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Thinking Out Loud

Me, Myself, and My Cell Phone

by Michael Jinkins | Aug 02, 2016


Editor’s note: Today’s “Thinking Out Loud” blog post is guest-written by the Rev. Karen Schlack (pictured). Karen is the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Elgin, Illinois. She is also a Louisville Seminary alum (MDiv ’04), a member of Louisville Seminary’s President’s Roundtable and a member of Louisville Seminary’s Caldwell Society.

My little idol runs on a battery. Its screen lights up. It obeys my command. It can provide me with just about anything. Friends. Information. Texts. My little idol is ALWAYS there. I keep it with me. I gaze at it. I spend hours with it. When I don’t have it, I feel lost.

Familiar? Sherry Turkle’s recent book, Reclaiming Conversation (Penguin Press, 2015), contains hundreds of interviews with persons of all ages. In her book she noticed that the subjects of her interviews prefer the sense of community that social media offers. They are willing to settle for relationships and community online because it comes without the hazards of a real-world community. In the world she studied, there is a deep disappointment with human beings, who are flawed and forgetful, needy and unpredictable. The world our cell phones deliver is not wired to behave this way.

Conversations, on the other hand, are messy. Especially family conversations. Turkle describes the family cell phone dilemmas as a vicious circle. Children can’t get their parent’s attention away from their parents’ cell phones. So parents give their children phones. Children take refuge in their phones. Parents use their children’s cell phone distraction as permission to keep their own phones out as much as they wish.

Meanwhile, on college campuses, students practice continuous partial attention. The “rule of three” is used at meals. One must make sure enough people are participating in a group conversation before sneaking a peek at one’s cell phone.

If we look over the top of our screens, we might observe some “real-world” facts. Human bonding begins when a mother gazes into the eyes of her infant. Eye contact is the most powerful path to intimacy. Being listened to by a real human being in our physical presence is the most precious thing we experience. Full attention to one thing (or person) has advantages.  Nothing gets done very well when it is buried in a pile of other somethings that are all done at the same time.

Our world is crying out for conversation. Connection is a poor substitute. We live in a nation where almost everyone is connected, but more young adults (ages 18-34) are living at home with their parents than getting married. Baby boomers are far less engaged now than their predecessors were at the same age 20 years ago.

We gray-haired folk who are better educated, financially resourced, and have decades of experience under our belts could put down our phones, stop trying to stay young, and rally to help people who actually are. Give your idol a rest and think about it. Jesus would smile. Look up from your phone, and see!

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