Lifting my suitcase, I took one last look at my room for anything I was forgetting. There was my phone, sitting forlornly on my desk, calling out to me: “You can’t leave me here! You need me and I need you… what if something happens and I’m not there?” Nevertheless, I turned my back on that beautiful and smart thing, having changed my voicemail message as follows: “This is Fr. Joseph Illo. The phone you have reached is sitting on my desk while I’m away on silent retreat until Friday. Please leave a message.”
Each day of my phoneless retreat seemed like an entire week. Each day had a beginning, a middle and an end, with a spreading universe in between. I was amazed how time seemed to open up, like a vast landscape, without the ceaseless endorphin pings with which a device fragments our days. Without my phone, each day was like a month, with tremendous open spaces and joyful discovery. I received so much more, saw so much more, heard so much more, understood so much more with my eyes and ears freed from the tyranny of the immediate. The problem with porn, they say, is not that it shows too much but that it shows too little, isolating and fragmenting the human person. But porn is not only sexual. Endless viewing of media bytes without stepping back to see the whole picture is pornographic as well: it captures the eye without engaging the brain; it titillates our curiosity without satisfying our greater need for meaning.
Our hearts and minds long to open up, to be undivided and whole. At least once a year, I think we should all retreat from the tyranny of our phones. Nothing bad happened to me: I didn’t need to call anyone, or check the weather, or see my texts or answer any emails, or look anything up on the internet. It was grand, and oh so satisfying!
When I got back to my room, the phone looked at me reproachfully. But I turned it back on and checked some texts, and it made no further complaint.