#51 - How technology shapes the way we interact, think, and perceive reality with Dr. Felicia Wu Song

January 16, 2024
57
 MIN

Episode Summary

This week on The Aro Podcast, Joey is joined by Dr. Felicia Wu Song, a sociologist who studies the impact of technology on modern life. Felicia challenges the idea of what's "natural" about technology, sparking a conversation with Joey about whether resisting technological changes is worth it. They dive into the generational differences in today's world and the necessity of empathizing with the experiences of younger generations. Felicia even paints a nostalgic picture of life before cellphones, that our kids haven't gotten to experience. The discussion extends to the pressures of constant availability in the digital age and the subtle ways habitual phone-checking shapes our behavior. Felicia shares insights on how technology provides us with a perceived sense of control and hinders our ability to just be present. The episode wraps up with Felicia offering advice on building resilience against the negative impacts of technology, especially for parents looking to shape a healthier tech trajectory for their kids.

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Episode Transcript

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (00:00):

I haven't quite found the words yet, but I've become interested in wondering, are we maxing out with our technologies and our communications these days? Are we maxing out? Is the inflow of texts and the requirements to respond? Is it outstripping just our human psychic capacity to be engaged in the ways that we want to be? And I think we can ask that question of information, we could ask that question of entertainment. All of those are we just kind of going beyond what we can neurologically process, what we can, psychically emotionally process. Maybe we're just kind of we're tapping out.

Joey Odom (01:00):

Welcome back to The Aro podcast. Hey, it's Joey Odom, Co-founder of Aro. And by the way, I actually really do mean it when I say I'm glad you're here. It's really exciting. This is so much fun to do, to have conversations with people who are intentionality experts and then hearing stories of how it's landing with people out there. It's really, really fun because our goal really is to help raise up a new generation, help create a new generation of intentional families and intimate marriages and for kids who are confident. That's our goal and our vision here. So I'm glad that you're here. So when I say that, it's not just me blowing smoke, I really, really am glad and you're going to be glad you're here to hear Felicia Wu Song. I heard Felicia speak several years ago at the Thinkq Conference, and I love the way that she speaks in a very academic way, but also ties in kind of the beauty and art.

(01:55)
It's a really interesting combination and in our conversation day we do that. To me, I was taken back in many ways to kind of the nostalgia of the nineties when we wrote letters to each other and not she and I, just me and other people, but when people wrote letters and not that everything was perfect back then, but there was this little bit of what she talks about just personhood. And in her book, restless Devices, the subtext is recovering personhood, presence and place in the digital age. And so we really, I think, got into the concept of personhood and what it means to be a person. And she talked about moving at a human level pace, and then she talked about the small things that you can do. I liked this at the end, so it got practical, kind of a couple small things you can do. I want you to hang on till that to the end there. She talks about a few things that you can do that will help you get into that place and begin to resist some of the current that we feel coming at us all the time. I really, really like this conversation a bunch. I know you will too for now. Sit back, relax, enjoy my conversation with Felicia Wu Song.

(03:20)
What do Wildcats Bulldogs and Cavaliers have in common? They all claim our guest as one of their own. That's right. Our guest has graduated from Yale, Northwestern and Virginia, but you can now find her teaching sociology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara outside of school, this serial monotasker shapes up her garden and thinks about how technology is shaping all of us. She's not a bass player just yet, but she is an accomplished author of multiple books, most recently restless devices. She may be small in stature, but she is a giant in this category. Gang, please join me in saying hi, Felicia, to our guest, Felicia Wu Song. Thanks, Felicia. So good to see you.

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (04:00):

Thanks so much, Joey. That was awesome. I've never heard all those mascots put together before. It's great to be with you.

Joey Odom (04:09):

I actually had this thought. I was thinking about how proud my parents would've been for me to just graduate from one of those, and you went ahead and knocked out all three and just made the best of us look a lot worse for it.

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (04:20):

Oh no. So well done.

Joey Odom (04:23):

What's the Westmont College mascot? I left that mascot out. It

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (04:27):

Is a warrior,

Joey Odom (04:29):

The warriors. I like that. So you're a wildcat bulldog, cavalier and warrior. I love it. That's great. Well, thank you very much. I've been a big fan of yours from afar for a while. We both spoke at the Think conference and I've heard you speak there before and I'm just such a thought leader in this category, so I'm excited to talk to you. So thank you. Yeah,

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (04:52):

Thanks.

