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viewpoint

The seed of struggle

| Monday, January 25, 2016

I remember begging for a cellphone in junior high. All of my friends had them, so I figured that it was only fair that I should have one too.

Although it would be many years before I would use it to surf the web, FaceTime or pay with a credit card, I recognized very early on that the cellphone could be used in a myriad of ways — beyond simple functions like texting and phone calls. Even before the dawn of apps and features that brought the world to my fingertips, I stumbled onto the truth that the cellphone might become a regular personal companion.

The seed for this discovery came during what seemed like a normal summer weekend after my junior year of high school. This particular weekend I had planned to meet some of my friends at the movies. While waiting in line at the ticket counter, however, I realized I had gotten the time of the movie wrong by 45 minutes.

On one hand, I was mad at myself for the error. Truthfully however, I felt more uncomfortable at another realization. Not only would I have to wait 45 minutes, but also I would have to wait out those 45 minutes alone.

So, I went outside of the movie theater and parked myself against a wall that I thought would be out of the way. Unfortunately, it would prove to be a very popular route over the course of the next 45 minutes.

It felt odd to look at the streams of people who strode by me, so I mostly tried to avoid eye contact. What was most uncomfortable, however, was how I felt just sitting there, doing nothing — my feeling of aloneness was immense.

On one hand, I felt silly being alone — silly at the fact that I had gotten the time wrong. But — I thought to myself — people make mistakes like this all the time. That thought, however, did not make me feel any better.

To be honest, sitting there by myself just made me more uncomfortable. The feeling got so bad that I turned toward the one thing that could distract me. As people passed by, I not only pretended to text, but also pretended to talk on my cellphone.

Little did I know this would become the beginning of an all-too-common habit in my life — reaching for a cellphone as an emotional escape.

I saw this story in new light after watching a video on YouTube entitled, “Why Louis C.K. hates Cellphones” at the end of last year. The roughly five-minute video’s thesis statement stung me right in the gut — while technology is dangerous because it can isolate us from one another, what is more dangerous is the way that it can isolate us from ourselves.

As Louis C.K. goes on to explain, the increase of technological development and its ease of use has made it increasingly easy to be able to guard us against uncomfortable emotions and situations like being alone. He states, “Because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with other stuff. You never feel completely sad or completely happy.”

We fear situations we can’t completely control or enjoy. In turn, we turn toward things like technology because it insulates and distracts us from the discomfort that follows.

To clarify, the diagnosis of the problem is not with the technology, but with its users. It’s to say that something happens when we spend too much time in a virtual, screen-based reality where “swipes” and “taps” allow us to control and determine our own happiness. Yes, time in virtual reality may indeed accomplish our goal toward keeping feelings of boredom or aloneness at bay. But, the light of our screens becomes destructive when it becomes the only light in which we are comfortable living.

As a consistent distraction, habitual technological use deludes us into thinking that the range of emotions we feel or thoughts we think are something to be immediately remedied. It chokes us from seeing that budding seeds of insights and grace may follow when we really have the opportunity to see and feel how we really are.

Primarily, it chokes us from living into the reality of God’s light, the light of truth that invites us to see that even the seed of struggle can be watered into glory.

The next time you are tempted to reach for your phone as a distraction, I invite you to resist the urge. There, in that moment, see what happens when you let yourself feel.

I don’t know what will happen in each instance, but I do know that you will give yourself a greater opportunity to see the world in its true light — to see and appreciate those feelings that may ultimately be beckoning you toward beatitude.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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