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
Hi Judy, it’s just as well Christ has got me permanently hooked up to him – I’m very easily distracted, in fact I’ve been thinking lately I’m even distracted by blogging about Him – weird. But no condemnation for me !! cheers, G
I’ve come to notice that I pick up my phone even when I am not bored or haven’t any need to be idling with it. It’s become so natural for me to trifle on the phone, that I don’t even recognize when I am distracting myself. However . . . today, rather than turn up the music, I opted for quiet time in the car. It was lovely.
Happy Wednesday to you, Judy.
One other interesting piece of data is the type of activity that makes up smart phone use. As of April 2012, of the top 25 paid apps downloaded to iPhones, 21 were games, and games are the top category for all smart phone app downloads. Maybe people are not so much connecting as playing games. If that’s the case, “smart” phones may be making us dumber:) I would also like to clarify that my intention is not to bash smart phones, but to challenge us to pay continuous attention to God. Then we will know how to use technology wisely. I’m enjoying the comments and discussion too – thanks!
Excellent topic, Judy! As social networking such as tweeting becomes more popular, we can sometimes miss out on looking up and enjoying face-to-face contact. While connecting with others online is a fun way to form Christ-centered friendships with others, may we all remember not to make it our only way to build relationships. God is still teaching me how to have self-control with all the technology this world has to offer!
It is kind of ironic to be discussing this on a blog, isn’t it? I truly enjoy connecting with friends through social media and interacting with new friends from all over the world in the blogging arena, but I also agree with your comment about learning how to use the technology wisely. I pray that Christians will lead the way on this. The technology itself is morally neutral, of course, but it seems to encourage a very self-absorbed mode of “connecting.” As Dan pointed out, maybe it is more about dis-connecting in the long run. In any case, it makes for a very interesting discussion. Thanks for adding your thoughts!
Great observations and insights Judy; and I appreciate Dan’s observations as well!
Thanks, Rick…every now and then, I get lucky!!
You know, Judy–I am just so glad I can’t afford any more technology than my computer (old) and my little cheap-y cell phone for emergencies (in addition to land line). I truly could not deal with the constant demands for a response to all the “others”–I’d go crazier than I already am. So, if I needed confirmation of this, your post provided it very well. God bless you abundantly–love, Caddo
Glad to be of service, Caddo:) Blessings back to you!
While I agree with the notion that humans crave human interaction, I think we also fear the intimacy connected with such interaction. The ability to relegate our great need for interaction to electronic devices seems to satisfy the craving as well as keep us safe…that is, we can only be so vulnerable when we share ourselves electronically. To be sure, intimacy…human interaction…through electronics is fantasy. It is only when we leave the computers and smart phones in our pockets that we will be in true relationship, true intimacy with one another…AND it is only when we are in true relationship and have true intimacy with one another that we can have relationship and intimacy with the One who has created us. Relationship and intimacy with our fellow humans and with our God takes work and risk. Electronic media simply makes interaction too easy.
Interesting observation, Dan. So, the more we crave connection, the more we will be inclined to depend on the medium that offers the “safe” imitation of real risky relationship. I couldn’t agree more that genuine connections with God and others are not safe or easy. It will be interesting to watch communication trends, won’t it? It seems the church has an opportunity here to model real relationships with God and each other. Thanks for stopping by and for adding your thoughts!
Lord, grant me the grace to respond to the Life in my heart more readily. Amen.
“…continuous partial attention…”
What an accurate term. It describes me part of the time…even though I’ve turned off all ringers on my iPhone except for incoming phone calls. But I do agree, that smartphones are an extra voice which can crowd out the voice of God in our lives if we don’t discipline ourselves.
Yes, I’m afraid it describes me sometimes too, Larry. We live in a world that clamors for our attention in every way. You are so right that it takes discipline to hear the voice of God. Thanks Larry,