Smartphones and The “Undoing” of Society

In the American Conservative today Rod Dreher shares a post from one of his readers. It is about how he or she views the connection children have to smart phones in a small town in Germany:

Smart Phones & The Invisible Cord

A reader who lives in a small town in Germany writes:

Children nowadays are connected to an invisible cord that is yanked once in a while. It is terrible to see how completely normal children change once they have access to smart phones. Not all of them but quite a few. The ones that don’t have any (like my son) are relentlessly bullied. I have been seriously thinking about sending my son to a catholic private school but it is to far away. I also don´t know whether it would help. As you write many Christians don´t understand the menace that smart phones pose and therefore don´t restrict the usage. Especially the less educated think having smart phones will help their kids navigate the future world. Sometimes I could cry so sad is all that.

Take a family I know. The father is a good mechanic who will always find a job.The mother is a simple sales woman. Their son will be none of that. He has a smart phone since he is 9 and completely glued to it. His thumb is probably able to do amazing swipe gestures but that is all he learns. Academically he is a disaster. The worst is that when he grows up he will not be able to do anything with his hands except swiping as he never does anything else. He will be totally useless in every sense of the world. What makes my blood boil is that there are thousands and thousands out there like that. And nobody telling people the truth.

What the parent states is not off the mark. Children who are not allowed to have their own phone or tablet at a very young age are seen as outsiders. Parents who don’t want to enable an this powerful attachment in children have to constantly fend off a subtle, nagging pressure from society around them too. Your kid is squirming and making noise at a restaurant? Why not sedate them with the glow of your phone, right? Counter-cultural parents would answer “because we have a much bigger goal for these kids than simply keeping them still and quiet while peace and comfort is being met for the adults”.

“Aw, cute! Look, Zander is becoming more indifferent to everything and every person around him!”

Coincidentally, it is also Rod Dreher who states in his book Crunchy Cons that too often our society is focused on what technology can do, but rarely contemplates what technology “un-does”. This is a great point. There are unintended consequences to everything. Of course, some downsides are obviously worth the benefit or can be mitigated through adjusting other habits. For instance, having automobiles and public transportation obviously helps people get around quickly. We are able to do more things in less time and more comfortably–this is a clear upside. However, this also means we get less natural exercise than humans did many generations ago. The benefit of cars is widely considered, however, to outweigh this side effect. Also, people are able to mitigate the effects by jogging or joining a gym. This is an obvious unintended consequence. There is no debating the physical change to our collective lifestyle from automobiles. Not all side effects are obvious, physical ones though. Some are mental, emotional, or spiritual.

Today we have smart phones which can accomplish an amazing array of tasks and have an endless amount of options to satisfy our craving for entertainment. With my iPhone, I can deposit checks, send messages, get news updates, see photos, listen to music, set my thermostat, lock my doors, and much more. But what do these devices undo? I think it’s more clear what these devices undo in children and teenagers than adults who were not raised on them (although some adults seem to have entirely adopted a lifestyle of digital device attachment).

Indeed the destructive content internet-enabled devices can deliver to the senses of a young child is problematic but even more devastating (as the person above goes on to state) is the effect of technology on the formation of the brain and social skills. That is, the immoderate use is an even larger risk than the possible content that one could be viewed on that very device. People are increasingly becoming detached not only from the people around them but of the natural world they live in. A good number of people are making the decision to stop living in ‘3D’ in order to experience the world artificially through a two-dimensional screen. When all children know is the screen in front of them, they set out, day-by-day (with the help of their parents), to circumvent their God-given talents which correlate with the world around them. It’s no wonder why, as we have technology that can do more and more, people can do less and less. When the main avenue (by far) for correspondence is text message and social media, children, in their formative most years, never learn how to properly speak to one another or socialize in a meaningful way. This is one of the reasons I find so funny the main argument against homeschooling children, that they won’t be properly socialized. Aside from the many examples of how well socialized most home-schooled children are, the idea that the mainstream school system full of kids who cannot socialize outside of a digital world (or even well or virtuously within the digital world) will be better for social integration is comical. The New York Times equates technology substituting for drug use among teens. CBS reports on how psychologists are connecting the addiction of smartphones and Snapchat (for teens) to the hormones the brain releases which make people anxious when they are not checking their devices. The articles coming out on the science of what is going on are endless.

