one of my favorite things to do when i speak to high schoolers is ask them to take their phones out (of their pockets, purses, and backpacks) and turn their ringers on and volume up. without doing this it’s easy to forget that they are being interrupted all the time. texts, facebook updates, instagram posts, and snapchats are coming in by the second, each one creating buzzes and pings in said pockets, purses, and backpacks. this isn’t limited to high school students. plenty of grandparents, middle schoolers, and folks in between live with the same reality.
so many of us have become (ever so subtly that we hardly knew it was happening) available for interruption 24 hours a day. we eat with our phones. we read on our phones. we play on our phones. we wait in line with our phones. we sleep with our phones. they never/rarely leave us.
i loved when phone lines came with busy signals. if you think about it, other than the ring, busy signals were the only indicators of any kind associated with the telephone. it was the sound that indicated that the person you were trying to reach was otherwise occupied. unavailable. busy.
few of us are ever unavailable anymore.
not only are we available to nearly anyone at nearly any time, we also have indicators for everything. when email arrives, when an app is updated, when someone posts to instagram, or tumblr, or facebook, or pinterest. while the busy signal used to indicate, “please wait. try again later.” our ears are now assaulted with calls for our attention. right now. while we’re doing ten other things. never mind that we’re already on the other line, responding to the ten texts that just came in, or trying to catch up on the emails that amassed since we last checked. what troubles me most is how attuned we have become to these digitally based message indicators and how willing we are to drop everything to attend to them.
it seems to me that the human body is designed with message indicators of all kinds. we yawn when we are tired. secrete tears when we feel sad. we have muscles that feel beautifully sore when we exert them and skin that turns red when we’ve been in the sun too long. our stomaches growl when we’re hungry and our hearts race when we’re afraid. or excited. or in love. these message indicators, however, rarely receive the kind of attention that the buzzing devices in our pockets do. we actually check our texts, our facebook accounts, our email. and respond. our bodies send messages, however, and we disregard them altogether. we caffeinate ourselves to chase away the yawn. we push past our exhaustion, stifle our tears, ignore the longings of our hearts.
what would it cost, now and again, to turn off the message indicators buzzing in your pocket? to send the message, “try again later. i’m currently attending to something i am present with...myself. my friend. God. the beauty of the moment. nature.” to learn to be still and attentive enough to listen to the message indicators within? and to respond.