A restaurant on a Friday night is be a happening place. Friends are meeting up, families are spending time together, people are hanging out. At least usually. Sometimes, however, a rectangular piece of technology gets in the way.
The other night I was at a restaurant and a mom and her teenage daughter sat down near me. However, instead of engaging in conversation, they immediately got out their phones. They began staring and scrolling. Eventually, the dad and son joined the table, but unfortunately not much changed. There was a little bit of conversation exchanged—but mostly, everyone was either staring at a phone or a nearby TV. Even when it appeared one person might be ready to converse, no one was there to interact with. I mean, there were people “there,” but no one was really there.
It was a sad sight.
And yet, most of us–including myself—have been guilty of giving full attention to our screens to the detriment of the people around us.
We often lament the current teenage addiction to technology, but I can’t help but think us adults are just as bad. Sometimes we might be worse–almost as if we’re making up for lost time (having not had these devices as kids). Too often we start scanning, scrolling, reading (or whatever it is we do) without even thinking about it. And sadly, it happens even when we’re face to face with people we should be spending time with.
Don’t get me wrong, phones can be wonderful tools — even at helping us connect better with people. Trouble ensues, however, when our tools have more mastery over us than we have over them. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:12, we should “not be dominated by anything.” Paul was talking about the fight for sexual purity, but the principle certainly applies.
All that to say, if you can picture yourself becoming sucked into your screen far too easily (or too often), it might be time you admit you’re a tad bit addicted, or at least overly-distracted.
Resolving This Problematic Predicament
One solution to phone-distractedness comes by merely recognizing how detrimental this problem is.
When you’re at a restaurant just look around. Very likely you’ll see a handful of people choosing to “check out” during moments they could be relationally investing. Watch time slipping by, with precious moments stolen and nothing to show for it. And consider how selfish this could all be; everyone just engaging in whatever phone activity they feel like, with no regard for who’s around.
Needless to say, phone addiction is often the opposite of the others-mindedness we are commanded to have in Philippians 2:3-4:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Sadly, our phones can rob us of the opportunity to look out for the interest of others. Simply recognizing that this is not what we want, and yet it’s the selfishness our phones could provoke, might change some of our habits.
Another solution is, of course, prayer. We should ask God to help us notice moments when we are choosing to love our phones (ourselves, more accurately) more than we love the people we’re with.
If we did those 2 things: recognized the ugliness of the problem, and asked God to help us focus more on others — this problem might dissolve.
Don’t Stop Using Your Phone
Phones are truly fabulous mechanisms and are useful for so many good purposes— for reading the Bible, for prayer, for keeping in touch, for being organized, for being productive, for loving and investing in people, and even for enjoying downtime. So don’t get me wrong; We should use our phones, and utilize them for all they are worth!
The problem at hand is the tendency to disengage with our world, either out of selfishness or out of habit. There may even be 100 other issues related to a phone addiction — but for today consider whether you choose your phone over loving people? Do you ever forsake the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39) on the altar of “checking out,” surfing the web, checking Instagram, etc.
So yes, let’s keep our phones, but let’s not be “dominated” by them. Let’s instead be dominated by a passion to use our time, interactions, and even our devices for the glory of God and the good of others.