The Greatest Threat

Does this subtle culture war threaten our very republic?

Culture wars come in all types of shapes and sizes. But the largest and most powerful might be those that are so pervasive and subtle that they come across as benign and even positive.

I might be a little old-school, but I think there’s an education from yesteryear that needs to become more in vogue today, especially among younger generations. I’m all for most technological advances we’ve made. But when that electronic gadgetry stifles our families and social settings, when will the majority of patriots recognize it can cripple our country, too?

Fifty years ago, the first permanent link between computers at UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute was formed. This connection would grow into a large network of research and military computers and would later become the public internet we know today

A UCLA professor named Leonard Kleinrock developed much of the theoretical groundwork for that first digital network and forerunner to the internet. The one thing Kleinrock says he never saw coming was the rise of social media and social networks. He told Fast Company’s Mark Sullivan that this is where many of the internet’s (and hence, humans’) biggest problems have surfaced and gathered strength. Kleinrock believes that the inherent fault of social spaces is users’ anonymity and lack of accountability.

On a positive note, Kurtzberg points out how technology allows colleagues to work together from afar, friends to keep in touch without restraint and grandparents to touch base with grandkids; it’s just a matter of finding that ever-elusive balance as to how and when we use our technological devices.

A column in Forbes reported, “Cellphones used to just be communication tools. Now, they’re GPS, cameras, gaming consoles, health trackers, and the list goes on. We turn to our devices for everything – from waiting in line at the grocery store or reading the news, to filing our taxes or controlling the thermostat. We don’t just use our smartphones for everything – we rely on them.”

But who’s going to tell us or model for our kids where the fine line between reliance and addiction is?

Forbes elaborated, “The brain on ‘smartphone’ is the same as the brain on cocaine: we get an instant high every time our screen lights up with a new notification. It’s all thanks to dopamine, the feel-good chemical that gets released every time you do something you enjoy, like eating your favorite meal or getting a hundred likes on your latest Instagram post. Dopamine reinforces (and motivates) behavior that makes us feel good and, in turn, can create addiction.”

Forbes added this clear and present danger: “The scariest part about smartphone addiction is that it can affect our physical and mental health, our relationships and our productivity. America’s obsession with smartphones has even been compared to the obesity epidemic. That’s because, just like drug or gambling addictions, smartphones provide an escape from reality.”

“At the same time, having access to a constant flow of information has all but destroyed attention spans: a few years ago, a widely publicized study proved goldfish can focus longer than we can. This increase in ADD-like symptoms has been linked to the overuse of smartphones.”

Compounded with what psychologists call “our susceptibility to distraction” and “being wired for negativity,” smartphones and social media in human hands were a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode. But like a nuclear test underground in a far-off desert, most blew up in our lives without us even noticing.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that interacting via screens is markedly different from face-to-face interactions. But this distance and anonymity is where the danger lurks. Multiple studies show that people lie more, are more negative and are less cooperative when they use digital means of communicating. This clearly can have a toll on the mental health of those who come under attack. It also creates an overall shallowness of engagement people have with those around them – enhanced by the fact that the average American touches their smartphone some 2,600 times a day. It creates a sea of people around us who are present, but not really there.
2,600 times? Yes, you read that correctly.

According to Statista, in 2018, 96% of people from 18 to 29 years old owned a smartphone. More than half of children in the United States now own a smartphone by the age of 11.

A nationally representative survey by Common Sense Media of smartphone use among children ages 8-18 shows that teens today spend more than seven hours a day on these devices. “Tweens,” ages 8-12, spend nearly five hours a day.

Seven hours a day?! If they are at school the rest of the day, that means most families in America spend nearly zero time engaged in relationship-building time together without their electronics. That sounds to me like the recipe for a family, community and country-wide social disaster. Could it be our greatest culture war? More than deadbeat dads and absent fathers, what about present-but-absent mothers, fathers and children contributing to the demise of our republic?

Somewhere, sometime in the near future, there has to come some type of social boomerang – an anti-media revolution that turns back the clock to simpler times when people looked into each other’s faces instead of Facebooks. Maybe we should start that revolution this Christmas Day. Maybe we should seize back control of our social settings by returning to the age-old practice of remembering a Sabbath rest, where 100% presence is key to building relationships with God, our families, friends and communities. Please reflect upon the great wisdom of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, regarding his advice and practice of a weekly “smartphone sabbath.”

Gifting your presence is not only your greatest Christmas gift but, I believe, also the most powerful weapon you have in your arsenal to make America great again. A host of studies show that when you do, you will simultaneously stimulate your own personal growth, balance and health, too. Who knew?

Let’s take it one step further. How about rediscovering and regaining control of your presence as a No. 1 New Year’s resolution for you, your marriage, family, church and community? Start with giving your presence on Christmas Day. Then observe others’ reactions and even your own internal feelings as you’re separated from the power of electronic gadgetry.

I don’t believe it is a coincidence that the very heart of Christmas is even about God gifting His presence. In the Bible, the Christ child is called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” His presence is still His greatest present to you, too.

My wife, Judy, and I wish you and yours a very Merry PRESENT Christmas and a prosperous and blessed New Year!

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