On the news the other day they reported a study which showed that most people check their mobile phone every twelve minutes, with many looking at messages within five minutes of waking up. I remember seeing a cartoon of a family sitting at their meal, all reading their phones or tablets, and the caption read: ‘At breakfast the family was best left to their own devices.’ Given how much we now depend on them to talk to people, I do wonder why we never used to see long queues outside telephone boxes. (You might have to explain to your children what a telephone box is!)
Undoubtedly, the internet has opened up new possibilities of communication, but like any new invention, we need to develop a way of using it ethically and well.
It is ever so easy to press the button to see who wants to get in touch, and it is rather nice to know. It’s important to develop good practice so that we learn how to get the best out of the technology without it taking us over.
Some words from Pope Francis’ encyclical; ‘Rejoice and be glad’ grabbed my attention: ‘The presence of constantly new gadgets, the excitement of travel and an endless array of consumer goods at times leave no room for God’s voice to be heard. We are overwhelmed by words, by superficial pleasures and by an increasing din, filled not by joy, but rather by the discontent of those whose lives have lost meaning. How can we fail to realise the need to stop this rat race and to recover the personal space needed to carry on a heartfelt dialogue with God?’
Recovering personal space seems a pretty good idea to me, allowing space for God and for our flourishing. That’s a lesson I often still need to learn myself!
There is a strand in the Bible which suggests that wisdom waits. Yet technology creates an expectation of immediacy. Do you remember the email which you sent spontaneously, and afterwards wished you hadn’t? Personal space leads to reflective space, and I can’t help thinking we need more reflecting and less reacting.
When I’ve finished writing this, I will email it as an attachment and magazine editors will receive it on a website. That’s the wonderful thing about technology. Then I’ll go and make myself a cup of coffee and instead of picking up my phone I might just go out into the garden for a few minutes, bathed as it is in beautiful sunshine. Or there again, has someone just messaged me? Shall I take a quick look?
Archdeacon of Worcester