Thought for the Day - 03/09/2014 - Vicky Beeching

Good morning.

I’m sure we’d all be fascinated to eavesdrop on the Queen when she shares what she really thinks about life and society. Yesterday the Telegraph contained an interesting story about one such conversation. Apparently the Queen confided in the US Ambassador that, these days, whenever she meets the public all she sees is an ocean of mobile phones. These devices are now what the crowd are focused on, videoing and photographing her through their screens, rather than giving her the eye-contact and sense of personal, face to face connection she once enjoyed.

I’m a social media junkie and living through a lens has become the norm for me, as it has for lots of us. Like Wild West cowboys reaching for a gun in its holster, we whip out our smart-phones at the first sign of a sunset, an attractive meal or a funny moment. But the Queen’s words provide a reason to reflect on these habits.

Sharing is a brilliant and meaningful aspect of social media. But today many of us capture moments before we properly experience them ourselves. Before we even smell the glorious aroma of a meal, we’ve snapped a photo. As we chew the food, we have one eye on how many likes our picture is getting online. Or in the front row of a concert, we video the performance, yet fail to allow the music to move us, as we watch through a screen constantly checking that it’s recording at the best angle.

St Paul seems an unlikely commentator on mobile technology, but he offers some pertinent thoughts in his letter to the Corinthians. He wrote that while on Earth we perceive God as though “through a lens dimly or darkly” but one day in heaven we will see Him "in full, face to face”. For St Paul, looking through a lens was clearly inferior to taking that glass away and standing face to face in direct contact.

As we hold up our mobile devices, in some ways we create a mediated experience. With a screen between us, we choose to see through glass and forego the ability to be totally present. Yes, we may then have photos to show others, or save for later, but we missed the unrepeatable moment ourselves - and was that a price worth paying?

American academic Joseph Campbell wrote that “People are looking for the experience of, and to feel the rapture of, being alive”. It seems logical that the more mediated an experience is, the less of an impact it has of us and the less alive we’re likely to feel. So in the days ahead I want to be slower to reach for my smart-phone. To focus and feel before I Facebook. To taste, before I Tweet. To engage before I Instagram.
Technology is a gift when used well, but as our digital generation finds its way let’s not trade re-tweets and likes for the direct experience of simply soaking in a moment and feeling fully alive.

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