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James Martin, S.J.June 07, 2010

"Hooked on Gadgets," a lengthy New York Times piece detailing how the Internet, e-mail, video games, and other digital innovations are influencing our lives, makes for sobering, and sometimes frightening, read. Our increasing reliance on, and even addiction to, electronic media is changing the way we relate to our families and friends, and it may even be rewiring our brains.

It is also rewiring our relationship to God.

Whether commuting during rush hour, relaxing at home, or even traveling on vacations, many of us (me included) are never far from e-mail or without our cell phones. The sight of someone nervously pressing a phone against her ear as she races to catch a cab is a common one in many cities, as is the sight of traveler desperately punching out yet another e-mail on his laptop or BlackBerry as he waits for the next flight home in a crowded airport. And many parents, as theTimes article pointed out, are increasingly fighting a battle against digital media overwhelming the family home.

While all these gadgets are terrific for keeping us in touch with our work and our families and friends, they also pare away the few remaining moments of solitary time we have left -- for reflection, silence, and inner quiet.  Where is the time for "recollection," as spiritual writers say?

How can the busy person balance the need to be "connected" with the need for solitude, a requirement of the healthy spiritual life?

Sometimes it seems as if we can no longer stand to be alone or be "out of touch." People use Facebook, cell phones, and text messages as a way of staying in touch with friends -- an admirable goal. Many websites, apps, and gadgets help us to draw closer together -- even if it's a virtual closeness.

But without some inner silence, it becomes harder to listen to God's voice within. It is difficult to listen to the "small, still" sound, as the First Book of Kings described God's voice. If your eyes are glued to your iPad with your ears stopped up by your iPod, it's hard to hear what might be going on inside you. Cutting back on these gadgets, not answering every single e-mail and phone call right away, may be necessary for a measure of calm.  "Deep calls to deep," says Psalm 42. But what if you can't hear the deep?

Time set aside for contemplation and prayer also allows us to grow more aware of God's presence, which can sometimes be elusive. We all need some time apart, some time alone, some silent moments with God, to enable us to recognize God's presence -- it's like having a quiet, one-on-one conversation with a close friend who wants to tell you something that requires your full attention. If you're always online, you might miss out on this one way of relating to God.

Likewise, if you're completely absorbed in the electronic world, obsessively checking e-mail or constantly returning phone calls, it becomes impossible to experience the quirky surprises in the world around us.

Read the rest here.

James Martin, SJ

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ed gleason
14 years ago
How about the new ap that allows person to person video phone on a mobile phone or newer Ipod ? the increase in both traffic and new users may be huge..'we ain't seen nothing yet'!
James Lindsay
14 years ago
It depends on what is on the iPod and iPad/Blackberry/iPhone.

One could be listening to Chant III and praying or reading an online meditation book. These devices could also be used to look at America Magazine or to write to it in a prophetic voice.

On the other hand, I find it calming to have one day a week where I don't touch a computer. If I also left the TV off, it would be a total visual electronic sabbath - although I am not yet that spiritual. Of course, the fact that tech is all that ubiquitous (while for many, physical labor is scarce) means a possible redefinition of what it means to have a sabbath.

Remember, the Sabbath is for man. We don't keep it for God's sake, we keep if for our own. Indeed, all the commandments are humano-centric. Any formulation of natural law ignores Jesus teaching on the sabbath and has very twisted assumptions on the nature of natural law itself (assumptions that had Satan believe that his voice was more important to God than any incarnate savior - where in fact all human and angelic worship are art on God's refrigerator when compared with the harmony of the Divine Being). Chew on that thought on your iPhone.
Beth Cioffoletti
14 years ago
I think that the most telling line of that article was when the guy's wife said, "he can't be fully present to the moment anymore".
I relate, and admit to an internet/computer addiction.  Oftentimes, as soon as I turn off the computer off, silence (and prayer) become almost immediately immediate - if that makes any sense.  As if somebody has been trying to get through to me, but I've been too distracted.  All of a sudden I am aware of the wind in the trees, the silence and immensity and wonder of what is around me.
Of late, I've resorted to turning the wireless modem off, so that I can "work" on my computer without being distracted by all the noise and chatter.  It makes a difference.
If there were a group called Internet junkies anonymous, I think I'd have to join.  There is a way to use this medium without becoming addicted to it.  At least I think that there is.  Although I'm considering cold turkey for awhile (if I can).
14 years ago
Our way of relating is genuinely eveolving and that includes our relationship with God through Christ.
We recently had that great lecture by John Meier here, stressing understanding and depths through relationship.
It strikes me that we need to be careful not to confuse neew means and modalities with ends and that we need to work harder on spirituality in the fast changing interconnected world and what that means.
Now a word from Fr. Rohr perhaps????
david power
14 years ago
We must all feel the same tearing away,which is a mortification.If we can give 30 minutes to Jesus during the day ,or to our deeper selves as the religious sense would have it we are already in the realm of sacrifice.To leave that stimulation implies a depth in itself no matter how confused and agitated our prayer is.The fact that Beth feels she is praying the instant she swithces off might mean that she truly is praying and that the stimuli is just a false format,one we all have.  
Devon Zenu
14 years ago
Thanks for posting this Fr. Martin. I was actually just thinking about this topic the other day. I am a long distance runner. Usually I just let my mind wander or unwind during my runs, but sometimes I use the time for prayer. The other day I went for a run and offered the run up for a friend. I tried to just stayed focused on the image of my friend and lift her up in prayer to the Lord. I found I could not stay focused for even a minute before my mind was far off on another topic. I tried again and again to stay focused as I ran, and time and again I found myself thinking about other things. By the end of the run I felt pretty frustrated with myself and my inability to sustain prayer for more than a few seconds. I really feel it has to do with the constant mental shifting that has become habitual due to internet/email use. While I unfortunately can't ignore my work email, I've decided I need to set some strict limits on my recreational internet consumption for awhile and focus on meditation and prayer.
Joseph O'Leary
14 years ago
An Ipod recording of The Psalms of David, sung by the choir of King's College, Cambridge, is a real aid to prayer. Can anyone suggest another?
Beth Cioffoletti
14 years ago
My favorites:
 the Liturgy of the Hours (Universalis) that is updated every day. 
and k.d. laing's interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Halleluiah"
Gerelyn Hollingsworth
14 years ago
Suggestion: Go to Pandora.com and create a Gregorian Chant radio station.
14 years ago
I read this piece with interest, there are two computers, an iPhone and iPad on the desk as I type this!  I've volunteered for the Times' project to reflect on what happens when you try "unplugging" for a set period of time - though I admitted I'm a veteran, having disconnected for 30-days to make the Spiritual Exercises.  I'm interested to see what it's like pulling the plug (or plugs!) when I'm home, versus when I was immersed in the Exercises.

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