Like many people my age who spent their working lives employed by a telephone company, I am amazed at the technology that allows us to carry our phones in our hands. I would have never imagined that the old, black, dial-up phone connected to the wall would one day be the Swiss-knife of communications, with camera, flashlight, phone, alarm clock, stereo, and all other things we think we need, courtesy of apps. As I observe people on their phones continually, disturbing others with their conversations, many of which I found too personal to ever speak loud about in public, I wondered if this new technology is really progress, meaning does it move humankind closer to great knowledge that helps us learn to live well.
As a professor, I spent many a day totally frustrated with students who insisted on texting while I lectured. No matter how many times I asked people to put away their phones, there was always two or three who acted as if their lives depended on keeping their fingers on their phones. I had to start writing in my syllabi that phones had to be silenced and no texting, emailing, buying, or talking on phones were allowed. I reduced it down to a matter of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
But, it just did not help at all. Indeed, when I wrote on the board, some students did not take notes; instead, they would come up to the board and take a picture of the notes. I tried to tell them that they would learn it better by writing it, but they saw me as an old dinosaur who did not know anything about their lives.
So, I decided to assign an essay that required them to go three hours without any technology, including their phones, television, or computers. Only three hours, mind you! The assignment called for a total electronic fast. At first, students thought it was a fake assignment, but I explained that they were to not use any electronics for three hours, and during that time, I wanted them to take notes of their actions and reactions, like they were conducting research. While they slept was not an option for the time period. Yes, I have caught on to that one!
Many of them looked at me as though I had lost my mind, but I wanted them to see the impact that being tethered to electronics for 24 hours a day had on their lives. It was an interesting experiment. Remarkably, everyone turned in a paper, but I am not sure all of them actually played fair, but I could tell from the essays that some of them did.
What was immediately obvious in their essays was the stress of not having access to their phones and computers for three hours. Students discussed being constantly worried that they would miss a call or that someone would need them and not be able to reach them. One student called it “social suicide.” That was one of the more interesting of the essays, of course. But the most noted observation was that students were amazed at how nervous and tense they became without their phones, stating that they were unaware that the phone had such influence on their lives. And I think that people do not realize how addicting their phones have become.
One student wrote that when he could not use his phone or computer, he got up and visited students who shared his dorm floor. He said that he started to speak to people and was stunned that he had lived among them all that time without getting to know them, and that some of them were quite interesting. He enjoyed the time spent just hanging out with people face-to-face, and he vowed to put the phone down and spend more time in real human interaction. Needless to say, he earned an A on the paper.
When we discussed the assignment after their papers were returned to them, I told them that while technology is not bad, you have to control it and not let it control you. I advised them to look up at the world around them, knowing what and who are in their orbits at all times, so that they did not become victims of attack or robbery. I emphasized to the young ladies that they needed to always look up and be mindful of where they are and who is observing them, as walking with their heads down rendered them unsafe and vulnerable to sexual predators.
It was one of the best lessons in my class, and one of the aspects of the class that students remembered at the end of the course. Some had become more observant, but most had not changed at all. As we are here in Portugal, I am amazed to see people on their phones and missing the beauty around them. I want to say, “Get off your phone and look up at the wonder of God’s creation. He made all this beauty to help soothe our hearts, to allow us a time to renew our minds and souls, so that we are ready for whatever life throws at us. Look up, and see the wonders of nature around you and learn from them how to live well. Nature had so much to teach us!”
Lastly, it is so important for people of God to observe and be safe, for Luke 21:26-8 states, “People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and great glory. So, when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near.” We cannot afford to be caught looking down on our phones. Put the phone down and step away from it!