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Screen Time

If I might ask a personal question, “What is your screen time looking like at present?”

What might it be saying about you?

Consider the following research on our screen time during lockdown:

A surge in screen time during lockdown saw adults in the UK glued to their devices for more than 40 per cent of the waking day, according to new research.

In its annual study of the nation’s media habits, industry watchdog Ofcom found that adults in the UK spent an average of six hours and 25 minutes on their phones, TVs and laptops each day, resulting in 45 hours of screen time each week:

“Almost half of people watched more content during lockdown than they did previously, with people viewing an extra 170 million hours a week.”

It reminded me of a fascinating statistic that the average person touches their iPhone 2,617 times a day. I guess that the fact that there are statistics like this is a reminder of that we live in a surveillance culture that is able to track and trace our viewing, searching, social media and spending habits.

This week our son recommended that we watch the 2018 film Searching. The film is a thriller relating how a father investigates his daughter’s disappearance using the digital trail she leaves behind. The film is experienced via a computer screen, websites and apps. The opening screen shows the family setting up a laptop which is used to store the visual record of the daughter growing up from birth to going away to college.

How much of our life is lived in a screen or through a screen?

One of the odd things I have found about using Zoom is that my eyes are drawn to my own screen. This is so odd because normally in a meeting we cannot see ourselves. Now when someone else is speaking for some time I tend to turn my screen off so I can concentrate on them.

The last six months have saved most people some time. There has been less travel, less shopping, and no trips to the cinema, theatre or concerts. Some people have used this time to walk or run, listen to music, read books they had never dreamed of starting or finishing. Some people have even got around to writing that one book that we are all supposed to have in us.

It is very easy to get a little judgemental or super-spiritual about “screen time”. It is neutral. Yet as C S Lewis reminds us:

“A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous.”

Zgmunt Bauman tells the story in his book 44 Letters of a teenage girl who sent 3,000 texts in one month … an average of 100 a day, or about one every ten waking minutes — morning, noon, and night, weekdays and weekends, class time, lunchtime, homework time, and tooth brushing time. What follows is that she has hardly ever been alone with herself — with her thoughts for more than minutes. That means she has never been just with herself — with her thoughts, her dreams, her worries and hopes.

The internet is not always the best source of wisdom. Google is great at providing knowledge but will not provide the wisdom to discern what is treasure and what is trash. Deep wisdom is not generally reducible to 280 characters on Twitter.

The book of Proverbs is the Old Testament’s Twitter. After some introductory chapters concerning wisdom’s beauty and benefits, we encounter hundreds and hundreds of Tweets — short, pithy, and memorable statements and practical truths: like:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).

A mere 77 characters take us to the heart of what it means to be wise: in a relationship of awe before God we become wise.

Perhaps this could be our prayer:

Thank you, Lord for the internet.

Thank you for the clever people who had the idea in the first place.

Thank you for all the skills that put the internet together.

Thank you for Google that helps me find information for my studies.

Thank you for phones that let us keep in touch wherever (well, almost wherever) we are.

Thank you for FaceTime, Zoom and Skype that help us to stay connected to friends and family, even when they are miles away.

Thank you for online pictures, maps and apps that take us to amazing places we have never been.

We pray that you will make us wise and keep us safe when we use digital technology.

Help us to remember that you are the Creator who knows more than Google and loves us more than all our Facebook friends.

Help us not to waste our time on the internet.

Help us not to spend so much time looking at our screens that we miss beautiful moments, special people and the amazing world that you have made around us.

Help us to listen to people with our eyes, as well as our ears.

Help us to see what you want us to see.

Help us stay connected to you.

O Lord, wherever I am, help me to be truly present.


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