Screens let me be “present” in some limited way with my sister and her husband across the country or across the world. But they also make me absent from those actually in my presence. Screens connect and disconnect.(December 2013)
Note: This is part of a series of pieces providing a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.
One of the nice things about blogging over many years is to look back and see common threads, growth, and change. I recently uncovered a piece I wrote in 2013, soon after my daughter was born, about screens and presence. Nothing super-profound, but genuine–and even more relevant today, I think. I’m reproducing it in its entirety below, on my daughter’s 8th birthday!
I turn 29 next week, and I’m a father of two young children. And, I have screens everywhere.
I straddle a sort of generational digital fence. When I was 16, my parents limited my internet usage–for my own good, but also because we had dial-up and the internet clogged the phone line. We didn’t have cable, and the TV was on for maybe an hour a day–only approved shows.
Today, I have six devices with screens in my home. One is in my pocket all the time, and another is within easy reach. I can easily be distracted by the internet, social media, email, texts, calls, etc.
I’m not sure whether growing up before the explosion of internet access leaves me well-equipped or poorly-equipped to handle these distractions as a father. I didn’t grow up dealing with screens all the time, like my 18-year-old brother has. But at least I know something has changed–he doesn’t know any other existence (no offense, Michael–just a fact).
I don’t want my children to have to compete with screens for their father’s attention. I know that I inevitably gravitate toward screens, because they are interesting, because I’m curious and like to browse the internet to learn, because I want to see what my “friends” (however loose the connection may be) are up to, and because my TV time was so limited growing up that anytime the TV was on we all watched. I may also convince myself that I save time by multitasking: reading email on my iTouch while playing trains with my son saves me from being pulled away to read that message later–right? Wrong.
Screens let me be “present” in some limited way with my sister and her husband across the country or across the world. But they also make me absent from those actually in my presence. Screens connect and disconnect.