Resisting the “Siren Song” of the Smartphone
By: Tom Grosh IV, DMin
September 30, 2019
“Our spiritual DNA longs for presence. But how often are our phones the reason we are around each other, but not present with each other?” — Justin Whitmel Earley, author of The Common Rule: Creating Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction
Combining the image of the trellis and the calendar as found on the cover of The Common Rule: Creating Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, did you find the relationship of the habits of kneeling prayer three times a day and at least one meal a day with others liberating or overwhelming? Are you enthusiastic to dive into One Hour with Phone Off, or does this daily habit of resistance strike fear into you? I confess that at times the siren song of the smartphone cried out for attention so strongly that it became the center of gravity in my life.
- Does your smartphone (or another piece of technology) cry out for your attention as an irresistible siren?
- How would you tell the story of the Bible through the lens of presence, i.e., God’s desire for presence/relationship with His people?
- What is one place in your life where you think you could love God or neighbor more simply by being more attentive, more present?
“So, what do you think?” In The Common Rule: Creating Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, Justin Whitmel Earley relates a midday family check-in, via his office phone, in which he became distracted. When his wife Lauren asked the above question, Justin had “zero idea what she had been saying.” Why? He had subconsciously picked up his iPhone and begun scrolling notifications. Has that ever happened to you? How about when you were having a conversation with someone in the same room? Hard to be in two places at one time isn’t it? Justin states that at times the smartphone, an amazing tool of communication, leaves us living “lives of absence.” How does one counteract a “life of fractured presence,” one warring against life and relationship?
Based on interactions in the home, on campus and in the hospital, I’m not surprised “that even a phone turned off and face down on the table reduced participants’ satisfaction in their conversation at the table.” Yes, sometimes healthcare professionals, parents and a variety of other people are “on call,” but the phone should as much as possible stay out of sight and mind. As to the practical concern of keeping time, our family has slowly moved back to watches.
In the professional context, make sure that only the most urgent items interrupt being present with those whom you are currently focused upon serving. Maybe another staff team member can be responsible for making the decision as to whether your presence is more important for those in another room.
As for meals with CMDA at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine and with my family, it is hard to convey the importance of life happening at the table. This is such a unique opportunity to share the love of God, that I have become more and more convinced of the importance of resisting “the siren of the smartphone” by not bringing it to the table.
Furthermore, I have been convicted by a friend’s commitment to leave his smartphone in the car during worship on Sunday morning. Sure, one can look up Scripture, take notes, and set up appointments, but one can also do such through other traditional media. Leaving the smartphone in the car breaks the potential of distractions offered by “the siren,” enabling the focus to be upon one’s true love. Regarding one’s relationship with God, “Your habits will not change God’s love for you, but God’s love for you can and should change your habits.”
Let us start by trying an hour off…
- In the morning to be more present at work. OR
- In the evening to be more present with people in your house. OR
- Over a meal to be more present with the Lord, peer(s), family, etc. OR
- During a time of daily silence, including devotions.
Thank you for the gift of the smartphone and the ability not only to stay connected, but also to be well resourced. Forgive us for when we have followed the siren call of the smartphone instead of being present to whom you have placed in the room with us. Grant us the grace to set aside the distractions which fill the smartphone, fracturing our person, to engage with others at work, home, the table, school, wherever you have placed us. May our center of gravity be dwelling in you and extending your love with head, heart and hands. May all that we communicate in person and through media point to you, you alone.