Question: With the proliferation of smartphones, it’s common now to see a family seated for a meal with each person preoccupied with his or her phone. Evidently this is not healthy. How have we come to this, and what can be done?
The irony of technology! We have never been more connected, yet simultaneously more disconnected!
Is there a law governing human nature that says the more we have, the less we really have? So it is said, “None is so poor as one who has too much.” Has technology given us so much that we have in fact been impoverished by it?
Never have we had so many friends, and yet know so few. Never have we written and read so much stuff, and yet retained so little. How has technology affected the way we think and behave? How have speed and mobility, and the convenience they bring, changed the way we view and value relationships?
Firstly, we have become multi-tasking practitioners. Since we can do things faster, we can also do them simultaneously. We can listen to someone while checking messages on our phone. We can have our breakfast while posting comments on social media.
Secondly, we have become dual world residents. We inhabit and function in two worlds, the real and the virtual. Often the virtual takes over. We talk with people across the globe rather than the ones across the table.
Thirdly, we have become a selfie generation. Like the Greek god Narcissus, we stare at ourselves, oblivious to others. When we post a photo or a comment, we count the likes, not so much to affirm the value of friendship but to rate our own popularity. We immerse ourselves in our own private world.
No wonder we are seeing what we see today: people in the real world set aside while each of us does our own thing. What can be done? To value relationships, we need community, and community comes with some rules. “Phone stack” is one. When you and your friends sit down for coffee, you place all your phones in the centre. The one who picks up and uses a phone pays for the meal.
When a group of us travel together, we agree to a rule that no one uses a phone once we are gathered for a meeting or seated for a meal. Anyone wishing to do so gets up and walks away from the table or room. That way we are 100% present, expressing the respect and value we accord to one another.
We can fight technology with technology. The airplane mode on our phone can be activated while on the ground. It cuts off all distractions and gives us time out to connect with real people in real time and space. If we make it a habit to activate it each night before we go to bed, it frees us each morning to seek first God’s face and read first His Book. That before Facebook.
David Wong, mentoring pastor of Zion Bishan BP Church, first used the laptop at the age of 45; he now marvels at his granddaughter using the smart phone at 5, wondering how her world will turn out.