I often take early morning flights out of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport — sometimes as early as 5:00 a.m. I am amazed as I watch people in the terminal, many of whom are glued to their I-phones. Rather than sending a brief text or email and then putting the phone away, they engage in a steady and endless stream of activity. Their behavior strikes me as addictive.
We often complain about our youth spending too much time on their phones. But this is something that is clearly an issue for us “older folks” as well. I have seen numerous reports (one on “60 Minutes”) that have revealed the ways tech companies like Apple and Microsoft design their products in such way as to contribute to this addictive pattern of behavior when using phones to text or to visit and post on sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, and Twitter. What alarms me most is when people use these venues as vehicles to opine on the various polarizing issues we encounter in our country today. Discussions on these issues I often find are not helpful. People seem committed to digging in their heels to affirm they are right and others are wrong. People aren’t talking to other people; rather than communicating face-to-face, they stare into a screen. I wonder how many people who post their opinions online would be able to share their thoughts face to face?
All of the above leads me to think that during fasting periods, there needs to be a set of guidelines on fasting from technology. First, the growing dependence on communication apps can indeed be addictive at times. Second, as in fasting from certain foods, the aim is to recover or realize how technology can be used in a positive manner that glorifies God and further leads us to be thankful for His countless gifts.
I am not sure what such guidelines would look like. When I lived at the monastery, during lent we were directed to observe a rule of silence. This didn’t necessarily mean we couldn’t talk; rather, it was meant to teach us to make words count when we did speak. One only spoke when necessary, using as few words as possible, while superficial, chatty oriented talk was not allowed. Perhaps that principle could be applied here. Texting and posting on social media would only be allowed for communicating essential information concerning events, dates, directions to a place, etc. Maybe a 40-day fast could be observed during which there would be no use of social media on Wednesdays and Fridays. I am sure many of our clergy are addressing this issue with families on their own, which is good. But as a Holy Synod it may be a good idea for us to develop some guidelines on this issue as well. I welcome your thoughts on this since it is such a new thing with which we are dealing.
The blessing of the Lord be upon you,