I remember clearly growing up in an age where our TV received 4 channels (2, 7, 16, & 22). It was big news when Fox started up (channel 45) and we had 5 channels to choose from! Because we lived in the country, the cable company hadn’t yet laid cable down our road. I suppose satellite TV was an option, but it wasn’t one that was entertained by my parents.
I also remember buying my first cell phone in 2000. We lived in Germany and thought it might be prudent to have a cell phone for emergencies. It worked well enough…although we were forever low on minutes (it was a pay-as-you-go phone). When we left Europe for Nebraska, we tried the cell phone only route with good success. In fact, we’ve really only had cell phones since we moved to Nebraska.
Today, cell phones are more powerful than the computers used to launch Neil Armstrong to the moon! Back in my youth, pornography was something that you saw only when you managed to get your hands on a hand-me-down dirty magazine. Today, pornography pops up in Google results during the most innocuous search requests.
One of the questions I enjoy pondering is why we are so blessed today? We do we have so many labor-saving devices? I believe the answer is so we have more time to do the things which matter most. Sister Susa Young Gates once asked her father [Brigham Young]:
“how it would ever be possible to accomplish the great amount of temple work that must be done, if all are given a full opportunity for exaltation. He told her there would be many inventions of labor-saving devices, so that our daily duties could be performed in a short time, leaving us more and more time for temple work. The inventions have come, and are still coming, but many simply divert the time gained to other channels, and not for the purpose intended by the Lord” (quoted in Meeting the Needs of a Worldwide Church)
I was amazed the other day to discover the Family Search App for my iPhone. Once I logged into the app, my entire family tree was immediately accessible. I was able to access census and other records. I could add pictures to family records. It was truly amazing to me how easy family history work had just become! In very little time, I discovered family members who were previously missing from my tree.
As I look around me, I see a society that is becoming disengaged. In January 2011, a woman fell into a fountain while using a phone. In February 2015, a man missed a humpback whale because he was texting. In December 2015, a man walked off a cliff in California while looking at his phone. Here is a good report on walking while distracted. Here is another video on the dangers of driving while distracted. I submit to you, however, there is an even more dangerous phenomena occurring with cell phone and other mobile devices. I call it “Distracted Worship.”
Elder Oaks spoke of this in October 2008:
During sacrament meeting—and especially during the sacrament service—we should concentrate on worship and refrain from all other activities, especially from behavior that could interfere with the worship of others…Young people, it is not a time for whispered conversations on cell phones or for texting persons at other locations. When we partake of the sacrament, we make a sacred covenant that we will always remember the Savior. How sad to see persons obviously violating that covenant in the very meeting where they are making it.
Seven years later, Elder Oaks spoke again on the dangers of distracted worship in a talk about the Parable of the Sower:
If the emblems of the sacrament are being passed and you are texting or whispering or playing video games or doing anything else to deny yourself essential spiritual food, you are severing your spiritual roots and moving yourself toward stony ground. You are making yourself vulnerable to withering away when you encounter tribulation like isolation, intimidation, or ridicule.
Being an advisor to the Young Men at Church, I hear many reasons why they are on their phones at church. One of the most common reasons is that class is boring. I would be a hypocrite if I denied that sometimes I’m bored in Sunday School. I’d be lying if I said I never used my mobile device in class to distract myself from a lesson that 1) I already heard 2) I thought didn’t apply to me or 3) I felt I could teach better. I also know that each of these excuses are just that…excuses.
What then do we do when we are in a situation where we are bored? How do we handle sitting at church when the speakers and teachers lecture instead of teach? I found some great advice in an article titled “Never have a Boring Church Class Again.” Allow me to summarize the main points. When you find yourself in a boring class, you could:
- Ask yourself why you come to church
- Treat your gospel education like building a fire…piece by piece
- Take it Personally
- Find the Gems
- Don’t let it end too soon
- Take action on what you learn
Someone once asked President Spencer W. Kimball what he did when he was in a boring Sacrament meeting. He replied “I don’t know, I’ve never been in one.” I don’t think he’s heard some of the same speakers I’ve heard! Seriously though, I have to wonder if he didn’t take to heart the counsel in the article I just quoted, particularly the lines of “take it personally,” “find the gems” and “take action on what you learn.”
So what can we do to combat the negative influences of mobile devices and encouraging positive behavior? Here are some things I’ve tried (with varying amounts of success).
Have a media fast. Every now and then, my family goes on a media fast. We put all our devices away and force ourselves to interact with each other. We play games, take walks, and talk. It isn’t always easy. Here is a picture of my youngest son putting the Kindle in the box for the evening. It wasn’t long before he got over the missing Kindle and had a great time with the family.
Line up the devices on the chalk board. Occasionally, I will have all the young men in my class at church put their devices on the chalk board. This forces them to revert to *gasp* hard copy Scriptures! I understand the ease of looking up scriptures on my mobile device, but I also appreciate the feel of the Book in my hand as I read the Word of God.
Use Airplane mode at Church. If you can’t get yourself to put away your device at church, you could at least put your device in airplane mode. This way you’ll be able to access the scriptures, lesson manual and other pertinent information without being distracted by Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, or Pinterest.
Set boundaries. Science tells us we shouldn’t let our children eat unlimited amounts of sugar, or stay up all night playing. Likewise, we shouldn’t let our children have unlimited access to mobile devices or technology. Set a time limit on screen time and restrict access to inappropriate sites.
Trust, but verify. It is my opinion that I have a right and a duty as a parent to monitor the sites my children visit on the Internet. I have a right and a duty to scan through text messages, e-mails, and other communication. I call this “Good Parenting.”
Use a gospel-themed lock screen and wallpaper. I find it much harder to do something bad with my mobile device when the first thing I see on the screen is the Temple of the Lord. If you need suggestions for good lock screens, you might try looking here or here.
This video shows that part of the problem is that we (parents) sometimes act like buffoons around technology and mobile devices. Although there are times I want to react like this woman, I realize there is value with these devices. For instance, LDS missionaries are beginning to use iPads to teach the Gospel. The Church has published a variety of apps to strengthen those searching for Christ. We need to make technology and mobile devices “our servants, not our masters. For example, if later tonight you share inspiring thoughts from this devotional on social media, your smartphone is a servant. If you randomly surf the Internet, your smartphone is a master” (Make Technology your Servant, not your Master).
Mobile Devices can have a wonderful place in our lives. They allow us to communicate with family and friends. They allow us access to more information than we can ever hope to understand. The help us save time so we can do more of the Lord’s work. We must remember and give respect to these devices for the power they hold. If you are with family or friends, then put down your mobile device and be present. Remember that…
Distracted driving can lead to physical death.
Distracted worship can lead spiritual death.