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Communication connection leads to disconnect

Still no word. Last year about this time, the absence of invitations to speak at a commencement – college, high school, elementary, even a grandson’s beginnergarten – was the topic for this column.

As noted, things haven’t changed in 2017. No calls, no emails, no texts, no letters, no telegrams (do they still send telegrams?). Apparently my message last year didn’t strike a chord with any education leaders/commencement planners.

That message – just in case you don’t remember – was an offer to provide a not-so-traditional commencement address … a proposal to focus my advice to the graduates on two simple points:

• Put down your cellphone.

• Pick up your Bible.

Advice doesn’t get much more basic. Both parts provide all kinds of benefits. It’s not just a win-win, it’s a really win-win.

Attending the Nebraska boys’ soccer championship games Monday night reminded me why I would offer graduates advice about their cellphones.

Hundreds of students from all four schools – South Sioux City, Elkhorn South, Omaha Westside and Creighton Prep – filled the stands along the west side of Creighton University’s Morrison Stadium in Omaha. And – albeit without an official count – a conservative estimate might be that 99.9 percent of them were carrying cellphones.

And a significant percentage were using the phones throughout parts or all of the matches.

There’s no doubt that some missed the winning goal in both overtime matches. But why worry about some old soccer game when you have your cellphone in hand?

That’s the problem and that’s why all of us – not just high school students – need to put down the cellphones. Cellphones don’t need to be glued to the palms of our hands. Cellphones don’t need to be on kitchen tables at dinner or business conference room tables during meetings.

And cellphones don’t need to be a focus of our attention at sporting and other events. We attend those events to take in what’s happening, to share that experience with the other people attending – to interact with those people.

But cellphones intrude on that interaction more often than not and that’s not just the rantings of a flip-phone user. More and more experts suggest cellphone use someday might be called a behavioral addiction.

Cellphone use might be addictive when it takes up a disproportionate amount of time, those experts say, when it’s used in socially inappropriate or physically dangerous places, when it adversely affects a relationship and when there are signs of withdrawal when the phone is taken away.

Those criteria would seem to fit many people today. Ironic isn’t it? A tool that’s intended to connect us with the world, instead disconnects us with the people actually in our lives in "real" real time. And we all lose.

But putting our cellphones down can affect more than our interactions with other people. When we’re not focused on checking social media on our phones, we can be more open to another line of communication … this one with God.

We can be more open to God’s presence all around us – in our families, in our co-workers, in people we meet on the street or in the line at the supermarket or in the pew in front of us at Mass. And when we’re not focused on that little screen in our hand, we also might discover God in a Nebraska sunset, a cool breeze, a gentle rain or snow, in the newness of spring or the colors of fall.

God is in all of those places and more, and he wants to make a connection with us. He wants to be with us in "real" time, too.

 

Deacon Randy Grosse is editor and general manager of the Catholic Voice. Contact him at ragrosse@archomaha.org.

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