This past weekend, I attended a Via de Christo men’s retreat near Seymour, Indiana. This is the Lutheran version of the Cursillo 3-day retreat that originated in Spain among Catholics in the 1940s and has since spread around the world.
My sponsor, Greg Geiser, asked me to leave my phone at home for the weekend, so that I would be able to focus more easily on the retreat, rather than spending my free time checking email, Twitter, Facebook, etc., etc. This request became easier to obey when I dropped my iPhone in the church parking lot and shattered the screen a few days before the retreat. We were also asked to put away our watches for the weekend, to help us focus on each moment as it came and rely on the retreat staff for our schedule, instead of anticipating the next meal or tracking how long an activity was taking. So, for a period of about 84 hours, I didn’t have any means of telling the time or checking in with my usual media feeds.
Two observations stuck with me from this experience of leaving my phone at home.
I too often use social media to “check out” of my immediate location. Throughout the retreat, there were several period of down time — waiting in line for meals, waiting for the next activity to start, walking from one building to another — when I was tempted to pull out my phone and check Twitter or Google Reader. Then I remembered that I didn’t have my phone. Instead, I had to be present wherever I happened to be. This led to several conversations that I would not have otherwise had, as well as a beautiful early morning view of snow falling on a lake that I would have missed completely if I were laying in bed reading Twitter.
Social media fuels my natural snarkiness and allows me to indulge in dehumanizing sarcasm. The men at the retreat were, in many ways, a microcosm of the church, comprising a wide range of education and income levels, as well as a few with rather “unique” theological perspectives. I wish I was more mature than this, but several times a sarcastic thought crossed my mind. Without Facebook or Twitter to record my passive-aggressive sarcasm, though, my sarcasm had nowhere to bloom, and the thought was killed on the vine. As the weekend went on, I found the sarcastic coming less and less often, and the other men became brothers in Christ to me, rather than punchlines to a joke. (Well, most of them did, anyway.)
Upon returning to the real world, I’ve been less tempted to use social media to distance myself from my surroundings or depersonalize other people. As the residual effects of the retreat fade, here’s hoping that this weekend marked a change in my relationship with technology.