CULTIVATING FAMILY LIFE IN A CULTURE OF SCREEN TIME

By Scott Corbin, COUNCIL OF BIBLICAL MANHOOD AND WOMANHOOD

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

“I’m concerned.”This is what my wife, Jessi, told me when she sat me down in our small, newlywed apartment to talk about something that had been bothering her since the beginning of our marriage. I was struck. Concerned? About what? When I assessed my first year, newly married report card, I thought I was doing pretty well. When we had conflict, it was constructive. We weren’t having any marital issues—besides the obvious growing pains of learning what it’s like to live a life with someone, like figuring out how to sleep with another set of feet in the bed, or the annoying way I brush my teeth. But concerned? This seemed serious; I was all ears.“I want your heart. But I feel like so often there’s a major barrier.”What was the barrier?“I’m concerned about how much time you spend on your phone.”

Resisting a Culture of Now

Her words struck me deep. Not just because of how sheepish I felt that something as inane and stupid as my iPhone was making my wife feel as if there was a barrier between us, but because she was right. Whenever I began to assess my life, I realized that my phone was on me at all times, and any spare time I had—in the midst of cooking dinner, or while sitting on the couch—I would instinctively grab for my phone to see if anything was new. The iPhone, with its constant microtraining toward a desire of the “new” was intruding my actual lived experience in the most intimate of places: in my home, with my wife.

James K.A. Smith, commenting on the subtle microtraining that our iPhones can cultivate, notes, “The iPhone brings with it an invitation to inhabit the world differently—not just because it gives me access to global internet resources in a pocket sized device, but precisely in how it invites me to interact with the device itself. The material rituals of simply handling and mastering an iPhone are loaded with an implicit social imaginary.” Thus, the consequences of such a social imaginary—philosopher Charles Taylor’s language for how we interact with the world around us— means that “the space of the home has been punctured by the intrusion of social media such that the competitive world of self-display and self-consciousness is always with us. The universe of social media is an ubiquitous panopticon.”

The tacit, thin practice of iPhone usage had begun to shape my vision of myself, and the world around me in such a way that it was disrupting the fellowship and respite that made my home such a wonderful place. Instead of seeing my home as the place where familial life would be cultivated for my new family, I was instead stepping into an alternate world, and never really disconnecting from the culture of “now.”

Husbands, Like Your Wives

Young husbands, like me, often come into marriage constantly reminding ourselves of texts relevant to marriage and its costs, especially Ephesians 5:25. Yet, this “love” often seems to be thought of in terms of the especially hard—say, conflict or hardship. However, it often pains me to see husbands love their wives in the “abstract,” and fail to actually enjoy their wives in the minutiae and humdrum of life.This was where I was failing. I had failed to see that while I was doing lots of sweet niceties toward my wife—kisses, doing the dishes, saying “I love you”—I was failing to see that my wife doesn’t want me to just love her in a general manner, but love her specifically with my time and attention. And that kind of love is not a love that shouts “I love you!” from the other room with an unbroken stare toward a screen.Husbands are not alone in this temptation, either! Wives can exhibit similar dispositions toward their husbands, constantly comparing themselves to others on Instagram. Similarly, we might say the same thing about friendships. The question for all of us remains the same. Be it friends, spouses, children, or neighbors, am I cultivating friendship and love toward those with whom God has given me? Or am I constantly looking past them through social window of an iPhone screen?

Cultivating Family Life

Because of our conversation, and many others like it, Jessi and I both decided that we would consciously cultivate space that exhibited our love and fellowship with one another. What that means for us is we put our phones to charge and leave them there while we make dinner, talk about our day, go for a walk, listen to the radio, or a whole host of other activities. In doing this, our rounds of Skip Bo aren’t ruined by ***SUPER EXTRA URGENT*** emails that are, in reality, not all that urgent, and can wait until the morning.In doing this, we have recovered some of the respite that the home ought to be in the midst of so much of the tedium of the daily grind. We have fought for a vision of the home that militates against any pretensions that “I am the center of the universe,” as our iPhones are want to cultivate. And in so doing, we are creating a space that is hospitable and warm, not just for ourselves, and—Lord willing—generations to come, but for those whom we have been called to minister to within our community.With a prospect as thrilling as that, why should I care about clickbait?

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Scott is married to his wonderful wife Jessi, and is currently an M.Div. student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He studied History at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX. He is the assistant editor of the CBMW Blog

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