Something Sparkly This Way Comes

Magpies. That’s what we are. We find ourselves perpetually pulled towards the shiny bright things in life. Yet, instead of collecting foil wrappers to tuck away in our nests, we’re drawn to the dazzling displays of any nearby screen. It’s understandable, perhaps. Bright spots, whether bonfires or twinkly stars in the night sky, have always grabbed our attention, so no wonder those shimmering, ever changing rectangles of light catch our eyes.

It’s also the lure of new information that draws us in. That’s the way we’re made – to be constantly alert to changes in our environment; incoming sensory data may alter how we need to respond in the present moment. The constant feed of new information glues us to our handhelds like Pooh Bear to a honey pot.

So, it probably won’t have come as a surprise to hear recent reports of a four-year-old being treated for ‘iPad addiction’. We only have to see a toddler glued to a TV or phone screen to realise just how enticing those changing patterns of light are.

Apparently, all that information overload isn’t healthy for a developing brain – isn’t good for any brain, some would say. We were made, goes the argument, to process the smaller amounts of information provided by a natural environment, not the overwhelming sensory feast provided by a digital reality. How many screens are you staring at whilst sat on your sofa? TV? Laptop and smartphone?

The solution, of course, is not to become a digital technophobe, but to use technology well – in a way that enhances human flourishing, relationships, and community.

Even so, one can see sense in the calls of some to take a break every now and then. Here, as elsewhere, the wisdom of sabbath is crucial, living out the assertion that the world will carry on without our involvement for a period of time.

So, how do you do smartphone downtime? And, for those of us who are parents, how do we model something counter-cultural to our children? Why not try a digital sabbath every so often? Take time to hear God’s voice above the white noise of life, thundering out in the hubbub, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). Listen for the ‘gentle whisper’ (1 Kings 19:12), declaring that God is the one true light on which our attention should be permanently fixed.

Jason Gardner (Youth Pastor, St Peter’s West Harrow)
(Article from LICC)