Joey Odom (04:54):

So you talk a lot about how technology is shaping us. I mentioned that a little bit in the intro and you've been thinking about that for a long time. I mean even since the nineties when email came out and then you talked about it in virtual communities, your book in 2009. So I'm curious about this topic. This is, and again, we think about this a lot too, but sometimes I sit back and I think, okay, is this just the progression? Is this just how things work? I mean, we had emails that changed the way we communicated. We have social media now. Everything changes. So the progression is this just the natural progression of the technology and maybe a different way of asking it, is it even worth resisting

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (05:41):

So we can have a whole conversation about natural progressions?

Joey Odom (05:49):

I'd love to. Let's do it.

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (05:52):

I think that there's nothing, well, there is little that is actually natural about technology and how it innovates and shifts and that it is actually a myth that our society accepts when we accept the myth of its inevitability. So I think there are certainly ways in which we can say, oh, it makes sense that we move from say, the telegraph, right? A form of very simple communication that then moves to radio. You add on the audio and then you get the camera and then you get the visual. And we can walk through the history of movies and television and so forth. So there's a kind of perceived naturalness to adding on these different features of communication information technologies. But in terms of what form it actually takes when it encounters us as consumers or users, to me that is never natural. So say the telephone, the telephone didn't start off as a point to point conversation.

(07:30)
People didn't call one person. It was actually a party line in the beginning. It was like you called into, it was the early chat room, party line. And then eventually the technology evolved because people were like, no, no, no, I just want to talk to one person. And that evolved and there were companies, there's business industries that were invested in that. And so we ramp that up from email to the internet. It's like the internet of 1990s is nothing like the internet of 2023 soon, 2024. And some of that might be perceived as natural progressions. You tack on different sorts of features to make it more complex compared to the old school email.

(08:20)
But in terms of why social media looks the way it does and comes to us the way it does or why streaming entertainment is structured the way it is, none of that is determinative. None of that is inevitable. Those are business models. Those are decisions being made by tech industry, by media industries. And so all of those are, to me, decisions that have been made along the way that do create some degrees of natural progressions that adaptations that you keep building on. But all those kind of major decisions didn't have to be that way can still be changed. It certainly gets harder and harder to change once certain kinds of structures and models get concretized crystallized in our society. But this is a very typical sociological perspective, which is that our landscape, our institutional landscape is constructed. It is socially constructed. People, companies, powers made decisions to construct the landscape that we live, the media landscape that we experience. And those decisions had incentives, they had agendas, they made sense in particular times. And each of those sense-making logics don't have to be inevitable.

Joey Odom (10:02):

See, I like that distinction because it's almost thinking about it the way you framed it. It's almost like nutrition. It's like I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, I think what I'm hearing is our need for nutrition in the physical has not changed. It's just what we're being fed is different, but we're being fed something different. That doesn't mean that it's not like our bodies have evolved or progressed to the point where we no longer need all our vitamins and minerals. And so to your point here is that we're just being fed something different. It's not necessarily something natural. And so maybe the question was, is resistance futile? And so, but that is what we're getting fed and that is so at what point does someone begin to adapt to their environment versus fighting that environment adapt to, hey, this is just how thing, I hear this a lot with my kids who are 15 and 13. People say, well no, this is just how kids just communicate on Snapchat now. That's just how they do it. So at what point do we accept that? And then at what point do we push back on that?

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (11:06):

Okay. Yeah. So I think the prospects of resistance being futile is just depressing to me. It's not a place I can go and it gets me back. If your listeners are old enough, remembering the resistance is futile, borderline, all of

Joey Odom (11:28):

That is very sad, depressing. It's sad.

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (11:33):

So I think there is a degree of empathy that needs to be exercised when we take into consideration what the contemporary dynamic, you mentioned your kids, what the contemporary dynamics are. I think it's super important to really live into that and deeply understand what are the dynamics of communication and relationship and information consumption now, especially for our young people who this is all they've ever known, but this is where I think understanding or learning about history, reading about people who lived in different times or in different cultures is super helpful to realize that, oh, other people lived differently at another time or another place and there were good things about that and maybe there were bad things about that.

