Fighting back against constant digital distraction
We all understand that electronic devices have changed our lives. The impact they have on the way we live has to rank right up there with the mastery of fire and discovery of the wheel. In talking with three women at a conference in California last month, I stumbled on a consequence of that electronic invasion that I had no idea even existed: e-nups. What, you’ve never heard of e-nups? You’ve heard of prenups — prenuptial agreements, right? Those are agreements couples make before marriage to determine who will have what right under what circumstances to which portions of the partners’ respective financial and other assets. E-nups are agreements couples make before or during a marriage or relationship to regulate circumstances in which they will use cellphones, iPads, laptops, etc.The need for an e-nup arises out of a couple’s search for a strong interpersonal relationship and a life of shared meaning — all in the face of the heaviest and most inventive assault on cerebral machinery and sensory engagement in the 10,000 years since humans started living in communities. You’ve seen people text while driving. You’ve seen people steal a look at a cellphone at the movies, at a party, or — most frighteningly — while in an airplane when all devices are supposed to be shut down. A couple named Zoe and Kenny gave me permission to share some passages from the agreement they have been working on. Here’s a section: “We will not engage with our phones or work on our laptops at all in the following circumstances: “During meals together “When spending intentional time together (e.g., taking a walk, going to an event together, cuddling in bed) “When our daughter is present “During movies, plays, etc. “In social situations (i.e., with a group of friends) “In a confined space with others, even if it’s “default time” (i.e., car, public transportation, elevator, etc.).” One women I spoke with said she and her husband were considering making their agreement legally binding. The agreements these couples are working on, and the commitments they entail, seek to reclaim from the digital onslaught a measure of direct, engaged communication and quality time in their lives as partners, parents and friends. I bet there are more couples working on e-nups than any of us suspect.
Peter Goldmark, a former publisher of the International Herald Tribune, headed the climate program at the Environmental Defense Fund.