Text messages. Twitter. Facebook. iPhones, iPads, video games… the list of distractions in our lives goes on and on. These aren’t bad things in and of themselves, of course—but I’ll be the first to admit that with so many opportunities for distraction at hand, I spend a lot of time checking email or catching up on Facebook that I might once have spent doing something more productive.
In this devotional at Delve Into Jesus, Michael Lane admits to the same impulse, and considers the example of a friend who decided to opt out of of these digital distractions entirely:
I can relate. I don’t own an iPad, but I do own an iPhone so I know first hand exactly what [my friend] Peter is talking about. It’s the first thing I reach for in the doctor’s waiting room or while waiting for others to arrive to a meeting. That’s reasonable, I suppose, but lately I’ve found myself reaching for it in the car at long red lights or when I’m watching television with my wife. That’s not reasonable, and it’s gotten me into some hot water.
The point Peter was trying to make is that we’ve lost our respect and desire for quiet, introspective thought. It’s so easy to fill our minds with information or tap into entertainment that there is no longer a need to ever be without it – not in the car, not in our bedrooms, not even when we’re camping or on vacation. Every moment of the day, regardless of where I am, I can check my email, watch a podcast, update Twitter or read the news. The vast majority of the time, there is not a single email, news story or social networking update that comes even close to affecting my life, but I read them all anyway. At the very moment when I sense that I am not listening to something, reading something or doing something, I instinctively reach out for anything that will occupy my mind and keep me from… well from what? Boredom? Silence? My own thoughts? Not being productive? I’m not sure, but I think it’s some combination of these fears.
Lane is concerned about the effect of this boredom and distraction on our prayer lives. Lane isn’t saying you should get rid of your iPhone or stop using Twitter—he specifically notes that he isn’t ditching his phone or blaming the technology. But he does challenge us to use our time deliberately, and to avoid using our fancy tools as simple meaningless distractions. The next time you reach for your phone/game/iPad, ask yourself: are you doing it because it’s important, or simply because it’s a habit and you’re bored? What else could you do that would be more personally—and spiritually—rewarding?