood is digital, and the teen years were a mix.

 

Due to our unique place on this timeline, I believe 80s babies have an intrinsic understanding of how to balance technology and the rest of life in a healthy way.

 

We may not realize we have this knowledge. We may not always live it out. But we were forged in the analog fires, toughened through the gauntlet of 90s chat rooms, and came as adults to the sandstorm of social media—our past and our instincts can, and will, tell us how to appreciate and use technology without being eaten alive by it.

So let’s review what we’ve learned, shall we?

 

80s Babies Lesson 1: The Internet Should Be An Event, Not A Lifestyle

We were the first group of kids who grew up with household computers, but still novel enough to elicit confusion and wonder.

Remember when the computer was a fun new diversion? Most families had one, and getting on the internet was a once-per-day event. You removed yourself from the main flow of household activity and went to the computer station (in my house, the dining room), listened to the dial-up screeee at you for awhile, and did your inter-netting for the day. If you had permissive parents, you might be allowed up to two hours of inter-netting, but then they really did need the phone back. If you had siblings, like my husband did, everyone got an allotment of inter-netting per week (and learned how to beg, borrow, and steal each other’s minutes).

You signed off, and then you were done.

No answering e-mail endless times. No five-hour chat session that waxed and waned with your attention span. No looking things up throughout the evening as they occurred to you. The internet was a thing you had to go to at certain times.

This made the internet feel like a hobby, or a specific tool. You fitted it into your schedule and spent the rest of the day doing other things. You knew exactly how much time you’d devoted to it.

Today, the internet is ever-present. Between computers, phones, and tablets, it’s no longer an event, but the background of life. But it’s a crappy background. Most of us can’t even begin to tally up the random minutes we spend checking it throughout the day, and we give away with both hands massive amounts of time to its hungry maw.

(Do you know how long I’ve waited to use the phrase “hungry maw” in a blog post?)

And though this has been said a lot, it bears repeating—one consequence is that you can remove yourself from the flow around you at any moment, for any length of time. Disappearing into the computer room used to be a decision, a noticeable decision that your parents or spouse or kids could hound you about. A haze of distraction about your phone or laptop that never completely dissipates is much harder to combat.

 

The 80s Instincts Kick In

So what do we do about this? Here are some humble suggestions for making the internet an event again instead of a lifestyle.

  1. Choose a time and place to use the internet at home. Keep the laptop or tablet at a desk or table. Go to that spot for internet-related tasks, then shut the computer off and leave.
  2. Maybe actually turn it off, too, as opposed to sleeping or hibernating. This recreates the sense of inconvenience we used to feel about constantly jumping on and off.
  3. Consider what internet “background noise” you can cut. I’m trying to replace Youtube videos with book reading during meals and bedtime routine. The other day, I turned on the radio instead of Netflix while I worked on my graphic novel pages. Find small things you can replace with “real-life” events.
  4. If your hobbies necessitate the computer, can you still turn off the WiFi to get them done? For instance, when writing a blog post, I could copy and paste what I need to quote from other articles, then spend some quality time with my Word Processor without Twitter peering over my shoulder every three minutes.
  5. Set boundaries for your phone. Choose a location for it to live, and leave it there. Go to that place to deal with calls and notifications, rather than carrying the phone from room to room.  (If you need to take the phone with you when going upstairs or downstairs, make one phone location for each level of the house).Make your phone space feel like a temporary work station rather than a place to settle in—this cuts the temptation to wait around for a text or idly surf the web. Remember when phones used to hang next to the kitchen doorway? Yeah. No one stood there waiting for a call, unless you were 15 and had a new boyfriend.
  6. Let notifications build up. You don’t have to check every noise your phone makes. You don’t have to sit with your finger hovering over the Facebook notification icon. Set a couple of times to check these things, and limit yourself to that. Better yet, do what I did this week and announce that you will only use your social media account for event invites and private messages.
  7. Tell close friends and loved ones to call if it’s important or time-sensitive. Tell them you won’t be responding to texts and social media as quickly, so if they need something right away, calling is best. Then you won’t have to spring at every text and babysit your social media account to keep from missing things.

These tips may be easier said than done. It may mean a lifestyle change in some areas. But we must set boundaries on how much of our lives the internet can invade. If we reach the point where the internet (rather than us) decides that it will be the background, and we have no say, then the robot takeover has already begun!

Come back on Friday (or use the Subscribe button above) for 80s Babies Lesson 2: Technology May Need Boundaries, But It’s Pretty Wonderful.