As Lent approaches consider that it is often easier to abstain from something entirely than to moderate its use. It’s also easier to measure the success or failure of abstinence. When I “give up something for Lent,” my approach is to stay away from it entirely during Lent. I don’t exempt Sundays or solemnities that occur in Lent. The “on again, off again” approach just doesn’t work for me.
However, there is something to be said about using Lent to moderate behavior as well. There are some things we cannot simply abstain from, and learning to moderate them is an important virtue to cultivate. Some folks give up using Facebook for Lent. That’s certainly small, manageable, and achievable, but for most of us unplugging our smart phones entirely during Lent is neither possible nor wise. It is in areas like this that working toward moderation might be an important Lenten practice.
Most of us will admit that we spend too much time staring at our phones. We allow them to interrupt us when we should not. During meetings, conversations, and family gatherings, the pesky devices buzz, ring, or light up and end up taking priority over the human relationships with those around us; we let the urgent eclipse the important.
Lent can be a time to learn to moderate our use of smartphones and limit their disruptions to our life. A number of things occur to me that can help in this regard and may be good Lenten practices to adopt.
- Decide how often each day you really need to check your device. If you’re honest about it, you probably don’t need to check it as often as you’re accustomed to doing. Suppose you set the number at four times a day; now you need to stick to that. At the designated times, check for messages, emails, and missed calls. Make a few quick follow-ups and then be done with it until the next time. Discipline yourself; resist the urge to break your rule. In between those times, live as if your device doesn’t even exist.
- Turn off all those sounds that alert you of a message or an email. They don’t just distract you; they annoy others around you and may sabotage your efforts to moderate your usage.
- Consider making use of the “Do not Disturb” function. This allows you to set up times during which the phone will not ring, and texts and other messages won’t light up the screen. In effect the phone, the phone is offline during these times. You can set up a list of contacts whose calls/messages will come through at all times; these would be people who might really need to get in touch with you immediately in an emergency.
- Limit the use of notifications and badges. These appear at the top of the screen or collect on the home screen alerting you to all the latest messages and news.
- Don’t believe those “Breaking News” headers. It’s almost never that important.
- Even when you’ve silenced it, some things still cause the screen to light up. When you’re not using the device, put it away in a pocket or a drawer—or at least place it face-down.
- If you have a smartwatch, consider retiring it for Lent or at least disabling most of its interruptive features.
- There are certainly some functions to consider exempting from the four times a day rule. For example, many people need to use a GPS map application to get places. Perhaps you’re going to use the phone to call a friend or family member who needs consolation. Real conversations, even if not face to face, have their place in our life and can serve the good. Sometimes when in a meeting we need to look something up for the purpose of that meeting. Even though these situations might be exceptions, try not to cheat by using this time for non-essential purposes as well.
- Some people will be annoyed that you don’t answer their texts and emails right away, but such expectations are unrealistic, selfish, and rude. The kinds of quick replies many insist upon is unrealistic. It wasn’t that long ago that such constant availability wasn’t even possible. I didn’t even own a cell phone until I was about forty years old. Somehow, we managed to survive in those antiquarian days.
I would be grateful if you would add your ideas to this list. Lent is a good time to work on moderation. It’s a lot harder than abstinence, but it’s a necessary skill to acquire. It requires a clear commitment to abide by the limits you set for yourself. Good luck and good Lent!