Consider Moderating Your Smartphone Usage for Lent

 

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Don’t believe those “Breaking News” headers. It’s almost never that important.
  6. 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.
  7. If you have a smartwatch, consider retiring it for Lent or at least disabling most of its interruptive features.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!

Mastering the Passions, as Seen in a Christmas Commercial

Most of us struggle with one of more of our passions: anger, love, sorrow, desire for food or drink, desire for sexual intimacy, desire for possessions, desire for popularity, and so forth. None of these is inherently wrong; indeed, they are good as they come from the hand of God. They become sinful when focused on the wrong object or when they become excessive. The key is to learn to master them through moderation/self-control and by focusing them on the purpose for which they are intended.

This year’s John Lewis Christmas commercial features a young fire-breathing dragon who, though not fierce, has an ability that he cannot seem to control. He must learn to use it only at the proper time and for good purposes. Allow his ability to breathe fire to represent a passion (e.g., anger, love). Observe the damage caused when this passion is uncontrolled or focused on the wrong things, but also observe the blessing brought when the young dragon learns to master it and use it for a good purpose.

A Survivor of a Once Dangerous World

In the video below, a comedy routine from Mad TV shows how many modern notions were non-existent even just fifty years ago. In the sketch, a pregnant mother drinks a martini and smokes a cigarette; children ride bikes without wearing helmets. Of course, like a lot of comedy, the topic is taken to excess for effect.

Nevertheless, most of us who are older grew up in a “dangerous” world and managed to survive. You’ve probably seen lists like this one:

I survived

  • drinking from a garden hose,
  • breathing second-hand smoke,
  • running in the misty cloud when the DDT spray truck went by,
  • playing with toy guns,
  • being spanked,
  • paddling in school,
  • praying in school,
  • lead paint,
  • not wearing a seatbelt,
  • not wearing a bike helmet,
  • playing in asphalt playgrounds with metal monkey bars and swings,
  • not every kid making the team,
  • not everyone receiving an award.

I can personally attest to the item about running in the cloud of spray behind the DDT truck. The cloud had a sweet, pungent order; we were told it wasn’t harmful and sure enough, none of us ever got sick from it. At left is a picture of mine to prove that I’m not lying! It was a little bit like the smell of newly mimeographed paper as the teacher handed it out—a strange but pleasant odor. DDT was banned in the 1970s and scientists still debate whether the lives lost (to mosquito-borne diseases) as a result of banning it outweighed the gains made by a purer environment. I leave that debate to them, but for the record, I am a survivor!

The spiritual point I would like to make is one of moderation. I am not recommending that pregnant women drink or smoke. I am not saying that children should stop wearing bike helmets or that seatbelts are unimportant. Rather, I caution against prioritizing safety concerns to the degree that we become too fearful. Life involves risks, and there is no such thing as complete safety.

I lived through many of the things on the list above and depicted in the sketch. In order to live we must take certain risks. A life too obsessed with dangers and too constrained by artificially imposed limits can smother and restrict. Some of the modern preoccupation with safety and for a life without any rebukes or challenges comes from a desire for excessive comfort and reassurance.

Comedy like that depicted in the video below is funny because while over the top, it also has many elements of truth.