The Personalist Project

This post is not about how to spend less time online, escape pornography, control your children's virtual actions, or embrace the life of a luddite. It may overlap with these, but I want to talk about how to use technology to foster, not hinder, real personal contact. As anyone who lives with me can tell you, I'm no expert. But here are seven ideas that have helped me. Even if they seem obvious, you may find that actually trying them changes your life. (If so, please let me know!) Also: Did I forget something? Please tell me what. It's a bigger-than-a-blogpost subject.


Each day, give a different person the honor of serving as your home screen image. Train yourself to say a quick prayer for that person whenever your home screen pops up. Or let it jog your memory: Did you promise to call her? Would he like to catch up over coffee? Maybe you could ask how that biopsy turned out or how that exam went? The worse your addiction, the more chances you'll have.


Get an app that staves off mindless, passive phone use. Here's a quick rundown of six possibilities. Mildly addicted patients can benefit from the gentle kinds that just tell you how you're doing. Hard cases are advised to choose something that actually blocks them from their favorite time-wasters. These are simple ways to move yourself in the direction of taking action instead of settling for being an easy, passive target of manipulation and victim of your own sloth.


Stop "liking" things on Facebook; try commenting instead. Force upon yourself the habit of communicating a thought rather than resorting to a prefab response.  This seems to result in a better Facebook experience--less generic, less replete with throwaway platitudes, more authentically personal.


Use your children's tech addiction to your advantage. Message them and text them not just to nag them, but to keep in genuine touch with them. Practice biting your virtual tongue so you won't come across as an endless font of unasked-for advice. When I backpacked around Europe for a month as a teenager, I talked to my parents once in Dublin and once in Rome. My kids can effortlessly contact me anytime from anywhere. This could foster over-dependence, but it doesn't have to. It could foster friendship.


Be ruthless about minimizing impersonal, meaningless, manipulative communication . Set up one email for contact with the human beings whom you care about, and who need you, and another for marketers for whom you're just prey. Then unsubscribe to (at least most of) those. Use the ability to unblock and unfriend to your advantage, too. It's true that these options can wreak havoc, fostering self-referential people who only interact with their fellows when and if and to the extent they feel like doing so. But they have their uses.

Well-meaning people are specially promising fodder for manipulators. Some people feel guilty for unsubscribing to anything religious, or anything prolife. But if they take you away from those who have a prior claim on your attention, they're fair game.


Use social media to set up meetings in real life. Encourage your kids to do the same. Call people sometimes, instead of texting or messaging. I'm a writer, not a speaker, but even so, hearing someone's voice is irreplaceable.


Try narrating what you're doing on your phone. In her insightful article, "Motherhood, Screened Off," Susan Dominus puts her finger on part of the problem. When you're intent on your phone, ignoring the people around you, they have no idea why. You might be shopping for a surprise birthday present for them or watching s dopey video. You could be writing a note of condolence to a bereaved friend or paying the water bill. They won't know unless you tell them.                                                                                      


 That's all I've got. What would you add?

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Thanks to Kelly Mantoan for hosting! If you have a blogpost you'd like to link up, you can find instructions for doing so at the end of this post at her blog, This Ain't the Lyceum.

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