These past few months I’ve been mulling over the notion of simplicity. Our university chaplain has repeatedly mentioned this as a spiritual discipline, and at first, the notion of simplicity as a spiritual discipline seemed strange to me. Previously, I had viewed simplicity as something that could be good for a number of reasons, but not necessarily spiritually: more time for my family, more time for the pursuits that truly engage me.
My adventures with simplicity began four years ago when I decided, rather on a whim, to stop watching TV altogether. I had no set time frame for this moratorium, but before I realized it, I had gone a month without watching TV, and I didn’t miss it at all. I was amazed by the amount of “extra” time I had. I was able to read more, to write more, to spend more time with family and friends. In short, it was liberating for me as someone who often watched 10+ hours of TV a week. Since then, my TV watching has pretty much become non existent. I don’t write this to sound pompous, but only to state that for me, this has been one of the best “simplifying” decisions I could have ever made.
Back in April, I read a “news story” on The Onion stating that Americans spend 90% of their time staring at glowing rectangles (TVs, phones, computers, etc.) I shared it with my students, and they laughed, nodded, and agreed (while simultaneously texting, of course). This story has, on numerous occasions, popped into my mind while I’m on campus, and specifically, in one place: chapel.
Faculty and staff typically sit up in the balcony, and as I stand or sit (depending on the moment of the chapel service), I have an unobstructed view of the mass of students below. What do I see at any given moment? Lots of glowing rectangles. Mostly phones but also a few laptops scattered about. While we are singing, while we are praying, while someone is preaching, while we are taking communion. I confess I feel the urge to scream at the top of my lungs, “Can’t you leave your glowing rectangles alone for 50 minutes?” I’ve not yet screamed in this manner.
What is this distractedness doing to our thinking, our communication skills, our spiritual growth? These are questions I’m hoping that psychology, sociology, and theology are engaging. Some disclaimers: I do have a cell phone. It’s one of those prepaid phones, and I have something along the lines of 700 minutes. I’ve also sent 1 text in my life–it took me 4 minutes to send a 40+ character text. I’m way behind the average text output for teenager, which, according to one study, is over 3,000 texts per month. Interesting side note, the average cell-phone call fell by almost 1 minute, from 4 to 3 minutes, primarily as a result of the texting revolution.
Can we slow down? Can we simplify? Can we put a higher priority on face-to-face interpersonal communication? What can I do to simplify?
Ultimately, I want to simplify my life so that I can also be closer to God, to make room for him to work in and through me. So I’d better quit typing on this glowing rectangle.