By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
So there I was, on a porch overlooking a lovely pond, the branches of the trees between me and the water waving to catch my attention.
I was soaking in the glories of God’s country.
Or I should have been.
Instead, I was peering down onto my phone screen, checking my email for the umpteenth time in the last half hour – in that moment totally oblivious to all the majestic beauty in which I was actually immersed.
It made no sense at all. I was in a place I had dreamed of for decades. And when I found it, I designed the porch to provide this priceless, pastoral perspective I had craved for so long.
Week after week for years I had driven five hours to get here to finish the place. I had imposed on friends with vastly more skills than I have to let me help them do the work – install plumbing and electrical systems, hang drywall, mud and sand seams, cut and attach trim, hang doors.
It had been a labor of love. But I confess, on occasion it had been many parts more labor than love. Often a little libation – or more than a little – saved the day.
And after all that heavy investing, here I was missing the forest and the trees – and the pond and the sunshine and the flirting branches – to gaze again at a little screen.
St. Francis of Assisi would have broken down and cried. What was wrong with me?
In a word, I had become addicted.
I just couldn’t turn away from my phone – or was it my tablet? – to embrace God’s glorious vista. I was so into my electronics that I might well have asked, “What vista?” But even that would have required more awareness of my environment than I could manage at the moment.
I was totally absorbed in the Ethernet.
Eventually I cut the bonds of addiction and honed back in the world around me. But I’m always aware of how strong the electronic allure can be. And sometimes I succumb to it, if only for a moment.
The difficulty is that checking our electronic devices can give us a dopamine shower. That’s pleasurable. But it’s also addicting. Like a lot of other things that occur naturally, a little is good for us. A lot is not.
Others tell me how contagious – and all absorbing – the addiction can be. They describe meetings where everyone spends most of their time glancing down toward their laps, where in fact they are sneaking peaks at the latest texts, emails or Facebook blurbs on their phones.
Participation in the actual meeting is half-hearted. Interaction is scarce, sporadic at best. Later, recollections from the meeting are spotty and vague.
In the main, such meetings are mostly a waste.
Some leaders have laid down the law – actually banning phones and tablets, or even all electronics, from meetings. You want to take notes? Bring a pen and paper. Write down what’s worth remembering. (Did you know that some studies actually show the act of writing something down helps us retain it more than typing it?)
Reports from those who have scheduled and attended meetings where electronic devices are prohibited say the ban requires some adjustment. But overall it can be a very helpful innovation.
One person who reports trying to wean himself from his addiction to electronic devices says he started slowly but pursued his goal persistently. The first day he resolved to check his phone only three times in a meeting. The next day he cut the number to two, and the day after that he limited himself to one peek. Finally, he ventured off to a meeting while leaving his phone on his desk.
Without his handheld reward system, he was edgy. But after a few days of vigilance, he had gotten past the worst and begun to experience – and appreciate – the rewards on the other side. Meetings were more worthwhile. He retained more of the proceedings. Perhaps most important, relationships blossomed more fully. He found himself building better alliances to deal with the challenges at hand.
In a helpful and humorous video, Simon Sinek explains how technology is one of the four main challenges Millennials face today – and what anyone who is too dependent on it can do to liberate themselves.
Yes, ironically, technology does have legitimate contributions to make in our lives – and this 15-minute video is one of them.
I think St. Francis would embrace Simon’s insights.