My recent article Is Sainthood Still Possible in the Digital Age? apparently (but not surprisingly) piqued the interest of many. One of the readers wrote to me and said: “I think young people now are afraid of silence, they are connected with everybody and everywhere, the world is in their pockets through the smartphone. This has really affected their behavior.”
This was particularly interesting because I later learned that the commenter is a member of a group of consecrated lay persons in Europe who has observed the impact of this phenomenon on the formation of their young members. This phenomenon is a concern not just for the young because, apparently, over half of all smartphone users have a need (call it addiction or obsession) to check their smartphones every few minutes.
Staring 17% of the Day
The commenter above also seems to have a genuine concern, and rightly so, with what’s happening to the interior life. On average, a person spends 165 minutes of the day (over 17% of our waking hours) staring at a digital screen trying to see what the rest of the world is doing. That’s 165 minutes reallocated away from
The soul, as Saint Teresa of Avila put it, is a castle in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven where there are many mansions. Try navigating the halls of this interior castle while looking down on your phone to check your social media feeds. It can be challenging when you’re trying to dive into the deeper dimensions of life and God’s love with your smartphone buzzing every two minutes. Sure, our connections and connectivity, who we know and what we know, get broader and wider but our journey into the depth of our interior life is compromised, stuck in the shallows.
Loss of the Interior Life
Tuning out the outside world and silencing our phones has become increasingly difficult and smartphone app developers are definitely winning because their goal is for you to open their app all the time. Something’s got to give. Unfortunately, it’s the interior life that’s being sacrificed. And it’s not just the spiritual aspect of the interior life that’s being impacted but our overall well-being—psychological, mental, physical, and emotional well-being. “It is the crisis of our age, the loss of the interior of our lives,” says James Finley, a clinical psychologist who lived in silence for six years as a Trappist monk.
Humanity has always been prone to distraction and we’ve had all kinds of diversions steadily pulling us away from the interior life. In fact, a whole millennia before the invention of smartphones, in the year 1078, Saint Anselm wrote in his Proslogion (in English, it translates: “Discourse on the Existence of God”):
“Up now, slight man! flee, for a little while, your occupations; hide yourself, for a time, from your disturbing thoughts. Cast aside, now, your burdensome cares, and put away your toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in Him. Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid you in seeking him; close your door and seek Him.”
The innovativeness of this digital technology is not the problem; it’s the impact it has on our lives that we need to pay attention to. We need to realize and recognize its impact because our soul is not designed to be deserted. Saint Augustine said: “You have made us for yourself O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We have a yearning for this inward journey into the interior castle of our soul. And that yearning is a gift because that interior is where we’ll find the indwelling of God. Saint Augustine also wrote, “You were more inward to me than my most inward part.” We reach out for our Creator, not creation, and definitely not into our pockets for our cell phones.
This Lenten Season gives us that much-needed opportunity to revisit the interior castle, our soul. Christmas, Easter, and all the other Feast Days are joyful, festive, and tend to be outward- and community-oriented. Lenten Season is special because there is an emphasis on the turn inward, providing the opportunity to personally dive into the great depths and rich dimensionality of the spiritual life where we will find humility, patience, compassion, and the love of God.