I once was waiting for a table at a restaurant and I saw a father and mother both glued to their phones while their two children desperately tried to get their attention. Eventually, the older boy sat down frustrated and said to his mother, “You always look at your phone and not at me.” His mother grunted and did not look up. It occurred to me that these parents would probably miss months, possibly years of their children’s lives if they continued to be enslaved to their phones.
Now, I am not judging. I understand how those parents felt. They were probably tired, low on energy, and the nearest soothing source of entertainment was in their pocket. It is difficult not to go to our smartphones, social media, or other technologies for relief when we are exhausted and running on empty. Scrolling and gazing is so much easier than talking to real people. But in the end, it’s a lot less rewarding.
In his book Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.” This prophetic quote applies well to our current era of smartphones, Snapchat spectacles, Alexa, and any number of endless gadgets which keep popping up.
Of course, it’s true that some of these items can make our lives better. They actually can be improved means to an improved end. But that is only if we use them in moderation, which is not happening for many people. A Baylor University study found that on average college women use their smartphone 10 hours a day and college men use it eight hours a day. These students are spending an entire work day each day on their phones! A study last year found that Americans on average spend over 10 hours per day consuming media, and we can assume smartphone use is a good chunk of that time. Moderation with this new media does not seem to be a strong suit for most of us. We are losing hours of our lives which could be better spent strengthening relationships, learning a new skill, or just enjoying life.
Christians must also take note that smartphone use can deeply affect our spiritual lives. First of all, time spent on our smartphones often takes time away from prayer and can distract us (even when we are not using them!). So, as Christians, we must strive to moderate our use of technology. If we don’t do it for our own quality of life and for our relationships with others, we should do it for the good of our eternal souls.
Read more: Pope Francis: Put down that cell phone!
As I struggle to control my smartphone use and not be controlled by it, here are some of the strategies that have helped me:
1. Set Up Purposeful Blackout Times: There was a time not so long ago when we picked up people at airports, met friends at events, and traveled without cell phones. So, unless you are a surgeon on call, chances are you can afford to put down or turn off your phone for an hour or so. “Blackout times” every day are a good reminder for us that we really don’t need our cell phones.
2. Enforce Phone-free Zones: You can enforce phone-free zones anywhere. Bedrooms are a good idea. Bathrooms are a no-brainer. But if you are going to pick one, eating areas are pretty key. Try placing a basket in the middle of your dining room table and put your phones in it when you eat with family or friends. Most of us know there is really no excuse to use phones at the table. Don’t judge those who do, just set a good example, and come to agreements with those you live so everyone is on the same page.
3. Delete Time-sucking Apps: I’ve deleted my Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. The notifications distracted me and I ended up spending way too much time on them. (Of course, now I use my browser but small steps, small steps.) If there are any apps that are stealing hours of time from your life, don’t hesitate, just delete them!
4. Avoid Zombie Walking with Your Phone: I admit I am bad at this one. If my phone buzzes, I want to look at it. And I’ll keep looking at it as I walk from place to place. But, recently someone told me that it makes her feel lonely to see people just looking at their phones as they pass by rather than giving her a heartfelt greeting. That comment made me realize that burying my nose in my phone keeps me from being charitable to those around me which, at least for this gal from Oklahoma, means saying hello to people. It’s also a safety hazard; metropolitan police forces warn of an uptick in robberies of “easy targets” who walk with their eyes on their phones instead of on their surroundings.
5. Keep Reminding Yourself of Your Death: This may seem morbid but sometimes I wonder if at the pearly gates Saint Peter is going to read off to me how many years of my life I frittered away watching TV, looking at my phone, and generally wasting my time. Just the thought of this convicts me to live better, at least for a while. When I think about dying regularly, not in a morbid way, it keeps me alive. So, to live more fully, think about your death! Memento mori, people. Memento mori.
Do you have any ideas? I’d love if you shared them in the comments. I’m sure lots of us struggle with this and would appreciate as many ideas as possible!
Read more: Is Facebook listening in on your confession?