photo by Conor Lawless
When I wrote this in my mind, I was a little fired up.
The first draft of these words were grace-less and judgmental, harsh and arrogant. Thankfully for you (and for me), I've slept on it a bit. I'm praying as I write that you will receive this with the spirit in which it is intended: a gentle challenge, a loving invitation.
Thanksgiving last weekend was the first family gathering in which the majority of the adults present had a smart phone of some kind. My electronic drug of choice is the computer, and I know enough about my abuse of screen time to know that having a phone that does anything more than make and receive calls and send and receive text messages would be an unhealthy choice for me.
So while I was detoxing from computer time on our trip away, I had a heightened clarity about the use of phones all around me. And yes, on more than one occasion, I was so thankful for phones with GPS that navigated our way through the twisty, hilly roads of Branson. I also laughed and laughed when not once, but twice, Kyle's iPhone GPS led us to a sketchy apartment complex rather than the Wal-Mart we were promised.
We have so much in those devices - tethers to life spinning in our spheres while we are "away"; recipes not lodged in cookbooks tucked away on shelves but right there in our palms available only seconds after we think of them; announcements of pregnancies and births and engagements and, yes, of passing; encyclopedias instantly answering the most trivial of trivia questions; all we could want and more.
They add so much. But can't we see that they take so much with them?
Games meant for only one player replace families gathered around boards and pieces and cards and eye contact.
Checking Facebook one more time means missing the chance to check to see if anyone needs anything from the kitchen.
Continuing a conversation via texting means darting in and out of a conversation face-to-face.
I think most adults still have the social grace and common courtesy to hide away the phones during meals and the more formal aspects of holiday events. It's what we do with our down time that speaks volumes about how engaged we are with those around us. I'm reminded of my very favorite line from the movie Up when Russell says, "That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most." Who among us doesn't recognize that truth from our childhoods?
Anyone up for joining me in a challenge?
What would it look like if we put down, closed down, shut off, and put away the screens during this season? What if at your next family gathering you:
- made faces at and played peek-a-boo with a baby
- took a toddler for a walk outside
- colored pictures with the younger kids
- taught the older kids how to play M.A.S.H.
- offered to do the dishes
- offered to take out the trash
- asked a relative to tell you a story
- listened to that relative who just needs to talk
How long do you think you could go? An entire weekend? One whole day? Half a day? A few hours?
I know I'm far from the only voice speaking on behalf of the iPhone-less. I'm also no luddite (obviously), and I fully realize that technology is good and useful and, in many ways, necessary. So I hope you're hearing my heart on this.
My invitation to you is to immerse yourself in the season. Train your eyes, your heart, and your mind on the moment as it unfolds. Perhaps your mind will resist it at first; aren't we all so conditioned to fill up the blanks spaces with something?
As you slip back into the familiar rhythms of years long gone, I bet you'll remember that being fully present is a gift not only to others, but also to yourself. You'll pack full a spot in your brain that overflows with every detail, every nuance, every rich color and delectable smell and musical note of laughter and pause in conversation and gleam in the eyes of those around you.
All that is the best and good of time with family and friends at end-of-the-year gatherings is wrapped up and waiting for you to open, but it's hard to open anything using only one hand. So are you picking up what I'm laying down? I'd love to hear your thoughts.