At breakfast this morning, a friend shared that he had looked at Facebook before he went to bed. “That does not help me get to sleep! I don’t know why I do it! All I see is smiling faces on beautiful pictures of couples blissfully celebrating their anniversaries in Hawaii or France or Italy. Their lives look so perfect…” One pastor reportedly said that looking at Facebook was “comparing your headlines to mine….” I think I would covet less if I didn’t have to look at those pictures.
But if I don’t look at Instagram, I will be out of the loop. I won’t know what is going on.
I think that is called “FOMO.” You know what I mean. I said it. FOMO drives me. Somewhere deep inside I can’t stand it. What am I missing? Who is doing what? Where have they been? Who are they with? What are they wearing? (Well, I don’t really care about that!)
But it’s even more than that. What critical email communication have I missed in the last ten minutes? What about the news? What is the latest from the Trump White House? How is the stock market? Has anyone been injured in Panthers’ training camp? Has anyone interviewed Cam?
Inquiring minds want to know. Right? More information is good. Right? I’m not so sure.
I read an article on technology a while back. The thing that stuck with me was that cell phone apps are designed to make you use the same addictive motion as a slot machine. I don’t know the significance of the motion, but I do know that so much of technology is addictive. By addictive, I mean it feels beyond my control. I need it to fill my emptiness, to kill the dead space when I might feel or reflect or be aware of my inner emptiness. And it works. My phone is always there. I have to choose not to look at it. And I often don’t.
How many times have you sat in a restaurant and watched two people sitting at the same table looking at their phones instead of talking? How many conversations get stopped while someone googles something? How many moments of reflection have been avoided because they were so easily filled?
And the hard thing is that it is such a small thing. The phone is small. The space of time I fill is small. And the space in my heart that offers depth and reflection and prayer and conviction remains unconsciously, purposefully small. Smaller than it would have been.
Yes, technology lets me listen to worship music and to podcasts. I can go to Wikipedia and find all kinds of Bible facts. I can read provocative articles and books. Technology opens up a world of closer communication. I can call or text you. We have almost constant access. Those are or can be good things.
But my fear is that my cell phone becomes an idol. It promises to offer life, to fill me. And while it fills my time and fills in dead space, it cannot fill my heart. And it can and often does fill the space that God might have filled – with some moments of reflection, self-awareness, prayer or contemplation.
Part of what makes this hard is that it is radically pervasive. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is on or looking at their phones. We think that we are the consumers but they consume us. And yet what can we do? Can we drop off the grid? Should we stop listening to podcasts? Should I ignore the texts that ask me to stop at Harris Teeter and pick up a baked potato for dinner? Should I keep email off of my phone, eliminate the newspaper app, and drop mostly off the grid?
I don’t think so. But I sure want to be more in control, more able to control my access to all that information. And somehow that means having more control of my own heart. It means facing the addictive part of me and bringing it to God. It means being willing to face more moments of silence and emptiness in a way that might lead to prayer or prayerful reflection. It means bucking the external culture and moving against the intuitive internal demand to feel full and fill dead space.
I hope with God’s help that I can. And I hope that you and I both want to.
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.
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