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Attention, Please

Several times this week I have asked for opinions on the appropriate response to the practice of texting messages during church services and small group meetings–as if many of us aren’t already totally vexed with those who indulge in cell phone usage while driving on highways. My last two worship experiences were distracted due to members next to or near me who numerous times turned on their phones to check messages and send texts. I am one who is easily distracted visually, and the screen light from current technology is something that I cannot ignore. I attempt to re-focus and look ahead or re-join a conversation, talk sternly to myself or pray. I realize this may be a sign of my own lack of sustained attention. However, I see it as another symptom of poor brain hygiene in society at large.

By brain hygiene, I mean disciplining oneself to be mindful — to be as present as possible while with another person or situation, worshipping, etc. Paying attention for more than a sound bite or the video length between commercials. Women are especially talented at multitasking, and the pride in having the longest dovetailing checklist can be a personal or social competition; perhaps even a chemical rush from attending to several functions at once. Yet studies have shown that trying to attend to more than two activities at once produces very poor results. Some of my cooking can attest to that. I am also embarrassed to admit that I am guilty of talking to a family member on the phone while sorting or folding, or even checking my e-mail. Technology is the supreme enabler for multitasking.

I have noticed mothers pushing strollers in my neighborhood while they talk on cell phones. The baby or toddler is no longer the object of attention with meaningful observations that contribute to their learning words for passing places or the rhythm of conservation. Even a baby may early start to feel, “What am I, chopped liver?” I can feel invisible on my neighborhood walks when those on the sidewalk have their ears plugged with ear buds. Could they hear me say “Hello,” or scream if I needed help? Then there are the restaurant or doctor office phone conversations that are extremely loud, way too personal or involve business deals. Yuck. My all-time-least favorite are cell phone conversations in restroom stalls.

There has been a lot of discussion about the loss of civility in the world. Certainly respect for the thoughts, words, and presence of other human beings is part of that larger dilemma. A whole world exists outside the invisible bubble that we pretend protects us and allows for phone reception. Then isolation occurs as we move around in large groups of people and we wonder at the intensity of our loneliness.

You may hear or see this on a phone application. For that and other technology, I can be truly thankful. I am just asking for us to consider becoming more fully present — eye contact and heart content. I think Jesus understood this when He said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other. or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24 NIV). The description of Laodicea, the lukewarm people in Revelation 3, may fit much of post-modern life.

Was that a distant trumpet or my e-mail ping?

Questions for personal journaling or group discussion:

1. How would you recommend handling distracting technology in a small group setting or during worship?

2. Find a time each day when you can totally focus on a friend or loved one for at least five minutes. Sit facing each other and talk about your day or what you appreciate about your relationship. At the end of a week, what has happened to your feelings about that person/people?

Karen Spruill writes from Orlando, Florida.

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About Karen Spruill

Karen Spruill

writes from Orlando, Florida.

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