My wife and I are expecting our fifth child in February. It’s been six years since we had a newborn in the house, so there are some things we need to relearn about life with a baby. Most pressing perhaps is the role that technology will play in our family life when the new baby arrives.
Six years ago our kids were much younger. We had a newborn and three kids under 8. Nobody looked at phones or played on tablets. They just weren’t part of our daily routine. Now we have a teenager who uses the computer for research and has his own Kindle for reading and games. Our younger children are granted screen time after homeschooling is over so that my wife can catch her breath.
As a media studies academic, I have been very conscious of how technology is changing domestic life. My oldest son never had regular screen time and he is now an incredible pianist and artist who loves woodworking and metalsmithing.
He is a digital native in the alternative sense. He uses his digits, his fingers, to create beautiful things that give him satisfaction and pleasure. His music fills the house and his art hangs on the walls, allowing the rest of us to share in that pleasure.
Our other children have thankfully followed suit by developing various artistic and athletic interests, which are entirely analog experiences. But you can see a difference among the ones who grew up with more screen time. They are less tolerant of being bored.
As many others have pointed out, boredom is the seedbed of creativity. If you don’t allow a space for boredom, the interior life of reflection, silence and creativity has less room to grow.
This sounds counterintuitive and maybe a little cruel. As a parent, it’s hard to tell a child that their misery (their word, not mine) is good for the soul. Pascal said that the source of man’s misery is our inability to sit quietly in a room alone. In a world of constant activity and productivity, it is no small act of rebellion to try and sit quietly in a room alone.
Pope Pius XII said that society’s stress on material progress has upset the balance and harmony of man. He cautioned that someone who grows up in an atmosphere that is centered on technology will "inevitably discover that one whole part of his make-up ... is missing."
The ability to think, judge and act in ways that are most fully human can be lost in a technological environment that favors particular ways of thinking, judging and acting that reflect the logic of the machines around us.
We are expected to do things very quickly. A text message that is not answered instantaneously is seen as a slight. A work email that is not responded to immediately is viewed as a lack of productivity. We live in an environment dictated by speed whether by our phones, our cars or our dishwashers. There is an implicit preference for that which gets things done faster.
We are a couple months away from the birth of our son. We can’t wait for him to arrive, but we know God’s careful work of creation takes time. It’s not the schedule we would pick, but that is partly due to the artificial expectations fostered by our environment.
We are so thankful this waiting coincides with Advent because it helps remind us of the patient waiting that God has ordained for all of creation. The Savior is not Siri. He does not obey our commands like our other technological genies. It is our obedience to God that brings us back into harmony with Christ in the midst of so much “progress.”
(Robinson is director of communications and Catholic media studies at the University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life.)
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