One of the gifts I received last Christmas is a smart watch. It is a watch that will connect wirelessly with my phone. No longer do I need to take out my phone to view messages, posts, or send simple responses to emails and tags. I can even download an app which will allow me to pay for my Starbucks drink from my watch-face. I love this watch. It is the one I wear most often.
That being said, there is something disturbing with this watch. As much as I love it, I also recognize that this signifies another manner in which I become increasingly tethered to the technological devices in my life. The buzzing of the watch rips me from restful naps. It demands my attention during any activity. While praying (or conducting the Eucharist), it becomes too easy to simply turn the wrist in order to look at the latest notification instead of remaining steadfast in divine conversation.
I'm sure we all have experienced the manner in which technology enforces its control over life. Whether it is the constant texting during dinner parties, or the intrusion of ring-tones in sacred services. These things happen under the rhetoric of 'availability.' We buy into the lie that tells us we are to be constantly available to all people at all times. Of course, the inverse is actually true. In being available to all we become available to none.
Yet the force of technology on our lives extends far more than to just social media and smart-phones, nor is it applicable to merely the younger generation. We also find it in the pull of the radio and the television. Is the radio constantly on in our cars? Do we put the television on as soon as we get home? Are there 'must watch' programs that define our schedules?
Recently, I was talking with a fellow priest about the spiritual discipline of simplicity and how simplicity helps expose the things that subtly clutter our spiritual lives. She said she has noticed that she would turn on the television the moment when she returned home. As someone who lives alone, she recognized that this was about cultivating a sense of sound and activity in her house. Still, underneath this, she had begun to be challenged to think about how, for her, having the tv on possibly spoke to an inability to be satisfied in the presence of God.
Does our technology serve as distractions from Godly devotion? If we are uncomfortable without our modern devices, what does this say about our heeding of Jesus' words to 'seek ye first the kingdom of God'?
I'm not saying we should give up technology. As I said before, I love my watch - and those who know me know I am committed to computers, smart-phones, and reality television. But what would happen if we were to take a day free from our technology? What if, on one day, we refrained from turning on the television, the radio, and the computer? What if we shut the phone off? Would we feel cut-off from life? Would we feel insecure? Would we be consumed with fear that we might 'miss' something important? After all, who would we be if we hear about the latest Celebrity gossip one day after anyone else?
When we think about a technology free day, we may automatically start thinking "well it can't be on Sunday because that's when I watch Big Brother Canada!" Yet this very response proves why taking such a day is so important. This is what the discipline of simplicity does, it forces us to realize some of the subtle ways we may be overly attached to certain things - things that ultimately end up detracting us from the Kingdom of God. We take a technology free day not because technology is bad in and of itself, but because in doing without the trappings of modern social devices, we become more present with our Lord. We uncover things within us, possibly uncomfortable things, that our focus on technology tends to mask. In such uncovering we then are able to present ourselves, our true, raw, and undistracted selves to our Lord, as we attune ourselves to His presence and listen for His voice.
In previous blogs, I have quoted from Thomas Kelly. Here as well, his words are useful. Kelly ends his book "A Testament of Devotion" with these words: "Life from the Centre is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new and overcoming. We need not get frantic; He is at the helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.'
Taking a technology free day helps us remember that our life is not to be run by the devices we own, or the beeps and whistles it produces. It helps us remember that our life is not to be run by ourselves, in constant striving for social respectability, attention, or clout. It reminds us that our life is to be centred on God alone, and it is to the notifications of His Spirit that we must respond.