The other day I was standing at the check-out line in our local grocery store and– out of habit– pulled my phone from my pocket to see what I was missing in the virtual world as I waited in line. At one point, I glanced at my daughter, and she, too, was staring down at the smartphone in her hand, checking on the things going on in her virtual world.
And that’s when it hit me–what are we doing?
Why do we feel so compelled to pull out our phones when even the smallest bit of unfilled time presents itself? Are we afraid of thinking? Are we afraid of standing around looking awkward?
I just can’t believe we are here–that this is the world we live in. A world where–
A child plays with an iPad in the car as they travel the short distance to school.
Grandparents pull out their phones to check their email at dinner.
Parents scroll through Facebook as they wait in the check-out line.
Where people view the news through 2 minute sound bites and you-tube videos at any time and any place they desire.
If we are older than thirty-five, we remember a world where all that we are experiencing now was a big, “pie-in-the-sky” dream. We watched shows like the the Jetsons, but never in our wildest imagination did we believe it would happen in our lifetimes.
But then, ever so subtly, life changed. Drastically. And, one day, we could see the person we loved on the other side of the world as we talked in real-time. And we could pull up any song, any sports clip, any movie on miniature screens before our eyes in our homes and on the bus and in the mall. Any information we needed about a medical condition, any bit of trivia, any sports fact, any scientific theory could be found within seconds on the internet. The only thing that stopped us was if we were out of cell phone range.
And that is when life changed forever.
And some of the changes are good ones. How nice to find out that the strange pain in our elbow isn’t anything to be worried about. Or to locate that actor that we just know we’ve seen on another movie somewhere before.
But with these conveniences come some pretty serious consequences, as well. Being able to communicate instantly with those you love and having access to any information at our fingertips at any time does come with a price.
Here are a few of the costs that come to mind–
You’d think smartphones and iPads would help our relationships–and I guess they probably do help long-distance relationships. I have a daughter living in another state and it is such a wonderful blessing to see her while we talk via Facetime. But I am not sure the smartphone is quite as beneficial for the relationships we have with our spouses and our kids and our friends who we live and work with everyday.
I have two daughters that have worked as waitresses. They tell me it was not at all unusual for a family of four to be sitting in the restaurant, all of them staring at their phones as they wait for their dinner. Another common thing was to see a preschooler occupied by an iPad during dinner so mommy and daddy could talk. The saddest thing is that these families probably don’t even understand just how very tragic this is because this is the only world they know.
The TV really started the whole thing by dominating our dinnertime. If you drive by houses during the dinner hour in the winter time and glance in the windows, you will see that almost every home has that familiar blue light on within. So many people have stopped talking to each other during this precious time together and have replaced it with screens talking to them.
Have you ever been talking to someone and have them pull out their phone while you are talking to them? Have you done this? I have done this. I am ashamed to admit but I have. What is wrong with me? Why would I make my phone a priority over my family? If even just for a moment? I never want my family or friends to think my phone is more important to me than they are, but sometimes we can give that message if we aren’t careful.
Yes, our relationships are strained and stressed if we keep screens on 24/7. Communication and good discussion is limited. There is no denying it.
Our Concentration Capacity
We struggle so much to stay focused now that we are constantly being pulled in different directions by all this technology. We are becoming so used to a soundbite world since so much of our information now comes to us via two minute videos or 500-word blog posts. Twitter has trained us to think in even shorter sentences. I don’t really get Twitter, so I am not really familiar with it–except to know that there is a word limit on your tweets!
All of this is why pastors have shortened their sermons. It’s why we have such a difficult time reading a whole book or working at a hobby of great detail for any length of time. We have trained our brains to think in soundbites.
Dominate Our Attention
We have, quite freely and willingly, given hours and hours of our own lives and also the lives of our children to these devices. Probably more than we can count.
Instead of playing outside, children sit in front of a screen. Instead of talking with mommy or daddy on the way to school or the store, children stare at a screen.
Instead of talking to the waitress or cashier, our eyes are on our phones. Instead of doing a puzzle, crocheting, wood-working, or playing a family game, we sit around watching TV or playing games on a screen. At the very least, we are wasting so much precious time.
Of course, it isn’t wrong to do these things in moderation. But many of us left moderation behind a long time ago.
There are more costs. These are just three. But perhaps we should spend a little time considering how we can reclaim our brains back from our smartphones. How can we learn to concentrate again? How can we focus on our family members instead of picking up our phone when a text dings or a notification comes in? I have a few ideas. Some have really helped me. Others I haven’t tried yet, but plan to. If you have some to add, please comment below. Please share with us how you reclaimed your brain.
Here are a few ideas–
- Do not have your phone in your pocket or laying on the table in front of you when you have your devotions, eat dinner with your family, or are talking with someone about something serious. And while you are at it, turn the TV off, too. Family dinnertime is so precious and we let the world invade that precious time when we allow the TV and our smartphones as part of it.
- Turn off notifications. This one really helped me. Instead of being notified about a new e-mail or facebook comment and let it interrupt me at any time, I determine when I will check my apps.
- Refuse to pull your phone from your purse or pocket while waiting in line or sitting on a bench at the mall or while waiting for an appointment. Instead, observe the world around you and take it all in. We have such a vibrant, interesting world with no two people the same. Look at those people. Some of them surely need the Lord. Start a conversation and plant some seeds for the sake of the Gospel.
- Read a book. A real book. Or a book on your Kindle. Whichever you choose, make sure you have no access to the internet or the opportunity for communication anywhere close by.
- Remember that no one needs you that badly. We panic when we don’t have our phones with us now. I can understand why those under 30 feel that way, as they’ve never known any other life, but I don’t really understand it for us older people. Why would we panic? I used to travel 12 hours to college in the snow with no phone (!!) My parents didn’t know if I was dead or alive until I would get around to calling them sometime after I arrived. And this is how we lived. We had no other options. Some of you can remember those days. Now we feel like if we don’t have instant access to our world in our pocket, we will miss a terrible emergency or something. I guess that’s possible. But it’s pretty unlikely.
- Put all smartphones in a basket before bed and leave them there for the night. If you have no home phone, then turn the volume up on just one of them and put it on a dresser far away from the side of the bed. This is a rule we would put in place if we had to go back and raise our kids. This whole new world of advanced technology hit us quite unawares and there are many things we would handle differently. This is most definitely one of them.
- Last, but certainly not least, ask the Lord for help. If your smartphone use or iPad use is out of control, then ask the Lord to show you how to get it under control. Search the scriptures for some helpful verses. Colossians 3:17 can get you started. We know that God cares for us–about every struggle and every burden. (I Peter 5:7) That’s the kind of God we serve.
I hope this helps. You may be rolling your eyes, wondering why I would even bother to write such a post. You may not have a smart phone or you may have one that you don’t feel tied to. However, I assure you that I have seen enough families not talking to each other in restaurants and I’ve seen enough people of all ages staring at their phones any time and any place (even in church–where some are using it to read their Bible app and some say they are and aren’t) to know that this is a real problem for a lot of people. If you are one of them, then I want you to know there is hope and freedom to be found from this modern addiction. We know God wants us to live lives that glorify Him and we can best do that when our eyes are looking upwards and outwards and not down at our smartphone.