In this week’s Spirit, Julia Surma starts her story on the Camino by inviting us to wonder, “what might happen if you took a break from all social networking, ditched your cell phone and your computer, and slowed down to take a (very) long walk with your friends?” Walking with people, literally and figuratively, may be one of the most sacred forms of passing time. Before we start walking, Julie challenges us to step away from the screen. Maybe that is sacred, too.
When my older sister and I were young, my parents limited us to one television show a week. Each week, we would discuss which thirty minute show we would watch together. Among our friends, this was a little odd. They thought our parents were very strict. Yet, I do not have any memories of this policy being traumatic or problematic. We agreed easily on which show to watch, and then we savored it. Plus, we were just too busy with other things to feel particularly deprived. Ever since then, I have been very conscious of what I call screen time. I have made life decisions that intentionally limit my screen time because my parents instilled in me the value of face time, nature time, active time and reading time instead. For example, I was one of the last people in my peer group to get a cell phone, and I still use it like a home phone, not having it out when I am with other people. I do not have a smart phone on purpose because I do not want access to my email, Google and games at all times. My spouse and I do not own a television so that we will not fall into the habit of watching it too much. Now that I am a writer, most of my screen time is a computer screen, so I intentionally set aside time to take breaks away from the screen to go outside, cook food and talk to friends. I am still not on Facebook because my writing asks for so much screen time as it is. When I am finished with work, I am finished with the screen. Lack of Facebook also challenges me to call my friends and see them face to face.
Don’t get me wrong, I am an avid supporter of technology. I think things like phones and social networking are important in building relationships and gaining access to information. However, I am also grateful to my parents for encouraging me from a young age to approach the screen with a healthy amount of respect for its power to lure us away from other things. Screen time can be consuming. Like most everything, it is best in moderation. It is so easy to go from cell phones to video games to televisions to computers, and it has been important for me to limit my screen time and balance it with unplugging and being fully present to myself, my friends, my family and my God.
I do think for me personally, this is a spiritual issue. I most readily encounter a sense of the divine in silence, in nature and in intimate connection to other people. For me, too much screen time does, then, limit my access to the sacred among us. I see the value in my screen time, but I also see deep spiritual value in unplugging electronics and plugging in to God in our midst.
To take my own advice, I am going to step away from writing this blog and go for a (not so long) walk. The bright sun is calling to me on this January day.
Where do you encounter a sense of the sacred in your life?
How much screen time do you put in a day?