Steve Jobs introduced the revolutionary iPhone in 2007 with the evocative phrase “your life in your pocket.” Smart phones may have started out in pockets, but they have become almost permanent extensions of their owners’ hands.
As an example of our dependence on smart phone communication, it was big news when the world was tweetless and void for over an hour last Thursday because Twitter went down. At first the Underground Nazi Hacktivist Group (who knew there was such a thing as a “hacktivist?”) claimed responsibility, but it turned out to be nothing more sinister than a “cascading bug.” What a relief!
Apparently, we are addicted to tweets, texts and timelines. Walk anywhere and take note of how many people are either talking on their phones, looking at their phones, or keeping them in hand so as to readily receive and respond to incoming messages. (For a related post on this subject see Talking Technology here.)
The term for our preferential devotion to electronic media, coined by Linda Stone, is continuous partial attention. In Stone’s words it is, “To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — CONTINUOUSLY.”
It is the tweet that cannot be ignored, the facebook status update that beckons, the text that must be acknowledged…right now. Continuous partial attention is motivated, Stone says, by a desire to stay connected, not to miss anything, to be alert for new information and better opportunities.
Stone makes a fascinating observation about a basic human need to connect with other people, to feel like we’re a small part of what is happening in the world; to know and to be known.
The longing to know and to be known is a good and God-given desire, but it is misdirected when focused on the iPhones in our pockets. We were made with a capacity for continual attention to God. Regular periods of focused prayer and communion with the Lord should punctuate stretches of necessary “continuous partial attention” while we work and live in this world. However, we can and should sustain a readiness to hear from and respond to God at any moment.
Digital messages originate from and travel between servers, cell towers, wifi routers, phones, tablets and laptops, but the Spirit of God speaks personally to us in the silence of our own hearts. He knows us intimately and reveals himself freely. He offers eye-opening, mind-expanding, and ultimately satisfying knowledge. In Him, and only in Him, we will one day be fully known.
If only we responded to the Life in our hearts as attentively as we do to the “life in our pockets.”
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12