A few weeks ago I brought teens and adults to a concert a few hours away from our church. For a bus full of kids, it felt oddly silent. Looking at the students hunched over their phones, we realized the teens were not just texting -- they were texting the friends sitting next to them. One of our pastors stood up and politely made this public service announcement:
"If I catch you texting someone who is in this bus, I will throw your phone out the window. Good grief, talk to each other."
Apparently this hadn't occurred to them. We were relieved to hear the sounds of students shouting at each other across the bus. It felt much more alive than the click-click-click-click of their keyboards or touchscreens.
Attachment to our mobile devices is just one example of how life can get a little crazy. I should know, I've checked my iPhone for alerts three times since starting this paragraph. What happened? How did we go from a society that could handle the thought of an answering machine holding our messages while we were out of town to people who read their emails while navigating an SUV through a school parking lot?
It hit home for me when I was carrying groceries upstairs and actually paused to check my screen when I heard the "ping" that indicated I had a new text. Standing mid-flight, straining to hold my phone along with the bag full of milk, eggs and canned corn, it dawned on me that whatever this message was it could certainly wait until I reached my door and put down the bags.
That night I took a look at every alert on my phone that had been distracting me for the past few years and reset it so that only phone calls and texts made noise. Then I took it a step further and set up my phone to "sleep" for 10 hours a day-- automatically shutting itself down for the time it takes me to sleep, get ready for work and pray in the morning.
A few peaceful hours and I felt like a new person.
As much as I love the freedom that technology gives me to keep up with friends or watch a cute cat video while in line at the grocery store, I hadn't realized how much this device was controlling my life. Then I took alerts off my phone and hours passed when I focused on the people in front of me, not the ones commenting in cyberspace.
My phone is my weakness -- the thing that is most likely to suck away my time, productivity and attention that I should be giving to more important tasks like writing, sleeping and actually carrying my groceries all the way upstairs. What about you? Do you find yourself drawn in to reality TV, Candy Crush or shoe shopping? Maybe you can't stop checking fantasy football or watching the curling trials for the 2014 Winter Olympics? These things might not be bad in moderation, but they can take over if we're not careful.
We're about to enter the season of advent (the four weeks before Christmas), which is a great chance to look at our lives and examine what we've allowed to creep in and distract us from what's important, from what would keep us from really celebrating the birth of Christ and preparing for his return. Maybe we need to add something to help us grow, or maybe we need to eliminate some distractions like I did. We can't change the priorities of a whole society, but we can start with working on our own weaknesses.
Or just throw our phones out the window of a speeding bus.
Follow columnist Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.