Equally troubling and sad is that society is raising a generation who aren’t aware of the natural beauty (or human suffering) around them. When one is always looking down at a screen, they cannot look up to all that is around, let alone God. Children need to play outside. They need to touch worms and get on their hands and knees to push toys through the grass in their yard. They need to look up at birds scattering from a tree against the background of clouds in the sky and think about it before they even have the words to describe what they are seeing. They need to hear thunder rolling in and smell the rain as it fills the street. These experiences are a few of nearly infinite are extremely important. Not only are experiences like this what good childhood memories are made of (who has great memories of a game they played on an iPad) it makes them aware of the tangible world surrounding themselves. It helps them put themselves into the proper context of creation, illustrating to them both their priceless dignity and the fact that they are part of a world much larger than themselves. These children are more likely to appreciate the mountains and oceans on vacation.

Children with these experiences are more likely to grow up with a desire to use our natural resources responsibly, in a truly conservative manner. They are more likely to create beautiful things: art, architecture, literature, crafts and more. They are more likely to have a healthy attitude towards animals and where they fit in in the natural order. These children are more likely to grow up loving fresh food and the joy which accompanies cooking with their own hands, perhaps even raising or growing the food themselves. These young people are more likely to grow up knowing what they are able to accomplish with their hands (along with their own limitations) around the house when something needs to be fixed. Pretty much, these children will be more likely able to understand the big picture: what it means to live a good life.

Are you a parent who is dismayed by the state of the prevailing culture? If so, commit to nurturing a truly counter-cultural household. Revolt against how popular culture expects you to raise children. Don’t allow for digital devices until a certain age and then have rules on how these devices can and cannot be used. Expect more from your children in how they interact with other people and the world around them. Not only will true joy and beauty begin to flourish in your household and beyond, but the future of society depends on it. ☩

Update: There is a follow up post on The American Conservative about smartphone use contributing to drastic changes among the post-Millennial generation.

Catholic Mom Groups

Groups for Catholics have been steadily springing up nationwide. Many Millennials, disenchanted by the beige, formless, and often ugly strain of Catholicism they grew up with in the 1990’s, seek to claim the full inheritance of the faith passed along to them by creating groups which celebrate the good, true, and beautiful all while having a great time. However, it seems–at least to me–that most of these groups are for men.

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Unlikely 50 Shades of Grey is on the book list

True, many of these men’s groups have formed as a way of countering the lopsided decades of wives and mothers being forced into the role of spiritual leader within families due to men abandoning their posts.  In many ways, the men’s groups are forming simply to counter the years of spiritual apathy contracted by husbands and fathers.

That being said, there’re so many Millennial women that long for (if not already enjoying) the company of authentic Catholic women, especially when it comes to the vocations of motherhood and marriage. My wife is in one which was started at a neighboring parish and loves it. The women she is now friends with are wonderful people with wonderful families. They are diverse in backgrounds, talents, hobbies, and interests which make their weekly get-togethers interesting. Anchored around the Rosary, these morning meetings provide excellent play time for the children and an opportunity for truly engaging conversation on an endless variety of topics. The guests of the respective host are treated to fun food, coffee, laughter and more.

Women need each other, especially for mothers in a culture where motherhood is scoffed at and authentic faith is mocked. These groups are also a wonderful opportunity for children to meet quality friends whose parents you’re not wondering about when your child goes over there to play. All the people my wife has met through her group (husbands & children included) have been people I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting and inviting to our home or going over to theirs. These dinners, where beer, wine, and, if things are really going well, scotch flow along with excellent, stimulating conversation. Topics on anything from smoking meat to politics, liturgy to favorite authors, philosophy to music are discussed. These are the type of interactions humans need, especially those who are seeking to live in a counter-cultural manner (as in, wanting little to do with the destructive popular culture). Without these quality interactions it can become easy for someone to feel isolated, as if they are the only person in their neighborhood who reveres true truth, beauty, and goodness and doesn’t want to discuss what happened on The Bachelor last night or what so-and-so posted on Facebook this morning.

