“Let the little children come to me, Do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven, belongs to them…” Matthew 19:14
“I check my email all the time” and “It’s my security blanket” are statements often made by people who struggle with what experts are calling, “digital addiction”. Awareness of the issue has fostered a “National Day of Unplugging”, which will be held March 3-March 4, 2017.
Since 92% of Americans own a cell phone (70% being smartphones) and 83% of Americans stop any conversation they are involved in to answer the phone if it rings (for a call or text), there is an increasing awareness of what technology is doing to social interactions. 82% of people say, “It deteriorates the conversation” and destroys the in-person interaction.
M.I.T. professor, Sherry Turkle’s new book, Reclaiming Conversation, the Power of Talk in the Digital Age, argues that Americans are being bombarded by near-constant distraction of technology that leads to a loss of intimacy, empathy, and the ability to connect to others. Turkle notes it is particularly damaging to young children, but, can also be noticed in people’s inability to (and struggle with) being alone. “When you look at people in a checkout line in a supermarket … if they wait three seconds, they are checking their texts … Empathy is at stake, and we need empathy to raise children who are able to be ethical and moral people.”
This is an important time for the Church to attract and help children. By allowing our children to carve out, what theologians call “Sacred Space”, where children have conversations about the struggles of their lives (and the silences of their lives), our church is living out the grace of God. In “Sacred Space” our church allows children to consider their doubts (“life is not supposed to be like this, is it?”) as well giving them time, without the pressures of our digital age, to enrich their imagination, faith, and relationships.
The past night when I went to pick up ‘take out’ at a local restaurant, I witnessed a family sitting at a table, waiting to be served. Each had their digital device – – checking their emails or playing their games – – to keep them distracted. “From what are they distracting themselves?” I wondered, “Is this what we call time together? Is this family time? Is this ‘quality time’?”
Thomas Merton once noted the importance of separating ourselves from the pressure of “the things in our lives”. “Until we love God perfectly”, he writes, “Everything in the world will be able to hurt us … our greatest misfortune is to be dead to the pain (temporal thing cause us) and not realize what it is.” Perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves (and our children) is a quiet hour on Sunday to contemplate the worth of our souls.