(12:49)
But as human beings, we need to attend to not just what we're given, shall we say in a society in a given time, but we need to attend to certain realities about our being human, our being people, that there may be some universal aspects that trace through time trace across cultures that we need to pay attention to. And if it is a fact that our contemporary dynamics of how we talk to each other, how we get information, how we take time off, all the accepted normalized ways are actually not, you talked about nutrition not feeding us, not helping us grow as people, as human beings, then we need to sit up and say, Hmm, all right, maybe I need to think about or figure out how to do something differently from what my culture is telling me. And maybe I need to consider how do I have that kind of relationship that I read about at another time or have that way of understanding the world knowledge that this other culture seems to exhibit. And so that's where I think it is needing to have an imagination about how things could be different and knowing that it has been different or it is different in other places, that helps us realize, oh, okay, maybe resistance is worthwhile, right? It is worthwhile because of the benefits that come with say, growing into a kind of person that I actually want to become.

Joey Odom (15:01):

I can picture that in my mind as you're describing and you refer in the book in restless devices, getting a little bit of a taste of that to just getting a little bit of taste of what that feels like. Will you talk some about this idea of maybe what we have become and let's maybe start it from, and a lot of people, I had written this question down that then I read it in the book as well, it's almost like we can't remember what life was like. There are a couple elements of that. One of them is you almost don't want to look back with two rose colored glasses on. Everything was great then, but there were some, you talked about these commonalities across time. What are some of those things? Can you describe maybe for me, even though I lived it, but others, what did that life look like before all this came in, before the mid nineties email, which began to change our communication? What was that life like that you believe is worth trying to recapture today?

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (16:04):

Yeah, so in the nineties, the internet was something that was literally connected to the wall. And so when you were online, you were in one place, whether it was work or at home, it wasn't moving with you. It wasn't, weren't carrying it on you all the time. And so what that meant was when you were not at your desk, you were in a meeting, you were talking to people, you were walking through your day and the only option you had was to go through your day as it was. You didn't have a streaming kind of social media account to be thinking about. There weren't other things happening.

(17:08)
You were more present. I think it's not to say that people weren't distracted through the ages or preoccupied. Surely we are very, have always been capable of being that as human beings, but there was just less, less things to be dedicating our psychic energy to. And so I think we were more present, we were more in our bodies and in all of it again, was because we didn't have choices. You were exercising I guess in the nineties. We had Walkmans and things like that in the eighties. But even before that, it's like if you went on a hike, you went on a hike or you went on a run, you went on a run. There was nothing to listen to or you couldn't talk to people. So I think there are ways in which, and again, it's not to say that I love listening to podcasts like this. It's not to say there aren't wonderful things that come from being able to listen or being able to multitask. All of these are incredible benefits. There's good things that come out of it, but I think it has shifted. It's the availability of choices, availability even of maybe we feel pressures, demands to always be available to people, always responding to a text.

(18:53)
I always laugh with my college students about how I did college that we had, my first year I lived with five other women in a suite in a dorm, and we had one answering machine for our phone. And so we talk about how hilarious it was when you made plans with people, with friends, right? Gosh, you would make a plan and you would say, we're going to meet at this corner and we're going to go do whatever. And then sometimes you would just be waiting there forever and you give yourself a 20 minute, 30 minute thing. But if they didn't show up, they didn't show up, and then you're like, okay, I guess I got to go do something else. Or you just had to be there and that was it. There was no back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, which we do now. And then the whole answering machine story is hilarious because with six women getting messages from all sorts of people that we all got to listen in on each other's social lives. We weren't all close friends, but it's like you'd just be sitting there waiting for possibly your message and then it might not never come because maybe nobody called you and it was slower. Frustrating, sometimes inefficient, yes. But arguably something I've become interested in more is arguably more of a human level pace or a human scale.

(20:37)
I haven't quite found the words yet, but I've become interested in wondering, are we maxing out with our technologies and these days, are we maxing out? Is the inflow of texts and the requirements to respond? Is it outstripping just our human psychic capacity to be engaged in the ways that we want to be? And I think we can ask that question of information, we could ask that question of entertainment, all of those are we just kind of going beyond what we can neurologically process, what we can psychically emotionally process. Maybe we're just, we're tapping out.