Anyway, I got carried away, as usual. The entire point of this post was just to share an image I made up for anyone who is looking to start a group of their own (because I’m a nerd). Feel free to use it. ☩

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Baby Brought Back to Life After Delivery

Here’s a short video that will make you feel warm inside. After years of trying to get pregnant, Kate and her husband David were blessed with the news that they were going to have boy and girl twins. Unexpectedly, she went into labor at 26 weeks and the doctors told them that their little boy, Jamie, didn’t make it following delivery. Kate grabbed her baby from the doctor and put him on her chest, skin-to-skin, with David huddling in close. They talked to him, kissed him, hugged him, and prayed for him. Then, they felt a wiggle…

::wipes eyes:: I think someone’s chopping onions over here!

How to Raise Catholic Kids – 12 Points by Kreeft

Peter Kreeft is one of the best Catholic apologists of this generation. He is intelligent, witty, joyful, creative, and humorous. He is capable of writing impressive dissertations such as his classic Catholic Christianity which brilliantly articulates the teachings in the Catechism in ways few others are able. He is also capable of transmitting his wit and knowledge in a far more casual manner thanks to Twitter his account, @professorkreeft, which provides a steady stream of easily digestible tidbits sure to engage someone at any stage of their spiritual life.

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On Men Being Pastors of the Home

Our society is increasingly confronted with destructive cultural philosophies and principles (or lack thereof). We could go through the litany of vices popular culture espouses but most of them stem from the simple fact that our culture encourages people to lead a purposeless or shallow life. If one asked the average American what the purpose of life is, likely they will reply “to be happy”. Of course being happy is a great thing but saying happiness is your life’s purpose is basically answering “I dunno, I never really thought about it”.

The pervading culture is a destructive force and it loves purposeless people because they are easy targets to suck money and effort out of. As with any destructive force, people, especially children, need a safe haven where they can be healthy and recharge themselves before going back into the world every day. Children need a place safe where virtues are taught and talents are nurtured. The natural safe haven is the home, not just for children but for everyone in the family. But for a home to be a safe haven for the minds, bodies, and souls of family members, it has to be set up that way by the parents. It doesn’t just magically happen.

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A quote being shared on Facebook that sums up today’s prevailing mantra. (Full disclosure: I love Bill Murray)

Unfortunately many of today’s parents are still children themselves. This is a problem especially in the upcoming parents of the Millennial generation (my generation). Lacking purpose in their routines, lifestyles, and goals, they are unable to create a home culture that contrasts popular culture.

‘Modern’ men are either too deflated, obtuse, or bashful to step into their natural position as a leader. Our culture tells us that any sort of “roles” in the context of marriage are offensive and archaic. We are told that masculinity is inherently oppressive. So what do most unprincipled men with little defined purpose do? They simply exist. Many are active in their family but only insofar that’s acceptable to popular culture. They let the culture change them instead of seeking to change the culture within their home.

I know many good guys who are husbands and fathers but hold no opinions on married life or parenthood. Many men can talk for hours about sports, hobbies, TV shows, and other extracurriculars but cannot coherently explain why they celebrate Christmas. Many of these men are punctual for things like dinner reservations, sports events, or movies, but cannot imagine committing to making it to Mass on Sunday. There are many good men that have been duped into believing they serve little beyond seeking personal happiness and, when convenient, helping their family be ‘happy’. In turn, the children find it very hard to break this pathetic cycle when they grow up. So what can be done?

