[OPINION] This Christmas, put down your phones and truly reconnect
There is a Spanish video ad that I watched recently on social media which moved me, but at the same time, disturbed me.
It said that, over the last 6 years, our mobile device usage has tripled. We consume more audio-visual content than ever. As a result, our contact with people who really matter to us is happening mainly on social media and devices. We are spending less face-to-face time with our loved ones and more time staring at screens. Using a simple calculation and data from the National Institute of Statistics, it is possible to determine how much time we have left to spend with the people we love the most. (READ: Filipinos spend most time online, on social media worldwide - report)
In the video, 6 pairs of friends and family members who don't get to spend much time together due to their busy schedules are interviewed. Each pair is asked to talk about their relationships and why their time with each other is limited. Using basic data about their ages, where they live, how many times a year they see each other and for how long, the remaining time they have left for each other is statistically determined. And the results shocked them and brought them to tears and complete disbelief. In fact, a father and son who joined the experiment found out that, if they keep the same busy schedule and routine, they only have 3 days and 6 hours left to spend together.
"According to statistics, over the next 40 years, we will spend: 520 days watching TV series, 6 years watching television, 8 years on the internet, 10 years staring at screens. How much time will you spend with the people who matter to you?"
Technology has connected us to the people distant to us, but paradoxically disconnected us from the people near us. Just go and eat at a restaurant over a weekend. One can surely find a family supposedly spending time over a weekend meal, yet each member is busy, glued to his or her device. The millennials call this “phubbing,” short for phone snubbing and defined as the habit of snubbing someone in favor of a mobile phone. (READ: Modern-day cheating: What is a 'social media affair'?)
We are on our devices all the freaking time: meal times, prayer times, and even our sleeping time. Just when we thought that technology has connected us to distant friends, it has disconnected us from the people near to us – to the people who really matter. We are more than ever connected, yet disconnected than ever before.
Here’s more. Recent studies show that there is an increasing number of cases of depression, loneliness, and suicide. Yes, even in our schools. And the numbers are alarming! According to the National Youth Assessment Study of the National Youth Commission, 26% of the Filipino youth think that “life is not worth living,” and 14% think of committing suicide. According to the World Health Organization, almost 800,000 people die due to suicide every year – that is one person dead every 40 seconds. Imagine, someone had just committed suicide after I finished this sentence. (READ: A cry for help: Mental illness, suicide cases rising among youth)
Just look around us. Some of us here, perhaps, have actually thought of ending his or her life. By the way, studies also show that most of those who have succesfully committed suicide had actually abandoned their faith as well. Some psychologists and experts nowadays are already determining and proving the direct relationship between mobile device usage and social media, and the number of cases of depression and suicide. (READ: WATCH: What can you do to prevent suicide?)
How did we end up living like this? What happened to a world in which we can sit together with our loved ones and have unhurried conversations with pregnant silences and not be in a rush to finish? When was the last time we had a heart-to-heart talk with the people who really matter to us? Why do we sometimes, or oftentimes, feel a certain existential disconnection with ourselves, with others, and with God?
We have to do something. We need to be reconnected. Yes, genuinely connected with our selves, with others, and with God.
From Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, in his book The Holy Longing: “This is what it would mean to NOT be depressed: Imagine yourself on some ordinary weekday, walking to your car, standing at a bus stop, cooking a meal, sitting at your desk, or doing anything else that is quite ordinary. Suddenly, for no tangible reason, you fill with a sense of the goodness and beauty and joy of just living. You feel your own life – your heart, your mind, your body, your sexuality, the people and things you are connected to – and you spontaneously fill with the exclamation: ‘God, it feels great to be alive!’”
For Father Rolheiser, that is delight and that is what it means to not be depressed.
We need to reawaken our natural sense of delight, our it-feels-good-to-be-alive selves in order for us to reconnect with our selves, with others, and with God. We can do this by spending more human-to-human connection and going back to the basics, the traditional face-to-face encounter with each other.
The season of Advent reminds us that God has already made a permanent reconnection with us after our fall – that is, after sin entered the world. Advent is God’s way of reaching out to us and Christmas is the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation, God with us, Emmanuel. This is what Advent and Christmas are all about.
Peter Kreeft, an author of several books on Christian philosophy and theology, once wrote: “Jesus came. He entered time and space and suffering. Out of our tears, our waiting, our darkness, our agonized aloneness, out of our weeping and wondering, out of our cry, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ He came, all the way, right into that cry.”
When we are feeling lost and disconnected, know that God makes the first step to reach out – that we may be found; that we may be reconnected. We only have to be a little more open and trusting in His mysterious ways and divine will.
The season of Advent and Christmas is also reminding us that we are never lost and alone at the same time. We have been found already. We heard in our Gospel the angel telling Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, because your prayer has been heard.” Imagine God telling you right now: “I heard you and your cries at night. I know your pains and your doubts. I know them all. How I wish you know how much I long for you and want you to come back to me. You are never alone.”
My dear brothers and sisters, are you feeling disconnected these days? Are you feeling lost? This season of Advent and Christmas, let us resolve to spend more face-to-face time with the people we love the most. For some of us, time is actually running out. Let us minimize our screen time and maximize real-time interactions with others and our selves, here and now. Go, re-connect, and allow your selves to be found. Recover your sense of delight and then once again hear yourself praying, “O God, it feels great to be alive.”
Amen. – Rappler.com
Father Roseller "Ro" Atilano Jr is a Jesuit priest. Ordained in 2017, he was first assigned to the New Bilibid Prisons. He is now campus ministry head of the junior and senior high schools of Ateneo de Manila University.