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A bystander’s view of the collision between smart phones and our culture.

I’m a pretty simple man. I make my living sawing wood and driving nails. But on the occasion that I’m doing a job that requires no thought process, like finishing drywall, my mind tends to wander into the deep forests of contemplation. I can get lost in one of these world problem-solving trances for hours at a time. Then I glance at my watch and oh my goodness, it’s quitting time already.

Smart phones has been a topic of thought lately. A week ago, my wife and I enjoyed a Christmas Eve meal at Appleby’s. We sat at a window booth and a family of four adults came in and sat down at a booth next to us. We couldn’t help but notice that each one of them was glued to a phone screen. They only glanced up when the waitress came for their order. From our vantage point this looked ridiculous, but to them it was family time on Christmas Eve. Glancing around the restaurant, I noticed that they weren’t the only ones in the Smart phone mode. Teri and I wondered if we were the odd balls by leaving our phones out in the car.

Somewhere in the last few years, face to face communication has taken a back seat to social media. Today, with every text notification, real life ceases until the text is read and answered, even if it interrupts a conversation. We have become a culture of lonely people who fill our emptiness with long distant discussions.

Between the texts we can fill our time with scrolling. I must admit that I’ve been sucked into the black hole of scrolling myself. I open up Facebook and read the top post. Then I make the fatal mistake of scrolling down to the next post. This leads to the next one down, then the next, and the next. What seems like minutes later, I look at the clock and two hours have passed. Where did those two hours go? I just wasted two hours scrolling through an endless list of shared posts that mean absolutely nothing to me. Maybe one in fifty will be a personal post with some meaning.

One night, I was listening to some soothing piano music on youtube and started reading the comments under the video. Then I started scrolling through the comments. Down I went into the intriguing spiral of comments and replies. Maybe twenty minutes later, I came to a comment by either an experienced scroller or my guardian angel which read “Stop scrolling and get back to work.” These words hit me like a cold, wet dishrag in the face… I’m a scrolling addict.

It’s interesting to watch another scroller at work. He pulls out his phone during a pause in life’s action and thumbs into his feed. He stares intently at the screen momentarily, then starts sliding his thumb up the surface. At first it’s a slow slide, then it gets faster as the minutes go by. Occasionally, his thumb stops for a few minutes as a video plays out before his eyes. Then he either hits the replay icon or thumbs down to the next juicy morsel of nothingness. At some point, something will snap him out of his trance. It might be a waitress, or it could be a train derailing from the tracks in front of him.Then he will put the phone back in his pocket, and get on with life… until the next lull in the action.

Motto from 9/11 that now can read “Let’s Scroll”

So how, you ask, does scrolling influence today’s culture? I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not sure if it’s a plus or minus to our lifestyle. Thirty years ago, when a person became bored or panic stricken, he lit up a cigarette. Today, we pull out our phone. That sounds like a plus.

On the negative side though, have we turned into information dependants? Before the internet, we had to use our brain to figure out problems. Math problems could be solved with a pencil and paper. Geography questions required an atlas. Science or history questions could be answered by a set of encyclopedias. The processes of finding answers required some brain exercise. Today, we simply ask Siri any question in the world and it will have our answer in a matter of seconds. Are we becoming a culture so dependent on the internet that we can’t solve problems without it?

I fear that fingertip media is deteriorating our sense of wonder. We all remember a time in our youth when we discovered new things using our hands and legs to explore. We could walk or ride a bike to new and exciting places like caves and forests where we used all of our God given senses to learn. We learned to stay clear of the three-leafed poison ivy. We learned to stay away from a lot of things that hurt us. But we also learned about wonderful things like the sweet fragrance of plum blossoms in early spring, the deep sound of croaking bull frogs in a bass pond, and the rough feel of a cow’s tongue as it licked an apple out of our hand. These are just a few examples of the hundreds of things we learned as youth that stick with us forever. The internet may have all the answers, but it cannot provide the real-life experience that gives us so many wonderful memories. By the way, we are never to old to experience something new!

Along this same line of thought, are we to the point now where we bypass God and go straight to Google? Instead of asking God for answers which may take some time and patience on our part, are we turning to Google for quick answers? If so, I wonder what God thinks of His new position out there with all the old encyclopedias and atlases. That my friend, worries me.

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