The Solution

As we see in the marriage between Jesus and his Bride–the Church–there are indeed ideal roles for the two leaders of a family. The mother is called to be the ‘heart’ of the household. She embodies the subjective tenderness and love of the Holy Spirit. She, like the Church, gives to each of her children as according to their very specific needs. So what is the father? Well, he is the head of the household. Politically incorrect, right? But a heart needs a head just as much as the head needs a heart. There needs to be an objective beacon to help navigate love and tenderness in the proper direction. Tenderness without objectiveness is corrosive sentimentalism but objectiveness without tender love is overbearing.

son-learning-from-his-dad-how-to-shaveI submit that we need a renaissance of purposeful and strong husbands/fathers to be spurred by the awesome and manly example Christ set for marriage/family. If it’s true that the family unit is the “domestic church” as Saint John Paul II often stated, there must be a pastor of this church. There is, the father. It is up to them to guide their family’s spiritual life as a pastor would. The family is where a man can most appropriately and efficiently exercise the duties assigned to him at baptism, that of a prophet, priest, and king. It is urgent that men fight the spiritual apathy that resides within them and, in turn, their families. It is urgent that men find their purpose in the vocations of marriage and fatherhood and navigate their spouses and children to heaven.

If, as society still seems to agree, men are well suited as the protector of their family, they mustn’t only protect their family from physical threats. They must step up as and protect their loved ones from the far more pervasive spiritual encroachments. There’s countless hazards that seek to devour the family and it is the father’s primary job to keep them safe.

The Household Pastor: Prophet, Priest, King

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Of course, the first step for men is to get themselves spiritually healthy(er). If a man cannot walk what he talks, his family will know. How can he encourage the spiritual life of others if he has none himself? It’s hard to help people on an airplane until your own oxygen mask is first secured–don’t you pay attention on vacation? Only once men understand the importance of the interior life and the Church in their own routines are they able to help their family grow.

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  • Be a prophet. A prophet is somebody who simply helps reveal the truth of God. They seek to educate others. Fathers can combat popular culture by explaining to their children the Christian roots behind nearly everything around us. They can teach their children about Christmas and the other secularized holidays. Scripture can be read in the household and applied to real-life situations. Early on, fathers can teach their family how to pray. It’s important fathers learn about their faith so questions can be answered as they arise and if they don’t know the answer they should educate themselves immediately so they can provide one (I can’t stand ‘not knowing’, myself). They should strive to understand their family’s needs through a commitment to listen thoroughly to them.
  • Be a priest. A priest, by definition, is a person who makes sacrifices. Priests connect people to God through prayer, sacrifice, and witness. Men need to pray and fast for their families. Men sacrifice for their family by giving up many of the things that appeal to them so that the people around them can be more comfortable and healthy. Providing witness is also essential. Men can lead by example by being the first in line for confession, they should offer a glimpse of their own prayer life by not being bashful, they should show their children how to behave at Mass and how to receive Christ with reverence. Men should strive to carry their crosses with grace and joy–a reminder I need often!
  • Be a king. A king is someone who leads. A good king is someone who leads with humility and love as Jesus taught. Jesus, the King of Kings, calls us to be gentle, loving, assertive, and virtuous leaders. A father should be at the service of his family rather than the other way around. The Catholic Gentleman summed it up very well:

“It is not chest thumping domination. It is not forcing others to submit to your needs and wants. It is the exact opposite—it is washing your family’s feet.

Put another way, kingship means embracing the lowliest and most thankless tasks. It means changing diapers, taking out the trash, listening to your wife and understanding her feelings and concerns. It means patiently teaching your children virtue through example and loving discipline. It means washing the dishes and rocking a screaming baby. It means leading by example, never asking of your family something you are not willing to do or have not done already. In short, it means laying down your life for those entrusted by God to your care.”

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Finding purpose is the key to living fruitful and truly happy lives. Men must stand up and fight against the attempts to demoralize and desensitize fathers. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you need none of these reminders, so reach out to your buddies that might need some help being the best husband and father they can be in their own families. Ask them what the purpose of their marriage and family is. It’s said that we cannot keep our faith unless we give it away, we can start with our friends.

Saints Joseph and Michael the Archangel, please pray for the strength of Christian men, that we may have the grace to be virtuous, loving, and strong pastors to our families. Amen.

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Saint Joseph, the model father, and Jesus Christ, the model prophet, priest, and king.