Lent: Putting the Phone Down… by Will Campbell – Part 2 of a 4 Part Series

iPhone showing Screen Time usage graph
Photo courtesy Apple.com

Monday, March 4th, 2:35PM, Logan Airport. After being delayed four times already, we finally got through security when another email came through that we will be delayed… again. As I settled my 21-week pregnant wife and 20-month-old son in our waiting area (where we would end up enduring more delays and spending another five hours), I walked to get more water and food. The airport was packed. Winter Storm Scott had just nailed the east coast the night prior, and people were scrambling to catch flights, or making other arrangements from cancellations or delays.

As I stopped for a moment to take in my surroundings, I noticed nearly everyone was on their smart phone, looking down. I caught myself checking my email again, opening Instagram, checking Facebook, double-tapping and finger scrolling while navigating the busy crowds. Thousands and thousands of people within feet of each other. All of them are trying to connect, but in reality, we are all disconnected.

I need a break.

But, in some ways, extreme situations like airport delays can actually bring one closer to people around you and off of technology. Being body-to-body, stressed out, and all having the common goal of getting on a flight, there will always be the occasional smile, head-nod, or brief conversation from a friendly fellow passenger. Personally, being distracted with an expectant mother and rambunctious toddler also greatly reduced my opportunity to idly scroll or burn my eyes out with Apple’s Retina HD Display screen. I knew Lent was a couple of days away. I took the opportunity to wait. Amid the pull-your-hair out frustration with the airline, God was working his magic. He was asking us to wait, and be patient. My wife casually quipped earlier the the day “there will be a reason for all this, we’ll look back and know by the end of the week”.

Turns out, as she usually is, she was 100% right. Sometimes our plans are not His plans. Usually, my Lents end up proving this true.

Interestingly and paradoxically, the iPhone is the very tool that is helping me reduce my screen time. The phone has an app called Screen Time, which tracks and monitors your screen time on a weekly basis, as well as provides reports and breakdowns of how you used it. Additionally, and more practically for the purposes of my Lenten goal, you can set specific times to be in “downtime” when every app (or ones you specifically select) will lock except for text messaging and phone calls.

On March 6th, Ash Wednesday, I began setting my phone for downtime starting at 5pm (typically a time when I’m with my son after work, and wife when she gets home). In reality, I use the phone for work purposes starting as early as 5:30/6am (calendar, notes, email) through about 5pm. Admittedly, the first week of usage was a cheat, since I was on vacation and way out of my normal routine. Days on the beach in sunny Florida don’t provide much time for me to waste on my phone.  But, the simple mindset of putting the phone down greatly helped me enjoy my vacation and be present with my family. As a result, my screen time was down 35% from the previous week based on the phone’s report.

Another helpful tool is the breakdown of reporting into categories: Social Networking, Productivity, and Entertainment. As I reviewed my week back from vacation and back to the normal grind, I was greatly disappointed to see my screen time had gone up 16% from the previous week, with quite a high usage of social networking and entertainment. My goal for this week is not only to have another precipitous decrease in overall time, but to have much less social networking. To be completely honest, this has been much more difficult than I originally thought.

In general, this mindset of putting down the phone has made me more present with my family. I find myself playing ball with my son more, less apt to ignore him for a barrage of emails or texts. The downtime in the evening has allowed for some more prayerful reading, podcast listening, and valuable time to connect with my wife amidst our work schedules, her pregnancy and taking care of our ever-growing toddler.

I heard something last week in a homily that has stuck with me. The priest was commenting on how you choose to fast for lent. He had a profound, simple measure for what to choose. He asked us to ask ourselves, “does what you choose for Lent make you look more like Christ on Easter Sunday than you were on Ash Wednesday?”

I had to stop and ask myself: is putting down the phone freeing me to be more Christ-like? Am I being more patient, gentle, and humble? Or am I just going through the motions for the sake of Lent and this blog?

These are all things I have been praying about.

No question, though, the fast itself is simply the means to an end. The end result should be to look more like Jesus.

On Easter Sunday… will you?

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