We were having a discussion in one of my seminary classes last week, and one of my classmates made the remark that she feels like the internet has made her dumber than she used to be. She pointed out how she used to have to rely on her memory much more before smart phones--addresses, phone numbers, dates, etc. She said she doesn't even bother to try and remember details anymore, because as long as she has her phone she can just Google it.
I've noticed the same thing. I'm a huge fan of cinema, and I can point out an actor in a movie in about two seconds--even somebody in a small role. I can almost always come up with their name and tell you about three other movies or television shows they were in. These days instead of searching for it in my memory, I'll just look it up on my phone. I do believe that the easy access to information has made us much weaker mentally. We rely our our tool instead of our minds.
And I believe it makes us spiritually weaker at times, too. Not only because it's so easy to look up a verse on our phones, but because the internet and social media become such huge distractions to us it's difficult to focus on anything for very long. Our attention spans just aren't what they used to be.
I read a book by Michael Casey called "Sacred Reading" some years ago--I reread it recently for a class I'm in. Michael Casey was a Cistercian monk in Victoria, Australia. Although I'm not Catholic, I enjoy his books a great deal. He writes on many topics that people of any Christian faith can relate to and benefit from. In the one I'm reading he said something I found really interesting. He said that distractions often lead to a debasement in the powers of the mind, and that distractions leave what he called a residual echo which subverts the concentration needed for deep prayer.
What's interesting is that Michael Casey was writing about these distractions back in 1995--before cell phones and the internet took over our lives. He was talking about television, and video games, and media, and pulp novels. He was talking about living in environments that are noisy and cluttered and distracting. It makes it very difficult for people to turn all of that off and not carry some of that noise "residue" with them. He warns later in the book that those that can't find that quiet place may not hear the still small voice of God when it speaks to us.
I think he's right.
I grew up in an environment where the television was always on. Always on! I carried that need for background noise with me into my adult life. I will turn on the television the minute I get home--whether I'm watching it or not. I work with the radio on or music playing. The radio in my car is always on--I don't think it had ever been off. Even when I mow my yard, I have music playing through my earbuds. I'm certainly not the only person like this--I know a lot of people this way. They need the background noise all the time.
And then the pandemic hit, and I found myself working from home. And I became aware of the fact I always had to have noise--even when I was in my morning devotional time. And I began experimenting. I turned off the television. I turned off the radio. I began spending less and less time on social media. I'll often leave my phone in another room and allow myself just a few times a day to check for calls, messages, and emails. I began spending increasingly more and more time with fewer and fewer distractions. In the beginning I found it very difficult to concentrate when it was quiet, but as time went on, I found that those distractions do leave a residual noise behind. And over time, as the left-overs from those distractions begin to clear out of my head, I discovered that I could function much better without all that noise. I was able to think clearly. My stress level went down. I was able to sort through problems easier. All that mental clutter and back and forth that used to keep me up nights began to fade away. I even bought a pair of noise cancelling headphones, and they filter out what little noise remains out here in the middle of the country.
I found levels of peace I didn't know existed. I found clarity in dealing with issues I lacked before. And that time I spend in the scriptures each day became all the more fruitful for me when I found that quiet place. I was much better able to absorb and hear what the Spirit was saying to me, and focus on my conversations with God--without a million other things shouting for attention.
All you have to do is try a few small changes at first and see how it impacts you. Turn off your phone and check it three times a day instead of every ten or fifteen minutes. Turn your car radio off and spend that drive time thinking instead. Take a walk when you get home instead of plopping down in front of the television. Read a good book, or THE good book over your lunch hour instead of scrolling through FaceBook for an hour straight. If you live in a noisy place like a city, I strongly urge you to invest in a pair of noise cancelling headphone to find that quiet place to think and reflect. I think you'll find as I did that very soon after you get comfortable with peace and quiet, you'll crave more of it.
~Todd E. Creason