Are cellphones the new cigarettes? And is my shallowness showing?

By loving providence, we live in a time when information and communication are available to us in such  abundance, it is nearly impossible to stand apart ….without our  lives,  our time and relationships, and our quiet moments being effected by new technologies and the temptations they offer.  Part of the reason we can’t stand apart from it all is because it’s everywhere, and the other part is  because these technologies are so fabulously fun and interesting and cool and amazing and informative.

Maureen Dowd wrote an article at the NY Times on the topic of cell phone use and the health risks it brings, and attempts at legislating controls to keep cell phones safer.  She mentions the incessant use of  cellphones by  teens,  followed by  the disturbing data you have perhaps already read elsewhere about the increased likelihood for tumors in these kids.  A 400 fold increase.  That should get our attention!

And then, putting it into historical perspective:

“The great cosmic joke would be to find out definitively that the advances we thought were blessings — from the hormones women pump into their bodies all their lives to the fancy phones people wait in line for all night — are really time bombs.”

Every generation seems to have it’s beloved new fad which turns out to be a carcinogen once the studies are done.
My own grandmother was given X-rays, while pregnant in 1944, and was thankful for that new technology.    The thought of it makes you shudder, right?
My grandfather was given cases of free cigarettes to help him pass the hours in the trenches in France during WWI.  Not a new technology, but certainly a beloved new fad.
And back in the early ’80s, most of my friends and  I went to the tanning bed about every other week.  Who does that now?

As far as cell phone use goes, it’s not a problem at my house.  I don’t really deserve to have a phone.  I only use it when I’m travelling without Jon.  Otherwise I never think about it.  I have left my phone behind while travelling, left it behind in a diaper bag, left it in the car, and never once missed it.   My cell actually went through the wash last week in the pocket of a tote bag or something.  I had not wondered where it was.   It’s dead now.

For my household, the piece of modern technology that we just can’t get enough of is lap-top computers.
My real addictive concern  is that I can hardly walk past my computer without checking e-mail or news blogs.  On days when we are all home all day long getting everyone educated, I have been known to  hand my lap-top over to one of the kids and ask them not to return it to me until late in the day.   This in lieu of self control.

I don’t worry that this e-mail, information  addiction of mine is going to cause cancer.   But I know for sure that it’s taken a toll on my ability to read printed material for a sustained amount of time and to keep my attention at a deep enough level that I have to sort of “resurface” from a good long spell in a book.  I find it much more difficult to “get lost” in a good book now.  I fear for my kids that they might not have  the same rich experiences that I treasure of being carried away by a fine piece of fiction.

I find that I have to be careful about the amount of time I am on the internet, and that I have to be sure that I spend more time with printed material than with computer images.

And just on this  topic of how internet use might have a degenerative effect upon the brain, here is a tantalizing paragraph from a USA Today review of  Nicholas Carr’s book What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows .

“The news is even more disturbing than I had suspected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators and Web designers point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just like it’s possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards.”

Carr cites numerous studies to delineate not only the impact on the brain, but also the alterations in brain biology that lead to the impact. It turns out the human brain is a shape shifter, the technical term being “neuroplasticity.” The phenomenon is not easy to explain, but Carr is adept at explaining with as little jargon as possible. “As particular circuits in our brain strengthen through the repetition of a physical or mental activity, they begin to transform that activity into a habit.”

Here’s a link for some opinions on Carr’s book

I know also that computer and internet “busyness” has a not-so-lovely impact upon our time management skills.   While I am almost deliciously thankful for all that the internet has contributed to the education of my children, and to their ability to stay connected with friends and with the culture of which they are a part, there’s that dark side.   Every parent in North America knows what I’m talking about.   It’s the moment when you say “Where’s Johnny?” and some smaller sibling says “Oh, he’s still on his computer…..'”  And the grass is still not mowed….or whatever.

My point here is not that cell phones and lap-tops are bad.  (In fact, at this point I must confess that yesterday I finally bought myself an iPhone, which will be used less as a telephone…more as a GPS and e-mail checking device.)   But I do think that these cool tools and toys require a tremendous degree of self control and wisdom.  And even more so since there appears to be a slope down which many of us can easily slide into an unhealthy absorption with the images and the instantaneousness of internet and cell technology.

Here, again,  what Maureen Dowd had to say:

“We don’t yet really know the physical and psychological impact of being slaves to technology. We just know that technology is a narcotic. We’re living in the cloud, in a force field, so afraid of being disconnected and plunged into a world of silence and stillness that even if scientists told us our computers would make our arms fall off, we’d probably keep typing.”

Which reminds me of a verse about another kind of obsessive behavior:

35 “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt!
They beat me, but I don’t feel it!
When will I wake up
so I can find another drink?”   Proverbs 23:35

So the key is that we must be wise in this area of our lives, just like we must be wise in all others.  Not that it’s simple, but there is hope and there is a promise.

“5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”    James 1:5

And we who are redeemed by the blood of Christ can stand up straight with a heart of thankfulness and remember this:

“1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”   Galatians 5:1

And we can read the warnings which are offered by those who see the danger.   If we are wise we will learn from them.

But the key is to throw out the sin.   Then we can hang on to the gift and use it wisely.
We need to  rightly identify  sinful habits in our own hearts, and  repent of those rather than blaming a technology for the damage we may be doing to ourselves.

9 thoughts on “Are cellphones the new cigarettes? And is my shallowness showing?

  1. I am always surprised by how quickly I adapt to being in the cell phone-free, tv-free, computer-free zone when I head north for the summer. I loose myself in books, catch up with old friends, swim with Bekah and do a lttle camping and it’s wonderful. By the end of the summer I’m determined I’m going to get rid of the tv and delete my facebook page as soon as I get home and that lasts until I walk in the door and sit on my couch. I think I’m going to try a different approach this summer and it’s going to be more about creating new and better habits and less about getting rid of the old ones. So when I get home in September perhaps I’ll start crocheting again and listen to CBC radio which won’t leave me much time for tv and facebook.
    And the cell phone? Well, I don’t text, I don’t access the internet on it and I never use up my 100 minutes per month so I think I’m alright there.

  2. Thank you Missy. Your insight and balanced approach to life are refreshing and always a good reminder as we get on life and ride it like a train wherever it takes us. It is good to step back and see the forest for the trees, think about the implications of what we doing, and readjust our GPS to God’s coordinates for us.

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