Phoneless in a digital age

By  Mae Fernandes, Youth Speak News
  • September 1, 2016

Maybe I should get a phone. Almost everyone I know has a phone, but at the age of 17, I’ve never had one. At first it was because of my parents. Now that they have given me the opportunity to have a phone, I’ve been weighing the possibility.

I know my life would be very different. I’ve seen the difference in the lives of my friends who have phones. They have easy access to Internet at home, Netflix, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and more.

In many ways, I think life might be better if I had those things. I could spontaneously message my friends to go see a movie. I would automatically be updated on events in their lives. I’d be more in touch with major world events and I’d be able to Google anything I needed or wanted to know.

It’s the disadvantages that may be less obvious. From my vantage point, however, I can see the difference between the way I usually encounter others and digital communication. Although messaging is clearly faster and easier than face-to-face encounters, I think the danger lies in expecting it to fulfill the same ends.

Since getting an e-mail address last spring, I’ve learned that it can be easier to send a quick message than to have an uncomfortable conversation. Being behind a screen can be a way of avoiding accompanying someone at a difficult time.

It’s easy to let digital contact become a substitute for these encounters. In fact, sometimes just having a cellphone around can lessen the quality of one’s presence. Phones seem to demand to be checked every couple of minutes and it distracts from people who are actually in the same room.

I think presence is important to our humanity. In our Catholic faith, we can see the importance of presence. The life of the Church revolves around the sacraments — each one with a physical sign: water, oil, candles.

The chief of these, and the most physical, of course, is the Eucharist, in which we receive the Body of Christ. There can be no such thing as a virtual sacrament. It shows the irreplaceability of physical presence.

Phones can also hinder our ability to be fully present in nature. This point may be especially important to me since I live in the country and I’m always surrounded by farmland, woods and wetlands.

I see a significant difference between simply appreciating nature as it is and seeing it through the lens of a camera. Of course, if I could just put away my phone and focus on the people I’m with, not take all those pictures, none of this would be a problem.

But I still don’t plan to get a phone, or any of the latest social media. After all, I can’t expect to have any more self control than the friends who warn me that electronics are too hard to resist. For now, I’m taking their advice.

(Fernandes, 17, is a Grade 12 homeschooled student from Dundalk, Ont.)

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