Joey Odom (21:29):

It feels that way. I mean, I think I like that. I would love for you to continue to just as your brain's working on things, that human level pace. What an interesting concept. It's almost like we're trying to match the machines and we just can't, we're not designed to, it's not really great to, and you're right, you can start to struggle through. I think about, I was thinking back to the nineties and about arranging plans. I drove, I had a friend drop me off two hours from my house to meet a friend who was going the other way. And we just literally said, Hey, let's meet at that gas station off the highway, a place that in a city that had 14 exits. I said that one guest. And so we're calling this, it's too long of a story, but calling the same voicemail, leaving voicemails on the same one that we can both check.

(22:17)
It was just a hilarious thing. And good news is I made it so I'm still here. But it built this kind of level of resourcefulness and almost to a way where you think, okay, I'm not going to do it that way next time. It almost gave you the mistakes that you can kind of fix and build a resourcefulness and the resilience all around that. It's so interesting. And then I even think about, I have in this or your old memory box, I have all these old letters from friends. We used to write letters and I up in, it's not like you and I grew up in the early 19 hundreds. This was just a few years ago when we were writing letters. And it's so meaningful to have that physical artifact of someone encouraging you at such a young age.

Aro Member (23:03):

90% of adults keep their phone within arm's reach all day long. That just really got me because you want to tell yourself, I'm in the 10%. Let's be real honest with ourselves. Most of you in the 90, you can tell yourself that. And let's just be real clear. You notice when, oh my goodness, I never go to the bathroom without my phone. I don't even do yard work. We were doing yard work and it was two days after we got our Aro box and we put'em in there like, we're going to do this. We're outside doing yard work. And I just felt more free even just doing yard work. And normally I would feel like I need my phone in my back pocket for what? What's going to happen while I'm doing yard work that I have to pay attention to on my phone?

Joey Odom (23:45):

We love hearing stories from the Aro community. The one you just heard actually comes from our Voices of Aro episodes where I sit down with Aro members and they share about their stories and their lives with Aro. Make sure to check out the Voices of Aro episodes, and if you're a member who would like to share your own story with Aro, please email us at stories@goaro.com. Talk about this whole concept going to technology. You say in the book, all of the little habits, those urges to check our phones, to check our platforms, those are shaping us. What do you talk about that, what it means that we've been shaped by them? How are these things shaping us? What are we becoming?

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (24:28):

Yeah. Well, your example about writing letters is great because I think about how letters are wonderful to hold onto as a recipient, but as a writer of letters, it requires a, I mean, you have to sit down. You sit down and your thoughts can only go as fast as you can write. And so I have always found that writing letters brings me into a different place inside of me in my interior life. It requires me to reflect, it requires me to move out beyond the sort of surface kind of, oh, this is what I did today. Kind of what documenting more of a processing emotional reflective level. And the brain science is super interesting about how that's actually tapping into different parts of our brains when we engage those different kinds of thoughts. But I think to your question about what our constant tapping away at our screens does is that it trains us because our technologies are with us all the time.

(25:56)
It trains us to start to exist in a state of a kind of surface responsiveness and that we are always, 100th of us is dedicated to where we actually are. And the 99 is distributed to all the other texts and conversations or Google searches we want to engage in. And so we're kind of fractured in our psyche. I know we often talk about, or people talk about the way we're distracted or that our attention is fractured. I think that's probably all true to me. It's not just kind of a tension, but it is an interiority that when you are constantly being asked to respond to something, there's a way in which you don't get a chance to be alone, to be quiet, to build up a kind of interiority of understanding what is it that I actually think about something. So it's like if something happens in the news and you go online and you read a whole lot about it, there's a lot of voices, a lot of noise.

(27:23)
It's very confusing. And if we don't give ourself enough time, enough places to take it all in and just let it sink in us long enough, we don't ever come to figure out what we think. We just kind of parrot maybe something that seemed interesting that we heard or that someone that we respect on some feed happened to say, but we never really kind of let it sift through all of us. And so I think it is the ways that we are training our bodies, and this is where I turn to a Augustinian framework of how we are formed as people, that we aren't just formed with information, beliefs, things that we know, but we are formed the way athletes and musicians and artists are formed. We are training our bodies to become a certain kind of person, a certain way of perceiving. I just think of a baseball player who's just learning to hit and their perception, their capacity to perceive how fast that ball is coming, where it is being formed from those thousands and thousands of training hours.

