You may have seen this photo. It went viral a couple weeks ago. Normally, when I come across viral content, I might cast it a cursory glance and then quickly ignore it as more space junk. But this photo made me take notice.
A man sits on the bow of his yacht with his eyes glued to his phone, apparently oblivious to the dramatic event happening right beside him--a whale surfaces as if to say "Hello?" to the man who remains submerged in his own world. The irony could hardly be lost, you'd think, on even the dullest of yacht owners with a smart phone.
An obvious caption for this photo could read, "Are we missing anything?" According to social commentaries, we're missing less and less these days. At no other time in history have we been so informed about everything. Yet, we are consumed with a fear that we might miss something, and to allay our fears we carry our info gadgets with us everywhere, constantly groping for them as insurance against potentially being out of touch and out of the know.
Apple is well versed in how to capitalize on this fear. Today they're feeding our obsession with "being in touch" with the their new Apple Watch. The watch (not the first of its kind) does many of the things our cell phones have been doing--taking phone calls, sending messages, connecting us to www, plus a few added tricks. For example, it can tell us when we've been sitting too long. (too long watching our watches?) How thoughtful of it. But the real breakthrough, according to Apple, is that "It's not just with you, it's on you!" Glory! What used to be at our side like an old friend (the cell phone) is now physically right on us like a lover. If we could make love to a gadget, apparently this is the ultimate experience.
But while we're being persistently seduced by the touch of this "smart" technology, are we, as many have argued, increasingly out of touch? There's a reason one of these famous gadgets is called an I-phone. It's all about me, according to Steve Jobs. Nothing else matters, only the touch of the phone. Hand in hand with it, we're blissfully isolated from all else.
I find myself playing "what if" scenarios as I see this photo. What if this man could not afford a cell phone? (Yes, there are those people.) Or, what if he voluntarily gave up his cell? Let's say he tries going without it for three hours a day. He starts to notice things. He feels the power of the ocean like he hadn't before, tastes its salty brine more acutely, and feels his heart leap as a whale breaks the surface just a few feet away. The experience of raw unfiltered life awakens something in him and causes him to seek out similar experiences in the real world. He feels the urge to have more face to face time with the people he supposedly loves. He finds himself holding the hand of a friend in need when he would normally just shoot off a text, "How r U?" He feels a greater need for physical presence.
He begins to realize that this is a spiritual issue. What started for him as a deeply terrifying proposition turns out to be a bargain--his cell phone in exchange for the world--as he realizes he feels more whole, he feels like he owns the earth as his home again. He recalls a line from Jesus: "Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the earth."
He thinks about people who live without a lot of technology. They seem much closer to the earth, to each other, and more content without lots of hi-tech gadgets constantly wedging themselves between people and the land. They're the ones really in touch. They're the wealthy ones! The man wonders if he should make himself wilfully impoverished in order to "inherit the earth." He is feeling more connected without his phone 24/7, and he wants more of this.
Detachment from our things is a scary, radical prospect, especially if this means letting go of something we've held as close as a brother. But detachment seems to be what Jesus was after: to disown encumbering distractions in order to own the earth and have a more abundant life. Essentially, we're being called back home to what we were made for, to the earth and to God, not by voice mail or by text but by Spirit. If that means becoming impoverished of things that are interfering with real life, as painful as it may be, so be it. In the end, we won't be missing anything and gaining everything.
I started writing these posts thinking of them as interruptions of grace in the ordinary and mundane events of life.