Technology can't satisfy our need for real communication.
Speaking to a 50,000 strong crowd of German altar servers this week, Pope Francis warned of time wasted with eyes glued to screens. The UK’s Tablet reports:
Asked by one of the young people how to make time for assisting at Mass, Pope Francis said that excessive use of the internet and social media distracted them from what was really important.
What is it that drives our screen addiction? The first thing is entertainment. While entertainment is not wrong in a balanced life, it can be a distraction from reality. If spend too much time watching television and movies and playing screen games we neglect our relationships, neglect our neighbor, and neglect prayer. Screen entertainment offers us an alternative reality. That false reality can seem much more attractive than the nitty gritty life that requires hard work, sacrifice and service day by day.
Entertainment is one element of our screen addiction. The second one is even more subtle and worrying. Why do people gaze at their cell phone constantly? Why do we have to pull out the phone to check our emails and text every five minutes? Why do we sit in a group of people with our eyes glued to the screen rather than to each other?
It’s because we are getting attention from the other people who are communicating with us electronically. The new forms of electronic communication are brilliant tools, and modern life would be much worse without them, but the addiction we have to our phones, tablets, and laptops reflect a need within us–a need for attention. We crave the attention of others and that text, email, Facebook message, or Tweet feeds that craving. However, like all addictions, the sudden burst of attention does not really satisfy. We get a little buzz from the few seconds of attention through an incoming message, but that buzz soon fades so we turn again to check for another message, another text, another tweet.
The attention we crave is a basic human need. We need other people. We need to communicate. We need to be listened to. This is because we need to be taken seriously. These are symptoms of an even deeper need: the need to be loved and to love. We long to be loved totally and unconditionally. We long to give ourselves in love totally and unconditionally. Searching for that cell phone message is just a little indication of the deeper love we need.
When I am preparing couples for marriage, I congratulate them and encourage them, but I also shock them by saying, “I hope you don’t think that marriage will make you happy.” After they recover from what seems a cynical and pessimistic view of marriage, I explain that there is a hunger for love in our hearts that even the very best marriage will not completely fulfill. Even the very best husband or wife cannot fill the void in our hearts for a total, consuming, and completely unconditional love.
The human loves we experience in our families and with our friends are only a pointer to the Divine Love that Jesus Christ brings. To find that love is a great adventure and a glorious quest. The reason to switch off the cell phones, close the laptop, turn off the TV, and blank the tablet screen is not because they are evil but because there exists a greater good.
The best way to think of it is this: Are your friends messaging you? The good news is that your very best friend is messaging you non-stop. He wants to be in a relationship with you that is everlasting in its breadth, height, and depth. He is waiting to listen to you and speak with you.
His text is Sacred Scripture. His story is the old, old story, and his message of love is communicated to us through adoration and prayer.
Fr Dwight Longenecker’s latest book is The Romance of Religion–Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty. Visit his blog, browse his books and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com.