(29:00)
And so if we are investing thousands of hours pecking away at our devices, that's training us. It's training our bodies to perceive what's even happening in a different way. So for example, you mentioned that I'm a serial monotasker in the intro. I love that term. That's great. I love that. We're going to have to steal that one from you is right. When we're so used to multitasking, you're just fixated on the different things that you have decided you're going to do. But when you're monotasking, you're only doing one thing suddenly because we are created with such incredible capacities to perceive we were interrupted, we suddenly realized other things were happening actually that I wasn't noticing before. And maybe those things were actually really worthwhile and I'm so glad I didn't miss it. And so it is this sense of a question I'm constantly raising is what are we missing with our technological lives? What are we not even noticing is happening when we are drawn into the screen or feeling pressure to constantly respond to what's happening on our screens?

Joey Odom (30:32):

The concept of monotasking I love. And you can have serial mono serial, you came up with monotasking, so I think it's safe to say that's yours. But if anybody's ever done a little bit of a mindfulness exercise of just isolating the senses, I have found so far in maybe 50 times of doing that when you're outside and you get to the hearing part, the hearing is my favorite of all of them because I guarantee you, you'll hear a bird no matter where you are when you're outside, you will hear a bird. And it's an interesting exercise because if you would've said to me, Joey, what are you missing when you're walking? I would've had no idea of what I was missing because I was missing it. Right. But when you do take a moment, like you said, just to get a little bit of taste of what's out there, it's a really beautiful experience and it can't be extraordinarily kind of jarring and unnerving and uncomfortable through all of that. Have you found maybe as you've begun to practice or as you practice monotasking or anything like that, do you find it a level of discomfort as you wrestle through the exercise? Oh,

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (31:43):

For sure. The beginning is always the worst. It's terrible. I mean,

Joey Odom (31:48):

That's good to hear.

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (31:49):

It's all the classic withdrawal symptom stuff that you read about when people are addicted and they're trying to get off of whatever their substance or behavioral addiction is. And so sometimes it's feeling anxious, sometimes it's physically sweating. You're like, ah, my body needs to be doing something that is not this. But I think as we've been talking I've, I've been thinking about how one of the things that our technologies gives us is it gives us a sense of control that we can control our days, we can control how people perceive us. We can control, we can very much control how we express ourselves or how we appear to the world. So there's a lot of control that our digital technologies grant us these days. When we start to resist the habits, when we start to resist these practices, when we start to try monotasking or mindfulness exercises, I think part of what is so uncomfortable is that we are letting go of control. We are letting go of the control. We try to exercise over our attention or what we allow into our perceptions, our sensory modes.

(33:47)
And when we're not in control, when you start paying it, when I'm not just looking at my emails, when I'm at the grocery store, at the checkout line, when I'm not just banging through it, but I'm actually opening myself up to the presence of the other people that are standing in line in front of me or in back of me, then I'm opening myself up to not being in control because maybe that person next to me wants to actually say hello, or maybe they're actually really sad and I can sense that, right? Or they're kind of just overwhelmed. Maybe there's a mom with just the three little kids who are just acting up and she just needs a little sympathy, a kind word. Then I'm not in control, so to speak anymore. I'm open to other beings, other realities that are at work around me. And I think that's scary. That requires often something of me that I might not feel like giving, but I think it is. When we give up control and we realize, oh, there are bigger things happening than my life. There are bigger things happening than what's in my email.

(35:22)
It proportions. It recalibrates me actually in a really good and important way. And it reminds me that I'm actually, I'm not in control and I shouldn't be in control, full control. That's just not the reality of things. And if you're a person of faith, you may have a particular understanding of saying, actually, I get to live in God's universe and there's a lot of other things happening and I'm just hanging out in my little place in it, a little pin in it. There's a lot going on, and maybe I need to participate in that in a kind of citizen communal way, not in a, I'm just going to drive my little road, do my little thing, and everybody get out of my way kind of living.

Joey Odom (36:23):

That's a pretty profound thought. And I'm thinking back to the original, the very, very first question that I had about this natural progression, and it is when you said the technology is you have, it's kind of this myth of inevitability and what's natural, what is natural is exactly what you said is the fact that we are on a big rock hurling through the universe with no level of control. I mean, what's natural is to recognize that we don't have control. It's natural to be out of control. And what you said at the very beginning of that statement was you had the sense of, you emphasized sense, the sense of control or technology giving us a sense of the control that we have.

