Most days I can hardly hear myself think.
It feels like there are a million voices calling for my attention as long as I’m awake: text messages, work emails, kids wanting a drink of water, looming deadlines, billboards, the sense of missing Something Important on social media, breaking news, Instagram, app notifications, Netflix, podcasts, music, a smartwatch telling me to stand up.
My mind is scattered and cloudy most of the time. Probably as a result, I often discover that I’m anxious or depressed or worried about something but I can’t remember what, let alone why. There’s just too much going on. So when these feelings come, the easiest and most efficient thing to do is unlock my phone. And then the dread mostly goes away, for a little while. A shot of dopamine from Twitter keeps the anxiety away.
It’s not just the technology that creates this feeling, it’s also how ordered and scheduled and deadlined our lives are. We feel like we are constantly missing out on something or failing to do enough. There are always more shows, exercise, dishes, dieting, organizing, reading, and podcasts to catch up on.
The effect of all this is that from the moment we get out of bed until we crash at night, life feels like a buzz of attention-grabbing technology and busyness for a lot of modern people. One of my great worries about this distraction is that it makes recognizing and repenting of sin hard to do. When do we have the time to quietly reflect on our day and prayerfully evaluate our actions and words?
The answer used to be at night. Traditionally, the moments before we fall asleep have been some of the most convicting in life. When you are stuck in bed with the lights off and nothing to distract you, your day comes rushing back. You remember the things you said and the things you left unsaid. You are alone with yourself, which can be a terrifying thing. As the protagonist of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises says, “It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.” At night all the barriers we put up begin to crumble, and our own sin and need for Jesus is a bit easier to see.
Except that the night isn’t really so quiet anymore. With the growth of smartphones, we can have high-speed, high-definition, limitless content in rich colors to keep our minds preoccupied until the moment we fall asleep. Or perhaps we fall asleep binge-watching Netflix. The point is, in our contemporary world, we have rooted out every last second of silence and preoccupied ourselves to death.
Of course, to some extent, humans have always tried to avoid their conscience or moral reflection. Plato’s Socrates was devoted to provoking Athenians into examining their moral lives because for him the unexamined life was not worth living. Apparently being distracted to death is a millennia-old problem. What has dramatically changed is the quality and intensity of our distractions. However, as engaging as a 5th century B.C. scroll may have been for an ancient Athenian, the sheer sensory power of an iPhone 10 dwarfs it. The amount of content, the speed, accessibility, quality, cost—everything has worked to make it harder and harder not to be distracted.
In this way, the technology of distraction can become a barrier to self-understanding that has some serious implications for our faith. Therefore, we should consider how to rein in our use of technology, to set aside specific quiet time for prayer and contemplation. But while we can seriously limit the effects of technology and a life of distraction upon ourselves and our families, what about our neighbors?
For the most part, when we think about moderating our use of technology, we think in individual terms. We make these decisions for ourselves and our families. But unless you want to outlaw technology, we should expect that most of our neighbors are going to continue to live lives of perpetual white noise. If you can afford it, it’s actually a fairly fun way to live. This raises an important question for Christians: How do we bear witness to our faith to people whose default is to avoid reflection and contemplation, the very things that are important to recognize our sin and need for Christ?
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Source: Christianity Today