Our theme for the month of March is “Part Two.” Writers were challenged to choose a piece they’ve previously contributed to the post calvin and revisit it, perhaps writing a sequel or reflecting on how things have changed.
Brad’s original post is “The New Normal.”
A lot happened on June 3, 2016. It was a Friday, if I remember right (which I do), and its significance came down to three things: I shaved my head, my nephew Rhys was born, and I bought a smartphone for the first time. For a few weeks, I joked about those three things sharing levels of importance—all life-altering changes, all in the same day. That’s ridiculous, of course. The definitive ranking of the events of June 3, 2016 looks like this: 1) Rhys (followed by a huge, impassable gap) 2) new phone 3) shaved head.
The tragedy in this little tale is that if I’m honest with myself (which I can struggle with) the event from June 3, 2016 that has wriggled deepest into my habitual life is the smartphone. I didn’t think anything would change. My life was already replete with screens—tablet, iPod, TV. Things of the etherworld already redefined my reality, and my existence, like any other person living in twenty-first century America, had already been virtualized. A new smartphone wouldn’t be a big deal.
And to be fair, the sky is not falling. There’s an alarmist path we could head down in this moment, one that takes any localized study about the effects of new technologies on our brains and generalizes the results. Let’s not go there. I’m not interested in good-old-days sentimentality, either, if only because it’s a lazy out. We’ve stepped into a new world, and for better or worse, we can’t step back.
I do want to think thoughtfully about the advent of these technologies (especially smartphones) though, and in a particular way. For me, one of the more helpful grids for understanding Christian discipleship charts habit and ritual. What do we spend our time on and how do we spend that time? I’m not talking stale habit or dead ritual, but growing in practices that undeniably shape who we are, that pattern our life. All this takes a degree of intentionality and participation, so that habit never looks too much like going through the motions.
What bothers me, then, about the way my life has changed since I bought a smartphone isn’t all that tangible. It’s more like a feeling, a feeling that I’ve allowed my phone to suck the intentionality out of my life. A feeling that my day could be filled with better things. A feeling that the small transitions throughout a day have been monopolized. A feeling that I don’t hold my wife as much. A feeling that my prayers are stunted. A feeling that I’m not, I don’t know, soaking it all in, or in the words of Thoreau, sucking out all the marrow of this life. A feeling that something has changed.
I need a retreat. In a quiet place. My phone is turned off, maybe I don’t know where it is, and I’m walking alongside a creek, and listening to it, and the new tyranny of everything-at-once feels like a distant dystopia, and the sky looks a different color, and there’s another new, another normal.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.