(37:10)
And so we go through almost not really recognizing how out of control we are. And if you can, to some degree to your point, you really can't embrace that and just see the chaos around you and understand that you can actually bring in a better, you can bring a little bit of order into somebody else's life doing exactly what you said. I mean, how far could a word of encouragement go, like you said, to a mom who can run over at the grocery store by her kids? That's a pretty beautiful idea and way to live.

(37:44)
The other thought that I had related to that is we flee this. When you talk about going into silence or going into a place where you're not distracting yourself or you're able to observe what's happening around you is that we feel this anxiousness. You described an anxiousness that you can feel in that, and it's almost like the core belief that we have behind that is that anxiousness is bad. And I'm not sure that's true, right? An anxiousness may be just working out, working something bad out. If you lean away from it, then you don't actually be, you're not actually able to process that. It's almost like s Lewis talks about God would be a bad surgeon. I think he says if he yielded to your ENT treaties and stopped surgery, mid surgery just because it was painful, but what if he said a good surgeon, here's your cries and continues on through the surgery, that kind of going through that pain, that discomfort and anxiousness, by the way, I'm saying all of this, all theoretically, I'm, something's going to happen at night and I'm going to just completely flee anxiousness. So it's such an easy thing to say in theory, but that's a very long-winded way to say that. It's almost as if we're walking through life with this core belief that pain and anxiousness and discomfort are bad.

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (39:07):

And I think our technologies are, contemporary technologies are all built to advance that idea that there are ways to escape the anxiety. So if you're feeling anxious, just watch this TV show. If you're feeling anxious, just get to your email, zero inbox, whatever. I know I'm slamming all the zero inbox people.

Joey Odom (39:46):

I'm an aspiring zero inbox.

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (39:50):

That's not even, you don't want to look at my inbox. I'm in the Thousands Club. But I think there's interesting, I hear psychologists starting to talk about how anxiety is something that is actually a healthy signal for us of what we care about, which is interesting. Oh, that's interesting. So if you're feeling anxious before an exam or a competition, what does that tell you? It doesn't tell you that you are going to fail and you're incompetent and that you're not a whole person. Actually, it tells you that you actually care a lot about what you're going to engage in. And so love that you feel some pressure there. And obviously with that said, there are certainly a lot of people that experience levels of things of anxiety that are not productive when it really goes beyond what is healthy and going to be generative for them.

(40:55)
So that's something that clearly needs tending to. But in general, kind of run of the mill anxiety is, as you said, actually a really healthy physiological response to something that we maybe need to grow into meeting and engaging. And so I was actually thinking when you were mentioning your road trip, it made me think about how I took a road trip from New England down to Virginia back in the nineties in my little hatchback, and my poor mom was very anxious because we didn't have cell phones. And so I would call her at gas stations with my little phone card every couple hours when I took a pit stop. And as a parent, I'm sure from my mom, she was terrified. It was my first solo trip. She didn't know what was going to happen to her daughter. She didn't know anything about the south. As someone from New England, who knows what happens in the south. So she was anxious, so she was always very thankful. And so nowadays, parents don't have to be anxious. You could just watch your child drive down on the dot or you can text.

Joey Odom (42:16):

You don't even need to talk to them,

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (42:18):

Text them at any moment and be angry if they haven't responded to you. There's wonderful things about the ways in which one can surveil one's child when they go off and some very far off land. And that can be very reassuring. Totally understandable. As a parent, I feel that way also. But at the same time, that road trip for me was so pivotal for me growing as a person. Yeah, I was anxious. I wasn't sure what was going to happen during those 300, 400 some odd miles. I had to think about what's going to happen if I blow a tire? What happens if I had to ponder all those things as I'm driving? And so there's ways in which that anxiety I was experiencing before and even during the trip was important for me to work through to gain confidence and kind of push through and be like, okay, no, I have plans. I have plan. If something happens, here's what I'm going to do. There's plan A. If that doesn't work, then I got to do plan B. I had to work all that out and become a different kind of person by the time I got to Virginia.

(43:38)
And so it's just a different, and it was because I had no choices. We didn't have choices. Then I just had my little phone card and hoped that I could get to a gas station if I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. Right now, we have choices. We have lots of resources, again, that are wonderful, but it makes it hard. It makes it hard to put yourself. You have to intentionally, like you're saying, you have to intentionally put yourself in places that are quiet, that are alone, that are anxiety producing per se. You have to make those choices. And that is strange, right? That's strange. In a world that is like, why would you do that? That's so weird. It's more efficient, it's more satisfying. Why would you choose something else? But again, it's a longer goal.

