Psalm 101:3

I will refuse to look at

    anything vile and vulgar.

Obviously, when we think of vile and vulgar we think of things like pornography and extreme violence. This can certainly be the case. But the biblical meaning is literally, “unprofitable.” I will refuse to look at anything that is not going to be helpful for me. This really expands what this might be, doesn’t it?

What is getting in the way of me focusing on God and his ways? It can be anything. Even things that are normally considered good. My family, my job, my friends. All of these can become my idols. Things I look to for pleasure or to gain a sense of worth. But, anything can become an idol if it takes away from the one true God who is to have our attention.

When you think about it, if I was a space alien who came down to earth and watching people today, the thing many are looking at the most might even be a smartphone…with a Bible app of course!

Me

What do I spend the most time thinking about? Looking at? Test yourself out for a couple of days.

A young man sitting on a bench, using his mobile phone

There is something quite remarkable going on all around us that is a huge danger to our very human existence, but it is not registering. This has nothing to do with terrorism, racism, or climate change. It has everything to do with a rectangle-shaped incubus sucking out the souls of most people today.

What is it?

Most of us are looking at the world today through a rectangle.

A smartphone, to be more precise.

In American today, over 2/3rd’s of all people now use a smartphone and the percentage just continues to climb. With the younger generations leading the way, I recently heard them called, “Generation Thumb.”

We all know there is a cost to smartphones, but we act helpless.  I am not talking about the the money we spend on these expensive handheld computers or their data plans. I am talking about the cost of the smartphone in terms of human relationship.

If joy is a live, face-to-face encounter with someone else where we are glad to be with each other, then to begin with, we have a less than human experience when we are not talking to a person in person. Instead we have a conversation by texting, or Facebook posts. We may not be communicating at all, but living a shadow existence anonymously online, taking in information like water swirling into a drain.

But, what about the positive aspects of using a smartphone to connect with our friends and loved ones through video like FaceTime or Skype? Better than calling them, I would agree. We do get the opportunity to see their eyes and facial expressions along with words and tone.  But there is more to body language than this. When we are face-to-face live, our entire body is involved in the communication.The giver and receiver find themselves in a nuanced waltz responding to the slightest effect of gesture or glance.

You just can’t do this over a screen.

It is no wonder there appear to be a constant call of alarm in posts and articles concerning the dehumanizing price of staring at the rectangle of our iPhones and Galaxies. Obviously, that’s what I am doing right now.

But, communication with live human contact is not even the biggest problem. The problem that is not registering for most of us is far more sinister with far more of a negative impact down the road. It is the dying out of self-reflection.

Consider this. For most people today from a very early age, every waking minute that is not being taken up by a function or task is being taken up by a screen. You see, whenever we have any down time to ourselves, just sitting or standing around with nothing to do, we aren’t doing much introspection. We are taking these breaks from day-to-day activity and spending them staring at screens. More and more, it is the screen of our very accessible and very addicting smartphone. We are starving ourselves spiritually, morally, and philosophically. I know this sounds a bit extreme, but think about it.

Spiritually, we don’t take the time to think about nothing, a great spiritual discipline related to silence and solitude. What has been called, “soul searching,” has taken on other forms of searching. In our reflective moments instead of simply listening for God, we may be be searching for blogs and articles about God or listening to a quick podcast of someone talking about God. We never seem to just sit there and listen for God.

Morally, as soon as we have any reflective time where it is possible to take personal inventory, it’s back to the screen instead. You don’t have time to check out your attitudes and actions in your relationships when you are checking out how your fantasy football team is doing. Instead of thinking about the abrupt way you handled a conversation with your co-worker this morning, you find yourself checking out the latest Facebook status of someone you knew in high school.

Philosophically, when do I have time to think about deep things during the day, making observations and pondering them? “When?” is a good question because, if I am observing at all, I’m not pondering as much as I am posting. Trying to take a photo and comment on what I see happening around me that has any entertainment or provocative value for my followers and potential followers in real time. Providing witty sound bites so I can get more people to “like” me. I am back to staring at my rectangle again. And the chances are people I am trying to connect with are doing the same. Together we are staring down into the abyss of our non-reflecting souls. We could see this if we actually looked up and if we took 15 seconds to think about it….

But, wait a minute…15 seconds is just about right to find someone ready to play Words with Friends…