Imagine a movie where the noncommittal boyfriend finally gets down on his knees, looks up into the eyes of his sweetheart, and solemnly intones, “Darling, to signify how important our relationship has become to me, I am now removing the second earpiece of my iPod.”
Soaring orchestral music rises in triumph as he reaches to his ear, never taking his eyes off of her, and in a radical display of commitment removes the glistening piece of white plastic and places it carefully in his pocket for later use.
After several moments of silence, while his sweetheart allows the last strains of Coldplay to fade from her own remaining earpiece, she returns the display of devotion. Then, they kiss. This is Hollywood at its best.
Laughing At Them? Or At Ourselves?
Of course, we can laugh at the characters’ seemingly shallow idea of love and commitment, but at the same time, we need to be careful that we’re not laughing at ourselves. An ongoing, four-year study of modern family life led by Elinor Ochs, director of UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families, shows that technology is having a profound impact on what happens — and what doesn’t happen — at the end of the workday when families reunite.
“We saw that when the [father] comes through the door, the other spouse and the kids are so absorbed by what they’re doing that they don’t give [him] the time of day,” says Ochs. “About half the time the kids ignored him or didn’t stop what they were doing, multitasking and monitoring their various electronic gadgets.”
TIME Magazine’s interviews with teens participating in Ochs’ study reveal statements like these: “When I talk to my best friend he’ll have one earpiece [of his iPod] in and one out.” Or “If a friend thinks she’s not getting my full attention, I just make it very clear that she is, even though I’m also listening to music.”
This Is Not Just A “Them” Problem
Even in my own life I often find myself working in the kitchen with my siblings — with both earpieces of my iPod in! Or perhaps I’m sitting in our living room for a family meeting and I’m absorbed in my laptop computer. Just a quick review of the past week convinces me that I could learn something from our “Hollywood Couple” and their not-so-shallow expression of love. I might not listen to my iPod if I was with a girl I liked, but when was the last time I removed an earpiece for my sister or brother? When was the last time closed my laptop for my mother or father?
We laughed at our fictional “Hollywood Couple” because their expression of love was so obvious! “The most basic sign of affection is attention,” we think, “everyone knows that!” Yet we’re really laughing at ourselves because our generation is setting records for how long and how completely we can withhold this basic expression of love.
Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Do we stand out from the rest of world because of the way we show love for others? Or, are we just like the rest of our generation — so connected that we’re disconnected — distracted from the people God has placed in our lives?
These are hard questions. But we must challenge ourselves to answer them honestly and with humility. And then we must make ourselves respond appropriately to what we see in ourselves.
Making Things Practical, And Eternal
For me this has meant setting limits on when I can get on the computer, not listening to my iPod when I’m working with my family, and not taking calls in the evenings. For me it’s a question of selfishness vs. selflessness. A question of whether I’m going to love my family by being with them 100%, or love myself by partially ignoring them.
I’m not perfect at this, my family can tell you that. And it’s not always glamorous either — there’s no soaring orchestral music when I turn off my iPod. Oftentimes I don’t even feel like loving my family and I have to cry out to God to help me love them from the heart. He doesn’t usually answer that prayer immediately; He seems to prefer that — by still obeying His command to love my family, even when I don’t feel that love — I act myself into a better way of feeling, rather than “feel” myself into a better way of acting.
I think that is part of what the Bible calls the obedience of faith — trusting God’s wisdom and goodness enough to obey Him, even when I don’t feel like it. And as I look to Christ my King — who commanded this love — I know with unwavering clarity that His approval, not my entertainment, is all that matters and ever will.