Beyond Smartphones: Finding Real Connectivity
As a parent to a one year-old, I have been appalled by how often, while enjoying a quiet moment with my son, I have turned to my smartphone.
I recently started a graduate program in theology at Boston College, and during a conversation with a professor of spirituality, I asked her about technocentrism—a term she used to describe our collective addiction to technology.
She said we all crave a deep sense of connectivity—the feeling that we’re connected to something significant, something beyond ourselves. Many of us look for this “something” in our phones and other technologies, but we won’t find it there. We only really find it through contemplation (or meditation) and physical togetherness.
This makes sense to me. I know I turn to my phone to feel connected to something. But in reality I only feel connectivity through meditation—when I’m disciplined enough to do it on a regular basis—and through personal relationships. Particularly after a good conversation or fun activity with family or friends, I feel linked together with others in a big, wild, inexplicable way.
Most of us would probably agree that what we typically use our smartphones for (texting, social media, email, browsing the internet) cannot replace real, live interactions with other human beings. However, if we believe in a personal God, one who knows us intimately and can be intimately known by us, then spirituality can offer us the kind of connectivity we really need.
As a parent looking not only to deepen my spiritual practice but also to model being present for my son, I struggle to break myself away from my phone. I’m not a huge texter, but I do use my phone to compulsively read the news and music reviews and aimlessly wander the internet. Even without Facebook, which I deleted several years ago, I have invented plenty of ways to pass the time on my phone.
It’s a discomfort with silence—with waiting—that gives my phone such power over me. I pull it out of my pocket when I’m in public, too, waiting at the barber or riding on a bus or train. And too often I have had my phone in my hand when my wife, standing only a few feet away, says something to me that I don’t even hear.
Talk about a lack of mindfulness.
In these moments, I feel like what I’m doing on my phone is interesting and even important. Ultimately, though, my phone usage is mindless. I use it to distract myself from myself.
I’ve never been terrible about using my phone around my son. But even when he was a newborn sleeping in my arms, there were more than a few times when I found myself looking at my phone instead of looking at his face and enjoying just being with him—instead of allowing myself to simply sit and see and be happy.
As a parent striving to become more attuned to my spirituality, this certainly did nothing to help with that effort.
However, all the moments I spend with him without the self-imposed distraction of my smartphone provide me with a sense of spiritual connectivity that still feels delightfully new to me.
In these moments, I often find myself silently praying, without intending to do so, some variation of what Anne Lamott calls the three essential prayers: help, thanks, and wow. Help me be a good father, God. Thanks, God, for gracing us with his presence. Wow, God, look at him—he really is a miracle.
My wife and I have both become acquainted with the exhilaration and exhaustion of giving most of one’s energy to caring for a young human being. By responding to our little guy’s needs, we’ve become not only more connected to him but also to each other. Our relationship deepened on the day he was born, and since then—through the parts that feel great and the parts that feel tough—it has continued to deepen.
When we’re closer to ourselves and each other, we’re closer to God. Actually, I think we’re always close to God, and none of us ever truly forgets that this spiritual connectivity exists. But sometimes we distract ourselves to the point of not sensing it.
So, on my best days, I’ll continue to leave my phone in a separate room so that I’m not tempted to pick it up. On my best nights, I’ll leave it downstairs when I go to bed. I’ll continue trying to be fully present in each moment, especially as a parent.
And when I fall short, the part of me that’s already connected and always will be—my spirit, my soul, my True Self—will gently remind me again to, as Richard Rohr says, “experience [my] experiences.”