In September, Apple released its new iPhone 6. Based on people’s glowing reactions, you might think we’ve discovered the eighth wonder of the world. The overwhelming awe and buzz surrounding this new electronic device goes to show just how much “smart phones” have transformed the way we think and live.
Without a doubt, cell phones and mobile devices have created huge conveniences, such as access to information, ease of commerce and more online social interconnectedness. At the same time, the huge boom in “screen time” also has produced negative consequences in our behavior, exposing the greatest weaknesses of human nature.
Everyone sees that electronic devices have enabled the rise of internet pornography and facilitated our texting-while-driving problem. There are less obvious consequences, however, that may pose a societal danger as well. A new study done by the University of California, showed that “screen time” negatively affects our capacity for grasping emotion.
To be specific, the study observed two groups of sixth grade students and the effects of electronic devices. A report in the Wall Street Journal about the study said “all that screen time might be affecting children’s ability to read emotions in others” and that students in the study who did not use electronic devices were better able to read emotions from people’s faces while their counterparts were not.
In other words, the mobile devices that were supposed to help us connect have had the opposite effect. This disturbing trend has not gone unnoticed. Author Maggie Jackson has written a powerful book called, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.
She states, “We can contact millions of people across the globe, yet we increasingly connect with even our most intimate friends and family via instant messaging, virtual visits and fleeting meetings. In this new world, something is amiss. And that something is attention.”
In this attention deficit, we have eroded “our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention—the building block of intimacy, wisdom and cultural progress.”
With all of its promises and potential, the new technology has an “addictive allure of multitasking people and things… (creating) a constant state of motion” which creates a “land of distraction, in which our old conceptions of space, time and place have been shattered. This is why we are less and less able to see, hear, and comprehend what’s relevant and permanent, why so many of us feel that we can barely keep our heads above water, and our days are marked by perpetual loose ends.”
I do not need to quote social studies or books by experts to prove we are a distracted age. The next time you are at a restaurant, waiting room or event, just look around and see how glued to their cell phones people are and oblivious to the world around them. What makes it worse, each of us are paying a hefty price tag for all of these devices, and I am as guilty of this as the next person.
To combat the trend and find a balance, society should look to our Maker. If we study the life of Christ, we can see that He was never distracted. Jesus was always about His Father’s business, resistant to distraction yet open to interruption as one writer said (think of Jesus taking time with children who wanted to see Him).
Take another example, Falls Creek. Nestled in the Arbuckle Mountains, students and sponsors every summer are taken away from the fast pace of life and can see the natural beauty of God’s creation and clearly hear His call. While we, of course, make use the best technology and amenities possible at camp, perhaps the untold secret to the success has been its set-apart time and place.
It should not only be during retreats that we put aside these weapons of mass distraction, to borrow a term. Each of us must find a balanced approach in everyday life. Only then will we be ready for God to show us what’s truly important and of eternal worth. Only then will we overcome the attention deficit plaguing society today.