As J.R.R. Tolkien lay in bed, convalescing from trench fever during World War I, he fleshed out much of his conception of Middle Earth, the backbone of his mythos behind The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and the languages and stories he invented to go with them. I’m so glad he didn’t have a smartphone.
What if, instead of inventing the Elvish tongue, he had spent his time on Snapchat and Twitter and scrolling through inane stories about pop stars? What if, instead of writing what has been named the greatest literary achievement of the 20th century, he had wiled away the time playing Clash of Clans and Words With Friends and other time killing apps?
I am grateful that J.K. Rowling had the self-discipline to write the Harry Potter cycle even as our modern communication technologies were emerging. But I wonder how many bright minds are being consumed by these technologies, having their imaginations sucked into them instead of freely wandering into the keen observations that come only through unfilled free time and boredom.
At the dentist’s office yesterday, I noticed that all of the magazines were a year old. When I asked about it, I was told that they canceled their subscriptions because they weren’t being read anymore. Everyone now fills their waiting room time with their phones.
My youngest son has shown incredible giftedness with the piano, and yet I watch him taper off as he spends time with a screen that would be better spent with a keyboard (and not a computer keyboard).
I know that I have a responsibility here for my household, but I feel a responsibility for my culture as well. We need to unplug for our common good.
In the meantime, I wonder if poverty might be our salvation culturally. With everyone who can afford them (and plenty who can’t) addicted to their screens, it may be those who ditch their screens for financial reasons who regain the time and space necessary to unleash their imaginations.
Oop. There goes my phone, buzzing in my pocket. I’m sure it’s super important. Gotta go.