November 17 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Put down your phone and experience life

PAUL CUDDIHY looks at our need to disconnect from our smartphones and reconnect with life —By PAUL CUDDIHY

Every Sunday, for between 45 minutes and an hour, no one in the world is able to contact me. Indeed, more often than not, the only other person who actually knows my whereabouts is my wife. During that time, I am at Mass, usually in St Dominic’s Church, Bishopbriggs, sitting near the back on the left-hand side—I’ve always been a leftie when it comes to sitting in church.

My mobile phone remains in the house. I don’t want to have it in my possession, even if it is switched off. For me, it’s like I’ve set aside the constant noise of the modern world, albeit for a very short period of time, and I find it cathartic. Indeed, knowing that no one can call me or text me or message me through social media actually enhances the whole experience of going to Mass.

This week, Pope Francis told Catholics to put down their smartphones during Mass. Speaking at his weekly general audience, the Holy Father said: “It makes me very sad when I celebrate Mass here in the piazza or in the Basilica, and I see so many cellphones held up.”

That obviously doesn’t happen in St Dominic’s or, indeed, in most Catholic churches across the world where the Pope is not the principal celebrant. Yet, who has not heard a phone ring or a text ping at some point during Mass? Turn the phone off, if you need to bring it with you at all. It’s not like you’re actually going to take the call or start texting a friend back in the middle of the sermon.

Even the act of taking pictures and videos of the Holy Father during his audience—allowing for the fact that he is widely regarded as a ‘celebrity’ and the opportunity of being in any close proximity to him is a rare privilege—seems, to me, to defeat the whole purpose of being there and actually being part of what should be a spiritual experience.

It is one of my (many) pet hates as a middle-aged curmudgeon when I see people at concerts, for example, spending most of the evening videoing the act rather than being in the moment and enjoying it.

I’m not convinced that many people actually sit and watch the videos later and, even if they did, it is impossible to replicate the live experience on a tiny screen. For me, these people would be as well buying a DVD of the band, playing it on their TV and standing about 50 yards away watching it on the screen, because that’s effectively what they’re doing. It would also save them some money on the concert ticket.

The madness of this was illustrated for me when I went to see U2 at Glasgow’s Hydro venue a couple of years ago. Someone sitting in front of me was filming footage of the band performing on one of the big screens which hung down from the roof—effectively a video of a video.

The insatiable yet inexplicable urge for people to broadcast their lives to the world through social media is a driving force in this, but just because we can doesn’t mean we have to.

Sadly, it appears that smartphones are slowly but surely taking over the world, having surpassed desktops and laptops as the preferred means of accessing the internet in the UK. According to the market research company eMarketer, people in the UK now spend nearly two hours per day on their phones browsing, a minute each more than they spend browsing via their computer, and the amount of time they spend doing this will only grow. The irony, of course, is that I sourced this info via the internet on my mobile phone!

In his 2016 Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis addressed this issue, writing: “When well-used, these media can be helpful for connecting family members who live apart from one another. Frequent contacts help to overcome difficulties.

“Still, it is clear that these media cannot replace the need for more personal and direct dialogue, which requires physical presence or at least hearing the voice of the other person. We know that sometimes they can keep people apart rather than together, as when at dinner-time everyone is surfing on a mobile phone, or when one spouse falls asleep waiting for the other who spends hours playing with an electronic device.”

Even before then, back in November 2015, at his general audience, Pope Francis stated that ‘a family that almost never eats together, or that never speaks at the table but looks at the television or the smartphone, is hardly a family.’

Wise words, indeed, from the Holy Father, or #wisewords, as the mobile phone generation would probably write.


– Paul Cuddihy is editor of the Celtic View, a former SCO reporter, and biographer of footballer Tommy Burns.

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