May 10, 2024

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Stop scrolling, start creating: a wake-up call for Catholics to embrace life

Christina CapecchiThe latest admonition comes from a 60-year-old social psychologist whose book hit the No. 1 spot on The New York Times’ hardcover non-fiction best-seller list.

Using a smartphone threatens a child’s mental well-being, Jonathan Haidt believes, and he makes the case in his book The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Using an Epidemic of Mental Illness. His advice: no smartphones before high school, no social media before age 16.

Because social-media platforms design “a firehose of addictive content” that prods kids to forgo the social for the solitary, Haidt writes, they have “rewired childhood and changed human development on an almost unimaginable scale.”

Adults are also addicted, which means we too must take a long, hard look in the mirror.

I speak from experience. I dropped my iPhone on Thanksgiving, and it landed with an ominous thud. The blinking neon in the upper-right corner looked like blood at a crime scene.

My phone was mostly dead.

Periodically, I could coax it back to life with an unrepeatable series of taps and a certain angle on the charger, but it never lasted. I limped along in this state for more than a month as I ensured it was properly backed up on iCloud.

Meanwhile, I learned to live without a smartphone.

Being excused from text messaging brought surprising relief. I missed other functions of my phone: the flashlight, the alarm, the navigation. (I borrowed my parents’ GPS a few times. What a dandy!)

But the biggest void was the lack of aimless online scrolling. When I climbed into bed at night, I stared at the ceiling. My mind went blank. And though the quiet masqueraded as boredom, I soon recognized it for what it was: a safe space.

I learned to accept the emptiness, trusting it to renew me, to lead me down interesting new paths. This is what it feels like to clear your mind! This is how you evaluate your day and talk to God and come up with ideas!

The black space held infinite potential.

I had been freed from an onslaught of videos, images and text, and I was returning to the driver’s seat. Shouldn’t I be the one who gets to decide what I think about? Am I willing to let their algorithm become my agenda?

Mostly I thought about the imagination. Do I want to create or consume? So often we have to pick one. Though I’m a writer by trade with a host of creative interests, I’d been defaulting to consumption day after day, shackled to a small glowing screen.

Now I’m writing fiction, which feels like swinging a bat with my left hand. I’m experimenting with rhyme. I’m doodling with a pencil. And I created a folder on my desktop titled “Imagination File” for fresh ideas untethered to paychecks or deadlines.

If Christians are called to imitate the Creator, then we are called to create. This means we must guard our sense of wonder, filling up on beauty like heaping bouquets of lilacs. We must open our eyes and use our hands, making something out of nothing—with words, with a paintbrush, with a half-empty fridge.

St. John Paul II issued this summons in his 1999 “Letter to Artists,” writing: “You are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man” (#14).

That’s as epic as it gets. But it can’t happen if you’re busy watching TikTok.

Earlier this spring, I spotted the perfect bench in Lower Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. It was beneath a cherry-blossom tree in full bloom. I sat down and gazed upward, absorbing the outstretched pink.

Then I noticed the woman beside me, a 60-something clasping a Danielle Steel paperback and beaming. We smiled and congratulated each other on our good fortune at finding the premiere seat in the house and our good sense to embrace it.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.)

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