This past week my husband and I went to a Christian camp full of junior high kids. Our kids went along with us. We split the counseling duties. I went to everything in the mornings and my husband went in the afternoon / evenings. There were a lot of interesting things that I noticed and thought about, but one of them was the constant presence of the internet and cell phones--even at a Christian retreat. I didn't expect this, because our kids had been asked to not bring anything electronic and I didn't see them using anything at any of the meetings or carrying any phones. But, the two college counselors did have their phones and we did too, in case we needed to find each other or get a message to each other.
At one point in the week, I thought about my summers that I spent on staff at Quaker Meadow Camp in the Sequoia National Forest in my 20s. There was a phone in the staff lounge, but people didn't have cell phones back then. We still used pay phones when we needed them. I wondered if it would be different there now. But, I realized it probably wouldn't. The camp was remote and couldn't get television reception. I'm sure cell phone coverage is also spotty at best. Or at least I hope so. The point of camp is to get away. But, I think it's harder today than it was fifteen years ago, because of the internet and cell phones.
I don't normally turn on my cell phone. It's a seven year old prepaid phone that I use for emergencies and rare phone calls while I'm out and about. I have put off texting as long as I could. I can honestly say that I had never texted before this week. But, I took the plunge this week and sent my first text. I sent a few texts and made three or four phone calls to check in with my mom who was caring for our dog. As we approached our home after the week, I pressed the off button on my phone. I was glad to do it. So, that's me and the phone in my life this week. But, it looked a little different around camp.
The role phones played in people's lives around the camp surprised me. My husband watched as one of the other counselors texted during a worship song. I watched as counselors texted through the evening activities, not even realizing that the texting steals their attention from the kids they've come to love on. I watched as my daughters played games on the phone of a little friend who had very kindly let them play on her phone. After a few minutes, I told Autumn to give the phone back and enjoy the time with her friends. I wanted her to be present and enjoy reality.
Was it all necessary? Was it good? What gets lost when the phones and ipods turn on? These are the things I often think about. I want my kids to understand the value of really focusing on people and giving them the gift of their attention. I fear that this gift is going to become even rarer in the years to come.
I wish I could stand on a mountain top and shout, "Turn off your phone!" or "Turn off your phone and listen!" or "Turn off your phone and be still!" But, there's no mountain for me to stand on. All I can do is turn off my phone, listen to people, and teach my kids to listen. I hope they will be strong enough to fight the battles that will wage against them, trying to divide their attention and focus.