Needed: a mobile device examination of conscience

It was a glorious summer day. The lunch hour crowd that gathered in the downtown courthouse plaza was bathed in sunshine, as were the cascades of blooming flowers and the fountains with waters so remarkably blue one wondered if they had been artificially colored. They had not. The tall surrounding buildings seemed to pierce the Mary-blue July sky that was dotted with white clouds of assorted shapes to ponder.

Which visual gift to enjoy first?

For at least half of the plaza crowd in my line of sight that moment, the No. 1 option seemed to be the tiny screen of the mobile device they held in their hand.

Young women tweet messages. CNS/Paul Jeffrey

Young women tweet messages. CNS/Paul Jeffrey

It’s no secret that for increasing numbers of us, smartphone and other screens are carving deeper and deeper places in our lives. Just how deep was confirmed by a Nielson company study released as June ended.

The typical American adult, according to the study, spent an average of 10 hours, 39 minutes each day with smartphones, tablets, television, radio, computers and video games during the first three months of 2016. And what is as eye-opening as the sum is the trend — that’s a full hour a day more than just last year, with smartphones accounting for most of the increase.

Certainly, work duties factor into the numbers. But as my recent outdoor courthouse plaza experience — and perhaps your experiences with spouses, teenagers, or grandchildren — confirm, even when we leave work, we don’t leave the digital world. We pull out our devices whenever we have a pause in life — in elevators, at traffic stops, in check-out lines, and yes, even in restrooms.

Certainly something that so dominates our day and our interest has implications for our faith lives.

Sister Helena Burns, a media-savvy Daughter of St. Paul based in Toronto, loves and uses the new media. She has more than 26,000 Twitter followers and reviews movies for LifeTeen and the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM.

But Sister Helena warned Catholic journalists meeting in St. Louis this spring about blurring professional and personal lines by being constantly connected to one’s smartphone. She is striving to find a balance.

For starters, Sister Helena insists there are three places where smartphones should never be used: Mass, meal tables, and the master bedroom.

Are we feeling guilty yet?

Perhaps a mobile device examination of conscience is overdue. Do we routinely ignore those God has put in our physical presence in order to stare at our screens?  Do we miss God’s gifts of sunsets, stars, and nature because we think a 2-by-4 inch screen is so much more interesting? Has the increase in smartphone use aided or cut into our quiet time with God? Are we viewing materials not healthy to our relationship with our spouse? Our family? Our God?

We are interested in other questions you think such a technology examination of conscience should include. Email them to, or — if you don’t want to spend more screen time — write us at The Catholic Post, PO Box 1722, Peoria, IL 61656. We’ll report back in a few weeks. — Thomas J. Dermody




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