The Flicker of the Screen

The Flicker of the Screen September 21, 2016

For if there is no dark night of the soul anymore that isn’t lit with the flicker of the screen, then there is no morning of hopefulness either.

The above quotation comes from a fascinating, and I believe vitally important, article by Andrew Sullivan, called I Used to Be A Human Being. Originally published in New York magazine, it’s long for an internet article (7000 words) — but read it anyway. Take the time. Savor the beautiful language, the keen insight, but most important of all, it’s vital and challenging message.

This is a topic that has been on my mind for a while. I have a commitment to daily silence, which by the grace of God I manage to observe. But I’m also in the thrall of my iPhone, let alone my MacBook Pro. And I’m increasingly aware of the disconnect between these two behaviors.

I’m not a luddite, and I don’t think we need to take sledgehammers to our technology — at least, I haven’t gone there yet. But Sullivan suggests that many people are now spending upwards of five hours online every day. Five hours! Every day!

What would it look like if instead of spending five hours online — and just ten or twenty minutes in a kind of hazy, distracted silence — we decided to divide the time up more evenly: no more than two or two-and-a-half hours online, with just as much time given to silence and/or lectio divina and/or liturgical prayer? Would we really miss those extra three hours online? Would we really miss the ranting about Trump or Clinton or Pope Francisshutterstock_232845250, or for that matter, the silly cat videos (yes, I love those too, but really, they’re just little moments of amusement, necessary to help us deal with all the ranting)? Do we really need to see everyone’s vacation pictures on Facebook? Does it really matter that Brad and Angelina are getting a divorce, or that Jimmy Fallon ruffled up the Donald’s hair?

What if we just slowed down — I’m not saying eliminate, just slow down — the rate of our online consumption of “content,” and gave that time to prayer, to contemplation, to silence instead?

This is something I am seriously praying about, and I invite you to pray along with me. For me, it might mean less new posts on my blog, and more reliance on automated services to keep Twitter and Facebook happy in my absence. It might mean a “technology Sabbath,” where one day a week all the electronic devices remain dark for twenty-four hours. It might mean using the feature on Scrivener to block social media for several hours at a time so I can remain more focused, more present, as I write — whether for online publication or for a forthcoming book.

Each one of us has a different relationship with the online world — and with silence. I’m assuming if you are reading my blog, you, like me, are drawn to both. So be it. But here’s my question: what would life look like, if we made a radical commitment to a 50/50 split: for every minute we spend online, on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube, Huffington Post, or wherever, we devoted the same amount of time each day to silence, to prayer, or to lectio? Not in a juridical sense, but in a spiritual, life-giving way: a generous commitment to prayer that matches our online-content-consumption.

Julian of Norwich counsels us to be generous in prayer, and generous in trusting God. Can we trust God — and life — enough to limit our online consumption, so that we can be truly generous in the time we give to prayer?

Will you ponder this question with me? And share your thoughts, if you are so inclined.

Thank you, and God bless!

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