Cell phones and I have a love/hate relationship.

I love cell phones when they allow me to spread information quickly and effectively.  I can send one text to all my youth 24 to 48 hours before an event, and see an immediate uptick in attendance. When we take youth to a public place and split into groups, I appreciate how cell phones give me instantaneous connection to nearly all of my youth and adults. My phone contains not just every phone number I need, but my calendar, to do list, and games for waiting in long lines. A cell phone is almost like a third hand in today’s culture, a necessity it would be appalling to go without.

I hate cell phones when during our weekly youth Bible Study, I have to stop what I am doing no less than four times to demand teens put their cell phones away while we are doing Bible study.  When phones become a detriment to the group or an individual, I have reminded students, embarrassed students, taken phones, made everyone pull out their phones to turn them off, but still it seems to make no difference at all. It no longer surprises me when a teen blatantly whips open their phone while another student is talking or even while we are reading Scripture. They walk in the door texting and they walk out making calls. Parents aren’t any assistance with the issue either, since many of them are insistent that their teens have their phones with them at all times to ensure constant contact. I nearly lost it when a student’s phone rang twice in the middle of a discussion and the teen apologized to me. He explained that he had to answer it or it would keep ringing. The person calling was his dad, who knew he was at youth group and wanted to know if he had a ride home.

It seems I am not the only one dealing with this problem. Last week, a high school student physically assaulted a substitute teacher who took away her cell phone. The student had apparently been warned previously to put the phone away, but hadn’t heeded the teacher’s warnings. When the substitute teacher took the phone away the student allegedly became agitated and confrontational and attempted to get the phone back by force. Somehow I am not surprised a student would be so upset and so disturbed over losing their phone.

Issues with cell phones are not limited to teens either. We see adults who refuse to adhere to what used to be common cell phone courtesy for the sake of staying connected.At a recent Broadway performance of “A Steady Rain,” Hugh Jackman stopped the play for a full minute while a phone rang in the audience. Jackman broke the fourth wall and asked the person whose phone was ringing to answer it and when they did not he asked again for the person to “just grab the phone.” The person never answered, but the ringing did stop and the play continued.

We live in a technology driven era where the mobility of our communication is becoming ever more vital. If you aren’t constantly connected to your cell, your Blackberry, your iPod, then you are out of sync with the world. The same devices that offer us convenience and ease of communication begin to demand more and more of our time and concentration. Neither the teens we work with nor the adults around us often think of the consequences of being so connected and the self-absorption that comes with this constant stream of communication. We take it for granted and we get upset if we are forced to disconnect.

It has reached the point where it becomes a First Commandment issue. Are we placing our cell phones, our internet connections, our constant stream of data from friends and family above God? Why is it so hard to get teens to put God first, and their phones second? I wonder if our digital culture has lost the basic ability to sit still without any connection or devices and simply spend time only connected to God.

In this new digital world, what rules will we as a culture set as common courtesy for cell phone use? Will Christians learn to disconnect their cell phones and reconnect with their God? Or will we continue to worship the gods of cell phones and technology as they permeate further and further into our lives? How will we strike a balance in our love/hate relationship with technology?