“Anyone who today works with or near young people cannot fail to see this: for members of the present generation, the smartphone has become an amulet. It is a sacred object to be held and caressed and constantly attended to. Previous generations fell in love with their cars or became addicted to TV, but this one elevates devotion to material objects to an altogether different level. In the guise of exercising freedom, its members engage in a form of idolatry.”
So wrote one Andrew J. Bacevich on Commonweal this month, in a piece tellingly entitled “Selling our Souls.” Like me, you may feel inclined to defend our generation against such slander. According to an international study involving almost a thousand college students, though, Mr. Bacevich is right. Participants in the study spent just 24 hours without media (cell phones, computers, TV, etc.) and reported that the experience revealed their total “addiction” to it all and left them not just bored but upset, lonely, and depressed. They depended on the media for information, entertainment, even companionship.
Pretty pathetic. Of course, we can and should use the various forms of media for good purposes; this blog will, I hope, serve as an enriching resource for growth in the Catholic faith. But if you find time to read this post and haven’t found time to pray today, please stop reading.
…Still with me? Even if you DO pray daily and maintain real face-to-face relationships with your family and friends– thus avoiding the worst habits of the deprived participants in that study– excessive media use is no less dangerous. Whether we’re sending texts, reading blogs, or viewing photos, the constant immersion in it all may be eroding our capacity to concentrate. As we leap from one activity, one website, one facebook profile to the next, we’re training ourselves for distraction.
And what kind of spiritual life can we hope for if even the array of modern media can’t hold our attention? Distraction in prayer isn’t exactly a new problem for Christians, yet it could be among the worst spiritual afflictions of our age. Silence should lead us to God, as Pope Benedict frequently reminds us; it more often leads us to turn on the radio. Devoting more attention to your smartphone than to the Lord is indeed, in Mr. Bacevich’s blunt term, “a form of idolatry.” Perhaps we should add a new question to the standard examination of conscience: Is my media consumption undermining my relationship with God?