The Meaning of Cell Phones By Rev. Mike Gillen
By Rev. Mike Gillen, Pastor of Bowling Green First, Eolia, and Oak Grove UMC
One of my favorite shows as a kid was Miami Vice. I loved the fast cars, the action, the cool clothes, and the amazing mobile phones. It was so cool when Crockett or Tubbs, while driving an awesome black Ferrari, would get a phone call. Out came this brick-sized thing that no one I knew had ever seen or owned.
Back in the 1980’s, owning a mobile phone was something only the very rich and eccentric could afford. The early mobile phones were not only expensive, they were also impractical because of their size and awkward shape.
And then there was the reality of being able to get a phone call wherever a person went. Back in the days of my childhood, people would actually talk about wanting to get away from a ringing phone. After all, who really wanted to get a phone call anywhere, at any time?
But something has changed in the last thirty years. Technology has made it possible for phones to be easy to carry around. Cell phones are also extremely affordable. And the human need to be connected with others has increased. The attractiveness of communicating while driving or flying or taking a walk has defeated the desires to find silence and solitude.
I heard recently that six out of seven people in the world now own a cell phone. That’s six billion people with cell phones in this world. That’s incredible to me. But I believe it’s true. I know a missionary in Africa who tells me of daily encounters with people on that continent who live on dollars a day but own cell phones. In today’s world, people can never get enough togetherness.
What surprises me is how difficult it still is to develop and maintain meaningful relationships. I’d think that constant, immediate, global access through all the forms of communication we now have would result in better marriages, friendships, and family relationships. Instead the opposite seems to have happened. We’re more together than ever but we’re no happier with the quality of our relationships.
I was ordained eighteen years ago. As a Christian pastor I’ve noticed that the majority of my pastoral conversations with people seeking spiritual guidance are centered around relationship problems. Parents struggling with kids, romantic relationships gone wrong, marital difficulties that threaten to destroy a family, single and married people overwhelmed with loneliness. These are just a few of the many relationship problems people bring to my office.
I’m convinced that no advancement in communications technology will ever make it easier for humans to relate better. Being able to communicate is not the same as connecting well. Learning to love and be loved is as basic, and as spiritual, a need as we can get. What I think we’ve done is confused togetherness for satisfying, loving relationships.
My Christian faith teaches me that the human craving for fulfilling relationships is a reflection of the innate spiritual need in all of us. A famous Bible story describes Jesus talking to a woman at a well. In the course of their conversation the woman recognizes Jesus as someone who she and generations of her people have been looking for. The woman at the well discovers who Jesus is not by the clothes he wears or the speeches he gives, but by the way he tells her exactly who she is. She later tells the people of her town that Jesus told her everything she had done. Jesus knows the woman at the well and lets her know he loves her and can help her live better.
The Christian faith offers guidance for better relationships of all kinds. Through Jesus, we are offered a chance to uniquely connect to God. And through Jesus, we are guided to build meaningful, satisfying relationships with others.
The ancient mobile phone technology of Miami Vice signaled the beginning of a revolution in personal communication technology. Cell phones are now in the hands of the richest people in Manhattan and the poorest children in South Africa. Yet these devices won’t make our lives any richer or our relationships any better.
Maybe our cell phones can remind us of what we’re really after. Next time you use your cell phone, say a quick prayer. It could be God’s the one you’re really trying to call.