This video made the rounds recently on Facebook (ironically enough). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRl8EIhrQjQ
I'll admit, I found the video convicting. I think technology-free zones---what Sherry Turkle calls "Sacred Spaces"---are very important. The dinner table. The carpool line at school. Our loved ones should not have to fight to get our attention in these and similar places.
There's evidence that the mere presence of a cell phone can degrade the quality of conversation, even when that phone is not being used. And frequent cell phone use has been correlated with more selfish behavior.
But. And this is a big BUT:
I'm pretty tired of the preachiness around technology. The news is not all bad! My smartphone is a powerful tool that helps me organize and manage a very complicated life. If you walk by Robert and me in a restaurant and one of us is on a cell phone, it's probably because we got a text from the babysitter, or we're checking movie listings. Save all your tut-tutting, please.
And as for all these so-called zombies looking down at their "idiot machines," unless you're playing Candy Crush or watching Netflix, chances are good there's a human being on the other side of that screen. Are those relationships unimportant because the person happens to be living somewhere else? Tell that to family members who rely on Skype or FaceTime to connect with one another.
Remember the Little House books? The Ingalls family left the Big Woods of Wisconsin and saw the rest of their family... like, never again. Do we really want to go back to that for the sake of some kind of technological purity?
For the next few days I'll be with a group of pastors, Christian educators, and other church leaders at Austin Seminary exploring "spirituality in the smartphone age." My hope is that together we'll start constructing a theology for our digital culture that is embodied yet connective, realistic yet hopeful, and most of all, helpful to people trying to navigate this world we now occupy.
This technology is here to stay. We need to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves about it. That requires more nuance than you'll get in a viral video, no matter how gripping it is.