Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Turn It Off

The other night I was out with Bernie and one of his neighbours, a man who works in the correctional system. Bernie has his own business to run. His neighbour had a co-worker in crisis. I had just come from work myself. We had a great time and some good, solid conversation, but in the course of a three hour dinner, every one of our cell phones was active between five and twenty times.

You have probably had similar experiences.

A new initiative in my department at work is migrating 90% of company communications to an intranet social media site patterned after Facebook. We are being discouraged from using email and encouraged to access the forum regularly from our phones when not on the job in order to keep abreast of developments and “share information more effectively”.

Life in the Twenty-First Century

This is life in the early twenty-first century, I know. Few careers today don’t intrude on the spaces outside office or classroom that we used to have to ourselves. To make matters worse, we are doing it to ourselves voluntarily. Unless it is made clear that it will not be tolerated, most teens and twenty-somethings expect to text their way through family meals, car trips, conversations and shared activities. They will often message each other across the room rather than converse out loud. I’ve had coffee in the kitchen of middle-aged couples trying to chat with me while gaming or interacting with others on social media.

For the Christian, this change presents a bigger problem than may initially be obvious.

Reclaiming Coherent Thought

I’m not talking about the conversations that are interrupted at the worst possible moment, the intimacies that are never shared, or the jealousies that arise very naturally when family members feel snubbed or ignored. I’m not talking about important information that doesn’t get conveyed because one text conversation interrupts another. I’m not talking about the fragmentation of intellectual discourse into snippets of trivia 140 characters in length. The impact of technology on societal and family relationship dynamics is a huge problem, one well quantified and critiqued by sociologists, and I would be out of my depth trying to rehash that here.

I’m talking about more than our ability to communicate effectively. I’m talking about our ability to think coherently. If we cannot even do that, communicating effectively is entirely off the table.

Interruption Science

Interruption science is the study of the effect of disruptions on job performance. In its entry on the subject, Wikipedia notes that:
“Interruptions can cause serious task completion issues. According to the New York Times interruptions cause employees in a workplace to change course completely after being distracted 40 percent of the time. Workers cannot remember what they were doing before the distraction. Answering notifications hurts task performance and the ability to resume to the original task at hand. In addition, even just knowing that one has received a notification can negatively impact sustained attention.”
There. Now we know it’s a problem. Science says so.

Distractions, Distractions

This being the case, it is fairly easy to see how a constant barrage of notifications and communiqu├ęs, consequential or mostly otherwise, can effectively neutralize the spiritual benefit derived from daily prayer and meditation if we allow it to intrude, not to mention disrupting our fellowship with each other.

How can “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you” when the average Christian mind is not “stayed” on anything? How can we “striv[e] side by side for the faith of the gospel with one mind” when we can barely collect our own thoughts long enough to reach a genuine understanding about anything, let alone share it intelligently? It seems unlikely that we will enjoy the “delight in the law of the Lord” that the psalmist speaks about without the meditation “day and night” that is necessary to produce it.

There’s a very simple solution here, but one that I find modern Christians utilizing very little: Turn it off.

You can’t be troubled or interrupted by things you don’t hear in the first place.

Some Practical Suggestions

Not all the time, of course. If it’s part of the job to be accessible and if your family income depends on it, it may not be possible to shut down the tech barrage for long periods of time. But it is certainly possible to do it strategically.

1)  When you read your Bible and pray, turn the phone right off.  The text of Daniel tells us he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem and got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before God. The clear statement of scripture is that this was Daniel’s regular habit. It was his regular habit while functioning at a high level in the Persian kingdom and being occupied daily with affairs of state.

If Daniel could put King Darius on hold periodically to communicate with heaven, I suspect you and I can probably show the Lord the same sort of respect.

If you can’t turn the phone off for an hour, then turn it off for twenty minutes at a time. But make sure your time with the Lord daily is free of distraction.

2)  At church, leave your phone in the car.  There is little more distracting for a Bible teacher or preacher than to see half a dozen people texting their way through the sermon. If it’s that important, go outside.

3)  When you get together with Christians, same deal.  Maybe the couple you’re sitting down to spend a few moments with don’t put their phones or laptops away. So what? Put yours away anyway. If they don’t appreciate the gesture, at least they’ll have your full attention and the Lord will have his servant fully engaged rather than trying to serve two masters.

We all know how well that works.


  1. Great article. I really enjoyed ...
    ... sorry my kid just said something ... brb