Joey Odom (44:36):

It's that personhood that you talk about in the book. It really is becoming that. I want to talk just in the last section here about you talk about the pathways of meaningful resistance, those things that you do, and you have the Freedom Project, which is great within the book for people who need to go pick up the book, these questions and the experiments and things like that. Will you talk about if someone is hearing this and we've different, you've given a couple of different things and they want to just begin the practice they wanted, where do I begin? What are some of these little bits of resistance that I can start to implement into my life where maybe I'm not as toggled to my devices or whatever that is? What are some practical things that people can begin to do to start forming that resistance for themselves?

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (45:25):

Well, so I am a proponent of really small things. I'm not one that says you're going to have to square out three days and go on a digital detox. I think most of us can't afford three days.

(45:39)
And so to me, it starts with 15 minutes. Maybe it looks like 15 minutes at the beginning of your day. If you're someone who, when you wake up and your alarm is on your phone and you check it and you're just hit with the weight of the world, and this is no way for me to wake up every day. So maybe it's just 15 minutes of I'm not going to, I'm go buy an alarm clock that's not connected to my phone and that's what's going to be next to my bed. And when I get up, I'm going to go make my coffee, I'm going to go stretch, I'm going to go journal. I'm going to read a devotional. I'm going to meditate, whatever it is, just for 15 minutes just to ground myself. Maybe you do that at night. Maybe you just need those 15 minutes.

(46:30)
So I think wherever it is that the pain point is for us, whether it's like, oh, man, I'm waking up and I'm stressed, or I can't get to sleep, keep on reading stuff or watching videos, whatever that pain point is, we can start with just these small times, I call them sacred times that we block out and we say, no, this is sacred for my rest. This is sacred for my own wellbeing. It's sacred for the time I spend with my loved one, just this little bit. And there can be sacred places. Maybe this room, we will not have certain kinds of devices that will continually beep and notify that it needs my attention. Or maybe I go to, so we might have rooms in our house, and Aro is perfect. You could put your devices in a certain place and be like, okay, you're over there, but maybe it's outside of our house.

(47:37)
Maybe we go to a sacred place. Maybe we go to that tree on the hill where we've been blessed with full dreams and thoughts there before. So we go there. We devote ourselves to going there once a week or three times a week without our devices. And so it is about these little practices that we can try that give us, as you've been mentioning, a taste of something different. And in the beginning, it might feel uncomfortable, not our habit. Our bodies are not used to it, but I encourage people to lean into it. Give yourself, I'm just going to try this for two weeks, and then if it really still stinks by two weeks, maybe we dial back or adjust. And that's fine. That's totally fine. But that's what I mean by thinking about meaningful resistance and not just prescribing something to everyone. I think we're all different.

(48:42)
We all kind of have our different propensities, our different places of pain or weakness or limitation. And so it does require a little bit of self-reflection and honesty and courage to say, Hey, I'm just going to try this. Maybe it's not going to work, but I'm going to just commit myself for a short period of time and see how it goes. And maybe that's just deleting an app for a week, whatever that app of choices of yours, and just switching it up and learning something different. Like you said, hearing the birds and being like, oh my gosh, I didn't know there were birds in my neighborhood. Or for some of us it's the, oh, what is that plant? I didn't even know that plant. What is that plant? Or, oh, it's really fuzzy. How delightful. So really getting back into our bodies I think is always a part of the kind of resistance that moves us forward.

Joey Odom (49:54):

And I've heard people talk about the, there's some debate, are we addicted to our technology or do we have a bad set of habits around them? I like the second one because I feel like we have a little bit more agency over it, but one argument I've heard against it being a real addiction is that we actually adapt pretty quickly once. I think that's for the listener. One thing you'll find, I believe, and this has been my experience, when I make a little change like that, the 15 minutes in the morning, I didn't have a cold sweat. It was kind of fine. It's like we adapt pretty quickly. We don't actually have all the withdrawals we might think we do. So I think what you've just laid out, these small little practices, and I love the idea of sacred times. I love, but sacred places. I really, really like that. Just like this is that place and beginning for 15 minutes, this is something that's readily accessible to everybody listening. I believe we all have 15 minutes, especially when we look at our screen time report on Sundays.

