Why Unplugging is a Bad Idea

The summer months are upon us, and I’d like to broach a subject that might be considered taboo among preacher-types. The subject is one’s use of and dependence upon smartphones and electronic gadgets.

At this point, you may be reading my mind. You might think I am going to join the chorus of concerned observers, and suggest that these summer months could be an opportunity to experiment in — gasp! — unplugging.

Wrong. I am not going to suggest that. In fact, my advice is to stay plugged in, and to do so defiantly and without apology. Our electronic gadgets are amazing, not to speak of enormously useful! They enhance productivity, they provide amusement, they help us stay connected — and more. You know what I’m talking about here. You’re the choir; no need to tap the baton.

I resent it when people tell me to unplug. Here’s why. They assume that technology is my master and that I am its servant and at its mercy — at its beck and call. It’s tantamount to implying that I have a dependence issue. What is more irritating is that when I deny that I have a dependence problem, I am told by my detractors that my very denial is a sure sign that I do, in fact, have a problem. Arrrgghh! And now, what can be next but an intervention?

Granted, smartphones, techie thingys, like television, or any other activity, hobby, passion or pursuit, must remain firmly in the service of the user. If it doesn’t, then — yes — there is a problem. I get it.

So, yes, it is a problem if I go to dinner party with clergy and their spouses and I cannot keep my smartphone in my pants.

Yes, it is a problem if I cannot turn off my phone when trying to get a car loan at Bank of the West.

Yes, it is a problem if I am surfing on the net while attending my 9-year-old daughter’s ballet recital.

Yes, it is a huge problem if I cannot drive more than two or three blocks without needing to get on the phone and gab.

You see what I mean?

I am not saying that a TDS (Tech Dependence Syndrome) is not a problem. I suppose anyone who’s not careful could catch a TDS. Consider:

  • 84 percent of cell phone users claim they could not go a single day without their device.
  • 67 percent of cell phone owners check their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.
  • Studies indicate some mobile device owners check their devices every 6.5 minutes.
  • 88 percent of U.S. consumers use mobile devices as a second screen even while watching television.
  • Almost half of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls.
  • Traditional TV viewing eats up over six days (144 hours, 54 minutes) worth of time per month.
  • Some researchers have begun labeling “cell phone checking” as the new yawn because of its contagious nature.

If this describes you, then you need therapy. Technology clearly has you by the throat.

But, most people are not in a position to judge their colleagues as to whether they have a TDS — unless the behaviors cited above, or similar ones — are observed with regularity, and begin to interfere with relationships and job performance.

For me, staying wired in, tuned in, plugged in, in touch, connected and online when it is appropriate, is not only a huge benefit, I happen to like it and enjoy it. Why would I want to stop? And, especially, why would I want to stop in the summer months?

When I am reading, studying and meditating, I definitely do not want to be unconnected. I want to be able to check sources, get background, consult opinions, find cultural references and so on. And, it’s fun to be able to FaceTime with family when I am relaxing somewhere while on vacation.

It’s annoying to be told to unplug. You unplug if you want to, but leave me alone! Bah humbug!

Well, Jesus unplugged, says some precious soul determined to turn me into a contemplative anchorite. Jesus went to the garden alone to pray. (No, he didn’t. He took his friends, but they fell asleep.) Jesus went to the wilderness alone to pray (only because the Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness). He went into the mountains across the lake to get away from the crowds and to renew his spiritual reserves (with those crowds, who can blame him?).

That was then. Jesus didn’t have a smartphone. I do. Jesus didn’t have a laptop. I do. Don’t tell me what Jesus would do today or wouldn’t do today. How can we know?

In any case, I am no Jesus. And I do not feel the need for a technology fast. I am not in search of a juniper tree in the wilderness perchance to hear the “still, small voice” of the divine presence.

Clearly, turning off technology is no virtue unless we’re turning on to something else even more valuable. Perhaps, many of us do not know what that is. So, I turn off my phone, tablet and leave my laptop at home. Now what? What will I do? What should I do?

There’s no particular virtue in disconnecting. It’s silly to suggest otherwise.

Here’s what you do:

Plan your summer retreat time with enthusiasm. What books are you going to read? Where are you going to read them — on the beach, on a dock, in a forest glade? Are you going to write? How many words? Are you going to visit museums? What do you hope to learn? Are you going to do some sermon planning for the year 2017-2018?

See what I mean? Plan your retreat. Get excited! And don’t worry about whether you’re going to take along the tech gadgets! Of course you are. Thank God for these marvelous devices! Yoohoo! And you will turn them on, and turn them off, according to your good pleasure and on your own terms, aftering reflecting on how your gadgets will best serve your purpose and intentions.

Technology has a power-off button. And the wisest of us know when to use it.

Previously published in Homiletics (HomileticsOnline.com), and used by permission.

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