By Mark A. Taylor
Scene One: We sit in a restaurant and look across the aisle at a young woman and her husband, out for dinner together. He’s playing with the digital ordering device at the table (it includes games), and she’s intent on her smartphone screen. They’re eating in the same booth, but they’re really not together.
Scene Two: We’re at a beautiful time-share at the beginning of a weeklong vacation with Christian friends. After dinner we settle into comfortable chairs and the sofa in the living room, each of us with a laptop or tablet computer in our hands. We type and swipe in silence for more than 30 minutes until one of us looks up, smiles, and says, “It’s nice to be together, isn’t it?”
Most of us have seen or been seen in a scene like this. So maybe we won’t be surprised by statistics claiming that too many of us, at least 40 percent of Americans (and 90 percent of under-30 millennials) are afflicted with nomophobia, the fear of not having, or of losing, their smartphones.
Writing in the Christian Post, editor Richard Land quotes these statistics and several others to support his claim that “Americans are increasingly becoming servants rather than masters of our electronic devices.”
Land cites research from MIT professor Dr. Sherry Turkle, who has “studied the impact of our obsession with technology for almost two decades.” According to Land, Turkle “has been sounding the alarm on how our relentless electronic ‘connectedness’ leads to an ever-greater emotional solitude.”
How should we react? Some suggestions:
• Talk about it. Ask your small group or adult Bible fellowship: How do you react when you’re separated from your smartphone? (According to Psychology Today last July, 73 percent of smartphone owners report being “panicked” when they misplaced their phones and 14 percent confess to being “desperate.”) How does this compare with your friends’ experiences and feelings? How has such an obsession diminished their spiritual development?
• Control it. Make time each day to be screenless. Maybe this is during certain hours in the evening. Maybe you have a no-screens rule at the dinner table or while dining out. Maybe you vow to interact with God via the Bible and prayer each morning before opening your smartphone or powering up your tablet.
• Monitor it. Keep a diary of smartphone or tablet usage for a week. How many hours do you spend looking at a device? How does this time compare with prayer time or Bible-reading time as well as time spent in conversations or activities with spouse or other family members or friends?
• Use it. Christian leaders have done a great job connecting and encouraging others through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, and web pages. Christian bloggers inspire and entertain. And many folks do daily Bible reading via an app. All this is good. But when technology isolates us from others and takes God’s first-priority place in our lives, we’ve allowed the good to be used for bad.
As Land writes, smartphones dare not become “masters of our time and attention. That role belongs to Jesus alone.”