Originally published in Clifton Heights News, Louisville, KY, on April 1, 2020. Please note that this article was written before the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic and argues for how we should live when there is no pandemic.
Imagine you buy a magical refrigerator that automatically restocks itself, for just $30/month. Take out an orange, reopen the fridge, and find a new orange! Grab a Häagen-Dazs, eat it, reopen the door. Voila! Another ice cream bar!
Better yet, use the fridge’s touch screen to configure its contents. You like ice cream? Choose any flavor. Feeling like Tater-Tots? Unlimited Tater-Tots. Swap the orange juice for luxurious pineapple juice. Unlimited pineapple juice!
As awesome as this sounds, would you gain weight? Would this appliance eat away at any healthy eating habits? If your father or sister bought it, would you approve? Would their health decline in five years?
The fact is, we have bought this fridge, because we bought smartphones—automatically replenishing media appliances, within arm’s reach, 24 hours a day.
With them we gain good tools—a phone, texting, news, email, maps and GPS—but also unlimited entertainment, of any flavor: unlimited articles, unlimited photos of friends and friends of friends, unlimited gaming, unlimited comedy sketches, movie clips, and viral videos. Open Facebook for an unlimited, half-satisfying feed of what Susan from 3rd grade had for dinner. Still bored? Watch a movie! Anywhere. By yourself.
Our phones radically rewire our habits and dull our desire for real life. The result is not a bigger waistline, but a big fat waste of time.
If we also include laptops, tablets and TVs, Americans average eleven hours a day consuming media from screens. To be fair, scrolling Facebook while watching CNN counts double. And perhaps you do dishes while watching Netflix. Maybe you average five hours a day; that’s still two full years of your life every decade! No wonder we feel lonely and busy.
I believe this largely explains why neighbors have become strangers. Older Clifton Heights residents tell me that in another era front porches were not merely decorative. Children played outside, and people chatted over fences, not Facebook. You could hang out in your neighbor’s backyard or kitchen, and then stay for dinner.
Today, most people are inside staring at screens on gorgeous summer evenings. Many residents know few neighbors and cannot name the couple who moved in five years ago. Some know more about a Facebook friend’s dog than the human next door.
What can you do? First, tell the truth about how you spend your time. Ask, “How can I best replace staring or scrolling with time with my children, friends or neighbors?” Then go for walks and greet people. Text a neighbor to invite them for burgers on Saturday. Offer to weed your elderly neighbor’s flower beds. Ring a doorbell and say, “Hi, we’re from downstairs, we baked you brownies!” Then take out your iPhone and swap numbers.
One more thing. I believe we are accountable to our Creator for our days. He made us for the joy of serving him and loving our friends, family, and neighbors. Time spent with the flat little friends in our pockets is only self-love and cannot truly satisfy.
Philip Bramsen pastors at Christ Community Church (firstname.lastname@example.org). He wants to meet you and buy you coffee.