by Rebecca Kocsis

We have updated this article from a previous post. There have been many advances in technology since the article was first written.

I had an interesting experience a few months ago. Interesting because it brought to light a phenomenon I had never observed before. Since then, I have become increasingly aware of this taking place. I’m going to call this phenomenon “the inability of 21st-century individuals to just be where they are.”

Imagine being a fly on the wall in my house. It’s the weekend. My daughter has brought a handful of fellow students home from college for the weekend. I got up Saturday morning and cooked a big breakfast – after all, these kids have been eating at the school cafeteria and fast-food restaurants for weeks. They should have a nice meal. After the meal, which was very enthusiastically received, the food and dishes on the kitchen table were replaced by smartphones. My dining room bore a strong resemblance to a computer lab. Every single student had their phone out and was busily texting and checking on their Instagram and Snapchat accounts.

The conversation shifted from talking among ourselves in the room to interacting with the greater global internet community. It became clear that these kids were more interested in connecting with the cyberspace community than the real, live community there in the room with them. I don’t want you to think that they were at all rude. They were nice, polite kids. They complimented me on my cooking and were very appreciative of my efforts to prepare a nice meal for them. They laughed and conversed with my husband when he spoke to them. They were happy to meet my son–also a college student (who wasted no time in joining them at the table with his own phone!). Though they joked around and talked with each other, it was mostly about who they were talking to online. No, they weren’t rude. They were distracted. As the weekend wore on, it became apparent that they were preoccupied with the community through their phones. That’s too bad. I would have liked to have gotten to know them a little better. 

Now take a peek at one of our recent wireless bills. When reviewing the above-referenced college student’s activity, I was aghast at the amount of data messages she sent. When we averaged it out it came to eighty messages a day. OMG! (That’s “Oh, my gosh!” for those of you who do not text – or don’t watch television commercials. And notice I used the word text as a verb rather than a noun? That’s a change that’s come about with mobile technology.) Editor’s Note: Eighty messages a day was A LOT in the mid-2000s…and this was before unlimited text and data plans.

We were concerned. She was at college to further her education. How could she possibly be studying if she’s exchanging eighty texts a day with her many BFFs? And what could possibly be so important? Her reply to our concerns was that most of the text conversations went something like this: “Where R U?” “I’m in the library.” “OK. Meet me at the dorm in an hour.” Or “We’re going for coffee. Want to come?” Or “Can I borrow your lecture notes?” She also pointed out that with a nearly perfect GPA, we had to acknowledge that she was indeed studying and getting her work done. Still, she acknowledged that there were several extended text conversations. To me, it speaks of a preoccupation with relationships and goings-on elsewhere.

Now picture this situation that I observed during a recent visit to the county fair. My husband and I were eating dinner by a particularly crowded BBQ stand. All the tables were occupied. One little girl was making her way through the packed picnic area looking for a table for her family. She walked by one table near us that was occupied by two people. It looked like they were father and son. They didn’t have any food or drinks. She asked if they were finished eating. Neither one replied. Neither one looked up at her. As I watched them, it became apparent they were both busy with their cell phones in their laps. She asked again – this time a little louder – if they were almost finished with their table. Again neither made any acknowledgment that he had heard her or even noticed she was standing in front of them. They just kept playing with their cell phones. “Texting, no doubt,” I thought to myself. The little girl shrugged and walked away. Very shortly, the two men were joined by the rest of their party bringing dinner and drinks. As the others talked, laughed, and ate together, the two guys sat amidst the group still preoccupied with their cell phones. They were at the fair – in body but not in spirit. How sad is that?

Now, you may say I’m no one to talk, being that we have as many computers and cell phones at our house as we do people. I don’t think there is anything wrong with utilizing these forms of technology as long as they are not a distraction or a dominating force in your life. If not careful, though, it is very easy to become so preoccupied with being “connected” that we are actually disconnected from what is going on around us. That’s what I mean by “the inability to just be where you are.”

The more I think about this, though, the more I think this is nothing new. The times have changed – we have new technology. But the phenomenon has been around for ages. How many times, when my kids were little, did I daydream at the kitchen sink thinking, “Oh, if they were only a little bit bigger, we could … (you fill in the blank). Or, “If we only had more money we could … (again, fill in the blank). Now that the kids are all grown and we have more money, I look back at the previous times as “the good ole’ days.” 

How much time and mental energy do we squander when we think things are better in some other place and time? How many blessings do we miss because we are busy looking back or planning for the future, rather than enjoying where God has us right now? It is our sinful nature that causes us to covet – not just possessions, but different circumstances, too. Rather than coveting, let us cultivate contentment. At the beginning of each new day, let us join the Psalmist in saying, “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will be glad and rejoice in it.”