My Advent Back-Flip

This post all about me, so there you have it.

I deactivated my iPhone and have returned to a flip phone for Advent, and from then on.

It’s not a crusade, or some grand protest against smartphones and the like. It was a decision of personal necessity, a recognition of discerned limits.

When my family first got me an iPhone 27 months ago for my birthday, I told them that I had long resisted getting one because I knew myself well enough to know it would be hard for me not to turn it into (1) a portable, total-work-portal and (2) to over-engage my knack for prolixity in communicating with the revolutionary voice-to-text. I give new meaning to the word “hypertext.”

I anticipated I would be tempted, and so it was.

I fought valiantly, devised various schemes for limiting myself, but alas! I was vanquished. I’m intense, and my mind never sleeps. The iPhone, well suited to such a penchant, offered me ever-fresh fodder in steady supply. Good things, indeed, just far too many of them. During our anniversary getaway in October, I realized, after a long and wonderfully deep conversation with my wife, that my mentality — my presence of mind — had become diffused, distracted, doubled by the iPhone. In fact, “doubled” best expressed for me the effect, as the phone had shaped in me a potent bias toward a virtual ‘elsewhere,’ detracting from the concrete world of my immediate daily existence that demands primacy as it contains my primary vocation.

My asceticism in general largely looks like barricade building, as I identify my weaknesses and temptations and then systematically limit their access to preferred suppliers. For me, this works best as, instead of choosing to talk to the devil directly, I just avoid and block my access to his favored haunts. As a friend of mine (who has lived a lot of life) often says, “I can resist everything but temptation.” lol And I usually bring other people into the act, to ensure accountability, as I am too willing to excuse small transgressions until they snowball into sizable ones. I imagine I’m not different than most. My wife is my technology accountability partner, and she has been excellent in keeping me honest, in her typically brutally honest way. Deo gratias.

Yes, I have lost quite a number of wonderful features the iPhone afforded me, which are such gifts; especially group texting, voice-to-text, and easy access to calendar/email. But a week into it, the benefits of flipping have been immediate and wondrous, with some being surprisingly unexpected. If I seem to be exaggerating, I’m not. I’ll name four benefits to give you a taste:

  1. I very quickly experienced a freeing diminishment of those diffusing, distracting and doubling effects, and a rapid re-entry into the slow moving, mundane and concrete world of my immediate daily existence. So much so, that I have had some genuine ‘wow’ moments in seeing my mentality re-center and settle back on the faces and places in front of me. The world has shaded brighter, more colorful, more vivid.
  2. Having lost my GPS, I now have returned to a favorite past-time: reading and memorizing road maps. I found myself this week dazzled at the resurrection of my spacial imagination, realizing I have never really learned Louisiana in my own mind. All I could think of last weekend as I drove to Albany, LA to do a parish mission was Psalm 84:5: “They are happy in whose hearts are the roads to Zion” (Psalm 84:5)!
  3. Now that texting (and emailing limited to my desktop) without voice-to-text is quite an effort, like handwriting, what I text is much more intentional, concise and thought out. I’ve remembered a bit more just how much I appreciate individual words and the labor of writing them. Flip texting (and desktop emailing) also slows down the volume of correspondence massively, which, while I lose out on many good things, has allowed me to re-appreciate simplicity. It has also made me much much more realistic about how many conversations I can (and should) actually sustain.
  4. As the camera-video features are pathetic, I have lost the tendency I had to want to capture, more than simply experience, the world happening around me in real-time. I love taking photos of people and things to treasure and share, but I found the iPhone made me think more and more of life as better captured and shared than experienced raw in the moment without a lens and savored later in conversation and memory.

I share all of this as a personal quest to place digital communications technology in service to my humanity; to my vocation; to my quest to be, as my colleague Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome says so well, “connected toward communion.” I wish to be able to worthily receive the sacrament of the present moment at every moment. I wish to conserve my ability to attend with love, before all else, to my neighbor, to my nigh-bor, the nearby inhabitants of my immediate world that command my attention first and foremost. To receive the grace that’s in my face.

My Advent motto is, Simplify, do or die. Time will tell.

I’ll leave you with 10 additional reasons I, also, preferred the flip. Hopefully they will make you smile.

4 comments on “My Advent Back-Flip

  1. Jennifer says:

    So much wisdom!
    I share your map-learning love. I absolutely prefer to learn a map than use GPS. It just gives you such a better appreciation and connection to the entire area. I could go on all day about that. Same as memorizing phone numbers rather than using auto dial…

    Anyway, always grateful for your helpful hints of simplifying and lessenibg the to of technology. We did a family-wide screen free Sunday last week for the first time and it was the best day in a long time. Thank you!!! Not sure if I will go the flip phone route. Preaching my phone uncharged is so much easier and cheaper ;).

    Beautiful weekend to you and the Nealfam

  2. Jennifer says:

    (Leaving my phone, no preaching!) Clearly I am using my phone now and it’s patience-stretching auto correct feature.

  3. Nos again today says:

    Well well well will wonders never cease my mom use to constantly say to me and my five siblings . . . Thomas I’m so happy ,truly, for your newfound freedom . . . When one of my children suffered a horrific accident a few years back we were all at the hospital for what turned out to be an extended stay. . . One day my daughter and son in law came up to to me outside the hospital room. . . My son in law says tome ” we all think ,considering the current circumstance, that you should have this phone and proceeds to hand me a small flip phone. . . Up to that point in my life the rotary dial phone at home was “my phone” it was a running joke between all of my children and wife how “ancient” I was . . . Mumbling something like perhaps your right , how does it work . . . My daughter immediately jumped at this opportunity to bring me out of the dark ages she starts showing how to do this how to do that and on and on and on and well you get the picture. After about a dozen oh isn’t that a nice feature from me ,I hold the phone out to them and ask” how do you turn it off. . . My daughter points to a button and says “just press that … which I promptly do. . . Dad Dad Dad what are you doing,what if we have to get a hold of you . . .I proceed to give her the dad look which prompts her to look at my son in law and an exclaim ” why did we bother ” I didn’t appreciate her chagrin at the time but after a miraculous outcome for my injured child I look back and laugh at the moment. Other than this commenting thru the kindle my kids got me for Christmas a couple years. The flip phone found a spot somewhere in the house, and this simpleton is back to the land line and driving with my eyes on the road and the radio off and sometimes on . . .Thomas I pray that many many many people see your beautiful story and decision. . .and oh it’s that button right there. . .and OFF you go my dear friend. . .isn’t it awesome knowing that your beautiful Patti is not only your right hand woman but many times your left hand too… give her a hug for me P.B.W.Y. A. A.

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