There are people who give themselves daily to rescuing and caring for others who are in critical life circumstances. They will act without fail to do what is necessary, when it is necessary, how it is necessary. They lay down their lives for others.
Such people are committed to a principle or value of loving their neighbors as themselves. But it is not only an ideal of love they live up to. Love is something that is alive in them. It is not an abstract concept, detached from reality, but a clear motivating, energizing desire working within them. They are not only inspired but moved, even changed, by it.
And something else occurs. Many who have been rescued then go on to recover weeks or months under the care of a hospital staff. For those who are able to daily watch and care for the patient’s recovery some level of affection develops and grows. As a result, there are often tears of joy when they finally get to say goodbye to those they have poured their lives out for. This is especially true of those who care for children.
These affections of love, though, wouldn’t happen with things or devices. They shouldn’t. The nurse wouldn’t cry when a medical device or instrument becomes obsolete and is replaced. Why? Because you can’t be faithful to things and things can’t be faithful to you. You are not bound by any mutual promise or commitment of love. However, the way we talk about technology in general, and our technological devices in particular, is often personal. But my iPhone feels nothing for me. It doesn’t want me. It won’t sacrifice itself for me. I may project onto it feeling or emotion because I’m attached to it, but it doesn’t love me in return.
Still, it (or anything) can become an idol or an object of ultimate importance to me. And if I’m not careful, my device can end up diminishing my capacity for love and responsibility towards others. Maybe towards those very same people I set out to benefit with or through technology; or towards my actual neighbors; even towards those I love the most.
We would think it absurd for a doctor to suddenly get lost in his iPhone, texting or checking Facebook, while his patient lies there sick. Yet, there we are, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, brothers and sister, friends and strangers, lost in our devices made of plastic and glass while we sit next to each other, real people, “made of” real needs and sincere tears and fears and doubts and dreams and stories and questions and joys.
Alan Jacobs writes, “A few years ago the science-fiction writer Cory Doctorow published an essay in which he referred to ‘your computer’s ecosystem of interruption technologies.’ Keep in mind that Doctorow wrote that phrase before smartphones. My iPhone’s ‘ecosystem of interruption technologies’ makes the one on my computer seem like pretty weak sauce, because the latter is on my desk or in my bag while the former is ever-present. And it’s ever-present because I like it that way. I choose the device that interrupts my thinking and… gives me an ever-present opportunity to escape unwanted emotions…I have welcomed this disruptive ecosystem into my mental domicile and invited it to make a home for itself here…Our ‘ecosystem of interruption technologies’ affects our spiritual and moral lives in every aspect.”
Our distractions not only keep us company but end up becoming our captors. In a form of “Stockholm Syndrome,” we come to trust and develop affection towards our captors, in particular, our devices. More often than we think, we habitually welcome our technological distractions/disruptions into our minds and hearts. We want them there, we keep them there, and not only to our detriment.
Imagine you’re sitting down to watch a show with your family or to have dinner together. Someone knocks and you invite them in and begin to talk with them while your family begins to watch the show or to eat dinner. Now another knock. You invite that person in as well. Now a third knock. Soon you are “with” your family while giving all your time and attention away to others.
You would never allow people to enter your home at all times of the day or night. But we do allow it with and through our devices. Being present and aware of the context that we’re in, can’t our texting and connecting with others wait?
Or imagine you’re laying in bed with your spouse who is talking, or waiting or wanting to talk. Suddenly a person you know enters your room. You know them so you go ahead and invite them in and they sit on your bed and you begin to talk with them. Then the sound of another entering and sitting and engaging you in conversation. All the while you’re with your spouse but not really.
You would never invite someone into the privacy of your room and intimacy of your marriage to spend time with you and your spouse. But we do with and through our devices. Again, being present and aware of the context that we’re in, can’t our texting and connecting with others wait?
“Excuse me for interrupting, but can I come in?” No, you can’t. Not right now.
But it’s not only a matter of intentionally prioritizing time. It’s a matter of rightly ordering our loves. If they are, everything finds it’s good and proper place.