Fasting From Our Phones:
Finding Sanctuary in the Screen Age
If you’ve hung around a Christian website long enough, you’ve likely come across an article decrying our over-reliance on technology. Many of us have already heard — through articles and sermons — the importance of “unplugging” and spending time with God away from all of the digital demands of the 21st century. After all, Jesus often “went into the wilderness alone” — as Luke records — to pray. He did this often. If He had to do it, so do we.
We all need to take time away from our digital lives and spend more time with God. After all, Jesus, in Revelation 3:20 — which was written for a Christian audience — gave us this wonderful invitation: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.“
But so far I’ve restrained from adding to the online dog pile of “unplug” articles; that is, until I came across a recent news report about cell phone usage in social situations that made my jaw drop to the floor.
A restaurant that had been getting great online reviews from customers for over 10 years started to see their reviews tank in 2014. Customers began hating their service, complaining about the long service times. This baffled management because they hadn’t changed a thing in their restaurant service or food. They couldn’t understand how, after getting great reviews for so many years, things suddenly went south.
And then they watched tape from their security footage to see what was happening as customers sat down, ordered, ate, and paid their bill. They watched footage from 2004 and compared it to 2014.
Their jaws dropped when they discovered the reason why their reviews were tanking. According to their report, that has been shared online (by news.distractify.com), this was the gist of what they observed in 2004:
Customers walk in.
They get seated and are given menus…
Customers on average spend 8 minutes before closing the menu to show they are ready to order.
Waiters show up almost instantly, take the orders.
The article goes on to explain a few more things. Bottom-line? Things move quickly and smoothly, and, in 2004, the total service time for a customer is an hour.
And then they watch the 2014 footage, 10 years later, and make the following stunning observations:
Customers walk in.
Customers get seated and are given menus…
Before even opening the menu they take their phones out, some are taking photos while others are simply doing something else on their phone (sorry we have no clue what they are doing and do not monitor customer WIFI activity).
7 out of the 45 customers had waiters come over right away, they showed them something on their phone and spent an average of 5 minutes of the waiter’s time. Given this is recent footage, we asked the waiters about this and they explained those customers had a problem connecting to the WIFI and demanded the waiters try to help them.
Finally the waiters are walking over to the table to see what the customers would like to order. The majority have not even opened the menu and ask the waiter to wait a bit.
Customer opens the menu, places their hands holding their phones on top of it and continue doing whatever on their phone.
Waiter returns to see if they are ready to order or have any questions. The customer asks for more time.
Finally they are ready to order.
The observations continue, but I’ll cut to the chase: the total time of service for one customer was TWO HOURS — twice as long as 2004 — all because of customer cell phone usage slowing down the waiters’ ability to do their jobs.
These people were complaining about slow service when all along it was their excessive phone use that was causing it.
We’ve come to a tipping point.
Earlier this year, I attended a conference hosted by George Barna — the guy who does the Barna Reports — and panelists kept using the term Screen Age to describe our culture.
That really is the perfect description of our age.
Everywhere we go, screens dominate our lives; they’re in our hands, our pockets, our cars, in every room of our house, at our tables in restaurants, in the stores where we shop, and in our churches where we worship.
They have such power over us that our screens become more important than walking or eating. We insist on walking down a sidewalk or crossing the street blindly with our heads down and our eyes glued to our phones. We whip out our phones the moment we sit down for a meal, and we double the time it takes for a restaurant to serve us.
Phones come armed with an unstoppable arsenal of a thousand different distractions — apps, email, text, games, pedometers that we obsess over, cameras, video, notes, word processing, news, weather, social media, even music production software — all with alert notifications that shout at us every 15 seconds all day and night.
We desperately need a change.
If you’ve never done a phone fast, I highly recommend it. It’s not easy — especially if you’ve already uploaded your personal and professional worlds into “the cloud” and made your phone the epicenter of everything important in your life.
And, yeah, if your career depends on your phone, then it might take some advanced planning: letting co-workers and clients know in advance that you will be unavailable for a designated time. That might be hard, and it could cause some real headaches.
But it’s worth it.
Start small. Start with a phone Sabbath. Leave your phone at home when you go to church on Sundays. Try to go out with friends after church or participate in some church event to extend your time away from “your precious” (as Gollum would likely call it if the Ring of Power had been a smart phone instead).
Once you’re able to spend a morning/afternoon away from it, try for longer amounts of time (though, as noted, such times might require advance planning).
If you rely on your phone to keep family members in check, try to schedule a phone fast when the family is all together in one place so you don’t need phones to know where/how the other person is doing. Schedule a spiritual retreat with your family for that very purpose.
No matter how you have to make it work, just figure out a way to spend some time away from the phone — especially when it comes to spending more time with our Abba Father.
And, for the love of Pete, let’s leave our phones in our cars when we go into restaurants. (Or, if you have saintly self-control, simply will yourself to not take it out once you enter the restaurant). Spend more time making eye contact with people across the table. Let’s actually talk to each other.
And, who knows, if we all work really hard at this, we might get our service time at the restaurant back to one hour instead of two!