Saturday, August 17, 2013

To kill smartphone curiosity

Recently, I saw a picture of St. Peter’s Square when they announced a new pope, namely, Pope Benedict XVI, in 2005 contrasted with 2013, when the announced Pope Francis as the new pope. As for the latter, it looked as though every single person were using the video capacity of a smartphone. The world changed in those few years.

The blessing of an smartphone is that it not only facilitates communication, but it can do just about everything a computer can. Yet, with every positive, there is a corresponding negative. With texting, emails and the internet so readily available now, people are bound to experience a kind of chronic and insatiable curiosity. A curiosity about what, you might ask? A curiosity about the most recent text or email received. Although it is not true to say this about every user, it would seem that this curiosity continually draws people to their smartphones. And in doing so, people in the room and their immediate surroundings are often lost sight of. I would even go so far as to say it is becoming an addiction among many young Americans.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal’s article, A Rising Addiction Among Youths: Smartphones, South Koreans are suffering from this addiction in epidemic proportions:

“Earlier this month, the South Korean government said it plans to provide nationwide counseling programs for youngsters by the end of the year and train teachers on how to deal with students with addiction. Taxpayer-funded counseling treatment here already exists for adult addicts.”

But the article goes on to give us something very insightful: With an over reliance on texting, especially among the youth, interpersonal and nonverbal communication becomes impoverished. "Students today are very bad at reading facial expressions," said Setsuko Tamura, a professor of applied psychology at Tokyo Seitoku University. "When you spend more time texting people instead of talking to them, you don't learn how to read nonverbal language." Furthermore, strong relationships require a sense of being present to family members and friends. Without this attentiveness, our dealing with others becomes superficial.

Yet, nonverbal communication is not the only thing that is compromised. The ability to think in silence for long periods of time is less attainable. This is important because thinking in silence is when our communion with God is most intense. What is more, the compulsion to communicate with and see the world through the smartphone distracts us from preparing for the day ahead, being attentive to our duties, and examining each day in hindsight as it nears its end. It also hinders our creativity and productivity.

In sum, the smartphone is a benefit to us only if we are the masters of it. But if we are needlessly and constantly using it when there are more important matters that need tending to, then we have to learn to kill- or at least subdue -our smartphone curiosity. Imposing self-discipline in this regard makes for good penance. God knows we all need a little more simplicity in our lives.