(50:55)
I'm curious, I want to close with this question, the next generation of kids, and for someone who's listening with very young kids or maybe doesn't even have kids yet, it's a lot easier to initiate good behavior than change bad behavior. So what would be, maybe if you had one little silver bullet for somebody for How do I train this up in the next generation of kids? How do I actually change the trajectory? Trajectory of where things are going to help our kids not have to go recover personhood, but go initiate personhood and not lose it?

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (51:37):

Yeah, that's a great question. I think it is all about cultivating loves for what is available in our natural world and in community. It is about introducing our children to music, to being outdoors, to using their bodies, playing sports or cooking, being with relatives or neighbors, just hanging out on the porch. All these fairly mundane activities that we might think of as a part of childhood that can be cultivated in a way that become real loves for our kids, so that whatever that technology's going to be, if you don't have kids right now, who knows what it's going to be in 15 years.

(52:43)
The point is you've begun to lay down a foundation of appetites for things that are beautiful in the world that might be good. So maybe it is serving your community in some way, right? Maybe it is helping to think about the environment or looking to the vulnerable populations in your community and being with them, cultivating this wider world of interactions, giving them a sense of, oh, there's this beautiful thing. There's this good thing. There's just this true thing that I'm capable of engaging. And then whatever the technologies are, hopefully they become a part of it. They become of the good, a part of the beauty. A part of the truth doesn't come, maybe it does come in competition to it, but when it does come in competition, then there's always still that memory, that root memory of, oh no, I knew there was something good about spending time alone sitting under that tree looking at the bugs, right? That was really awesome. And that's always going to be a part of them. No matter what technologies come,

Joey Odom (54:14):

What a great beautiful thing. Way to end it is in our kids cultivating a love for what is good and beautiful. That's quite a picture. And what's neat about it is that's not ethereal. It's not Pollyanna. That is possible. And again, not to overly CS Lewis, but it's almost like that we're far too easily pleased. I think we can, we're far too easily pleased with what's in our pocket versus what's all around us. I would love people to go to feliciawusong.com. Please do order a copy of Restless Devices. It's such a great, it's what I love about Felicia is it's academic, but it's also kind of, as people hear you talk here, it's also just like it's beautiful language and you start seeing and feeling all the things you're describing and what it feels like to recover personhood presence in place. So thank you. Very grateful. Thank you for joining us. This is a big get for us here. Felicia, you're big time, so we're appreciative of you coming and hanging out with us.

Dr. Felicia Wu Song (55:20):

Sweet. Yeah, thanks. No, I really appreciate the invitation, and it's just been such a pleasure getting to know you and learning more about what you all do.

Joey Odom (55:27):

Thanks so much, Felicia. What a beautiful picture. At the end, when we were talking about what we can do for our kids, what we can do for our children, she talked about cultivating a love for what is good and beautiful, the things that are beautiful, music and cooking and athletics, relationships, the outdoors nature, all of that stuff, those beautiful things. But then the good things, cultivating a love for helping others and intentionally seeking out other people who need help. And that could be on serving at a shelter or that could just be being kind to the people around you and teaching our kids that and cultivating a love for what's good and beautiful. My kids, if you listen, they're teenagers, and I heard that knowing that that's something we can continue to cultivate, that's something we can continue to cultivate in ourselves as well. Just slowing down, if you're like me, you were challenged, and I want to challenge all of us.

(56:28)
Why don't we find a few quiet minutes today? And it's funny, it seems like this keeps coming up as a theme as guests come on, is just finding a few minutes. And maybe if you feel a little bit anxious, maybe that's a good sign. Maybe that's a sign. And again, we're not talking about clinical anxiety here, so please don't get me wrong, but if you feel a little bit of anxiousness, maybe that's a signal of something that's important to you, and maybe it's worth leaning into that just a little bit and feeling that feeling. I am going to do that today myself. I'm very grateful that you joined us today. I would love for you to go again. Go check out feliciawusong.com that is in the show notes as well. Please do pick up a copy of Restless Devices by Felicia. I'm very grateful for her for joining us. I hope you have a wonderful week. I can't wait to see you again next week for the next episode of The Aro Podcast. The Aro Podcast is produced and edited by the team at Palm Tree Pod co. Special thanks to Emily Miles for video and digital support, and to our executive producer Aro's own, Katelyn Farley.