Stumbling Through Screenland

On my computer screen at work, I have taped the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. When I get overwhelmed, I find it useful: “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil . . . By the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.” St. Michael is a tough customer.

Everywhere I go these days, I find myself staring at a screen. On the couch, in the office, during a walk in the park, at the kitchen table, in the car, on the train—screens everywhere. I am surrounded by screens.

In the morning, the computer screen gets turned on even before the coffee pot. While the laptop warms up, I grab the smartphone check for overnight e-mail. Then, a little time pouring milk and blending berries before it’s back to the computer to check the day’s news.

I can listen to a podcast or tap out a text message on my phone screen as I walk to the train. I can check the weather. It’s important to remember to look up while crossing the street.

The train is a great place to spend some time with a screen. Conversation may have been the thing in days past. But now everybody just stares at their screens.

My train disembarks in Grand Central Terminal. Everywhere you turn in that place there’s a screen looking at you. I have the kind of job that requires me to use a screen. You could say that staring at screens is my business.

When I’m done with the work screen, it’s back on the train for another round with the small screen. After dinner, we sit in front of the big screen. When all the kids are in bed, it’s back to the computer screen for a late check of the day’s electronic business.

Weekends are no better. We recently bought a device that lets me play music through loudspeakers directly from my phone. This thing is straight out of Star Trek. I spent a lot of time last weekend playing with the screen, searching for radio stations in Honolulu.

All these screens wouldn’t concern me if they weren’t such terrible time-wasters. If turning on a screen meant getting something productive done, well, that would be one thing. But behind every screen is the ever-present, always-changing, constant temptation known as the Internet. I’m not even thinking about the lurid stuff—I just mean Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Gosh it’s exhausting.

Every day spent staring at a screen is a day that could have been spent outside. Every evening spent staring at the TV is a book not read. Every weekend spent tuning in “Hawaii’s Best Oldies” is a weekend I could have spent throwing a ball with my son.

I know the kids can tell when I’m distracted because I’m reading something on the computer, or on the phone, or on the iPad. I don’t want to be the guy who spends all his time responding to e-mails but tells his kids to go out and play in the sun.

Will no one rid me of these meddlesome screens?

It’s not all bad. I’ve connected with lots of people over the Internet that I could never have dreamed of meeting in an earlier time.

But it’s too much. The screens are taking over. Something has to be done.

Temptation is present every time we turn on the computer, which is to say: all day, every day. Things are changing so quickly, and so completely, we risk being caught in these electronic snares and being ruined by the evil spirits wandering the World Wide Web.

It’s the kind of fight where you could really use a tough customer on your side. St. Michael, pray for us.

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