You are probably familiar with the infamous text messages of the two FBI employees that were found, lost, and found again. Reportedly, there were 50,000 messages between November and June. Wow, that’s a lot of texting even for two people having an intramural extra-marital affair. That works out to about 25,000 texts sent and 25,000 responses. That would be, without counting sleep hours, one text and response about every eight or nine minutes, every day for five months.
Maybe this is an extreme case, but it does give us all reason to evaluate our use of technology, especially our use of smart phones. More and more data is coming to light about the harmful effects of the overuse of these devices. Neurologically, repeated use over time rewires brain synapses, much like any addictive behavior would do. Socially, repeated use over time diminishes our capacity for interpersonal communication and intimate relationships. The case above really sounds like they were having an affair with their phones. The problems caused by overuse are especially acute for young people, teens in particular. Young brains are very malleable and can easily be reshaped by compulsive behavior. Young people need a lot of social interaction so they can learn to navigate the world of interpersonal relationships with all its ups and downs and disappointments and joys. Spending hours upon hours on a phone or computer game retards their ability to grow to emotional and psychological maturity.
Therefore, there are two suggestions I want to make. The first is for all the old timers, myself included, who grew up with only one phone at home, a rotary phone at that. It really wasn’t all that long ago. Share your memories with the younger generation. Tell them what it was like growing up in a world with one phone that you could not carry around with you. Let them know that there was such thing as a party line, not to set up parties, but to share a phone line with the person living next door. A party line meant that sometimes you had to wait to place a call. Also remind them that to make a long distance call, you had to dial 0 and ask the operator to place the call and then wait until the operator called you back when the call had been placed. But here is the part that will blow their minds: when you were not at home and the phone rang, nothing happened. It just rang. There were no messages to retrieve when you got home; in fact, you didn’t even know you received a call. And, most importantly, you were able to live your life in peace and happiness even though you missed a call from someone. The point is to let the younger generation understand that you can actually live quite well without 24hour access to a phone, the internet, or text messages.
The second suggestion is that as we come into the season of Lent, consider fasting from your smart phone. We’ll call it Friday Fone Fast. There are all sorts of possible ways to do this. You could completely abstain from using your phone for one day a week. Or you could just use your phone on Fridays to make/receive phone calls – no texts, no internet usage. You could also just restrict phone usage to work-related matters. It might be a good idea to let your friends and family know so that when you don’t immediately respond to a text message, they don’t send out the National Guard looking for you. You could do the same with other technology, emails, computer games, etc. I know it sounds really difficult, but it is possible to disconnect for just one day. It was done on a regular basis in the not too distant past.
If you do participate in the Friday Fone Fast, you will have extra time on your hands. So use it well. Spend time in quiet prayer; engage in some spiritual reading using a physically printed book in your hands. Or you can even spend time speaking face-to-face with another human being.
If you can’t forsake your phone or find yourself struggling to do it, it is probably a sign that you have already rewired your brain so expect withdrawal symptoms. But they pass quickly, and you will experience more inner peace and less turmoil in your life.
Lent starts February 14. This is a good time to demonstrate some love for yourself by fasting from the cold, harsh world of technology and engage in a more human lifestyle. Have a real love relationship with yourself, your spouse, your family and friends – and not your phone.
Fr. John B.