July 01, 2011

They were gathered around the restaurant table — husband, wife and two girls. Between bites of my own dinner, I observed their marked lack of interaction. There were no shared smiles or playful winks. Each was lost in a separate world, fiddling with their mobile devices. Were they playing games, texting, surfing the Web? I couldn't tell. But I could see the bored expressions, the vacant eyes, the distant body language. I felt sadness for this family where the simple joy of sharing a meal together was lost. Surrounding that little table, they were miles apart.

Their unintended tableau reminded me of a quote from Christian media guru Phil Cooke: "The most sought-after commodity today is someone's undivided attention."

The plethora of mobile communication devices, including ever-present cell phones and iPads, mean many of us carry a billion streams of information with us wherever we go. Atlas mythologically carried the world on his shoulders. Hey, we carry it in our pockets.

Having immediate access to all this information is exhilarating. Got a question? Even an obscure one? Give me a couple minutes with Google and you'll have your answer. Want to reach me immediately? Send me a text. I can answer that quietly, even in a meeting, or, ahem, in church.

But, this multitasking we're getting used to is taking a toll. While we connect with the outside world, we are in danger of losing what's nearest at hand. Talking with a friend recently, I noticed him repeatedly looking down at his cell phone as incoming text messages interrupted our conversation. "Sorry," he said. "I'm addicted to this thing."

He's not too far off the mark. Our mobile devices are enabling us as information junkies, addicts in every sense of the word. FOMO is a new acronym coined to describe what many are experiencing with Twitter, Facebook and other social media networking — Fear Of Missing Out.

Flash mobs, hundreds of individuals prompted by the peer pressure of a Twitter message to do something in common at a given time and place, converge on shopping malls. Personal accounts of news and events blaze around the world, passing from one person to the next — as quick (and reliable, at times) as gossip.

Now, I'm a fan of technology and mobile communication. But this headlong rush that so often absorbs us prompts two basic questions: Is quicker better? Because we can, should we?

I think not — at least, not without first taking stock of more basic and lasting values. The simple act of lending our undivided attention to a friend, giving respectful eye contact to a colleague, lets them know they matter. In spite of all our virtual "friends" on Facebook, the ones who really count are those right in front of us who search our faces for evidence we care.

There's another Person who desires our attention. We were designed to walk with Him in the cool of the evening through a garden of another place and time. As we eagerly seek out the latest, coolest gadget, or provocative tweet, is He watching anxiously for a glimmer of eye contact with us?

Turn your eyes upon Jesus ... you don't even need an app.

"The most sought-after commodity today is someone's undivided attention."

— Phil Cooke