REFLECTION: The age of smartphones

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Last year, as Pope Francis held the weekly general audience at St Peter’s Square in Vatican City, many believers gathered as usual. Of course there were also those who came just to see the pope in action. As usual, dazzled by the pope’s “star power”, many in the crowd took out their smartphones, furiously taking pictures to share on social media.

This time, the pope publicly chastised the believers who were taking pictures during mass, saying that their focus should be on God. In his sermon, Francis said, “It makes me very sad when I celebrate Mass in the Square or in St Peter’s Basilica and I see so many phones in the air. It is not only the faithful, but also many priests and bishops. Mass is not a show, so put away the phones!”

What great words: Mass (worship) is not a show, so put away the phones!

In fact, this was not the first time Pope Francis had something to say regarding the use of smartphones. In 2014, the pope urged young German altar servers not to waste time on the Internet, smartphones, and television. In February of last year, he also called upon young people to put down their phones at the dinner table. He pointed out that a lack of dialogue will bring about disastrous consequences for society, even to leading to war.

Overdependence on smartphones seems to be the common disease of this age. I dare not say that this would cause wars, but even during meals, both adults and children are physically present in the same space, but everyone’s focus is on the tiny screens of their smartphones. These “cold wars” within families are already common scenarios. As in a poem: “The furthest distance in the world is not between life and death, but when I stand in front of you, you don’t know that I love you…”

Internet has made a huge impact on society. Almost any information is right at our fingertips, almost anybody can be contacted within seconds, almost all our time can be occupied by this tiny screen. But why is it that in this age of easily obtained information, people are not gaining wisdom in interactions with others? Why is it that in an age where we can contact anyone, relationships are becoming more distant and strained? Why is it that in a world where we could escape at any time into a virtual reality, hearts are becoming more and more empty and helpless? Technology has given us endless convenience and entertainment, but what have we really gained, and what have we lost?

We need to know about the internet, social media, and communication software. These are the gifts and blessings that God has given to this age. But on the other hand, we need to be careful in using them. We should not let ourselves become hopelessly dependent on technology, nor should we allow our children, who are given by God, to become “slaves of technology”. As the Chinese proverb says, “water may keep the boat afloat, but may also sink it.”

When Pope Francis said during Mass, “Lift up your hearts, don’t lift up your cell phones to take pictures”, I could not help smiling. But I must admit, this is indeed good food for thought!

By Rev Adrian King, President of CMC in New Zealand
Translated by Joy Tie