Big Answers on Small Screens

I like knowing where to find answers to life’s mysteries.

“And the answer is seen on that little screen. The answer is seen on that screen,” sung to the tune of the “Blowing in the Wind.” Everybody now, join in.

Ken Medema improvised this song at the Religion Communication Congress in Chicago this weekend right after hearing Jeffrey Cole, director for the Center for the Digital Future at University of Southern California. Like so much of the RCCongress 2010, Medema and Cole were brilliant. 

We are finding answers to life’s mysteries on small screens — for most of us, on our phones. In the near future, 5 billion out of the world’s 6 billion people will have cell phones. We will use our phones more than our computers or televisions (or iPads?).

I don’t know what this mean for people (like me) looking for big answers.  

Cole reported that in 35 years the amount of time we spend in front of screens has doubled. In 1975, we spent 16 hours in front of screens. In 2010, we spent 34 hours per week in front of screens.

That’s a lot. Too much, really, doncha think?

When is the TV turn off week? (To find out, I’ll Google TV Turn Off Week.) Let’s make it this week. I’m going to have my children turn off their Xbox and laptops. And yes, their cell phones. (You may want to share your experience or opinion on TV Turn Off Week on this blog. Or don’t. Just go outside and take a walk in the park.)

I just walked in Grant Park with my aunt. We wandered. We found a bench to sit. We people watched. We dog watched.

We discussed books we’d read. I told her how I loved “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann. She didn’t really like “Wolf Hall.” Both were book club selections. So was “The Happiness Project.” I told her how in that book Gretchen Rubin describes having to put ‘Wander’ up on her checklist of things to do. We have trouble wandering. Aunt Kathy told me about a woman who followed Oprah’s advice for a year. We are searching.

We are searching the internet; we are asking each other. We are wandering. I am writing this on the plane from Chicago. A man just walked down the aisle with a tee shirt that said, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

So, let’s follow that advice and not act lost. Let’s pretend that when we wander we find the answers. Let’s pretend that the answer will come as we wander. Let’s pretend that the screens will reveal answers.

I read in the New York Times that James Cameron showed his film, “Avatar,” to indigenous peoples and leaders in Brazil. He said the real-life plight of preserving the people’s land was like the plight of the animated peoples fighting for their wandering island.

So the answer for the people in Brazil was found on the big screen, which you probably could view on a small screen.

My small answer to this big question is to turn off the screen. Maybe just for a week. During that time I hope to wander and find a spot on a park bench.

Good Bye Old Phone

We had a very good thing, you and I. We went everywhere together, museums, plays, the beach, the bathroom.

But it’s over now. I must turn you in. We’ve been together almost four years . I slid you on your side – fingered sweet nothings on your back.

Now the IT department recalls you. The company says it must “right-size” and that means that we, Level 14s, must turn in our companions. And purchase our own.

You, my phone, asked nothing of me. Unlike my boss, you gave me no deadlines. Unlike my kids, you gave me no backtalk.

Oh phone – oh Cingular 8125 – you were there for me without fail. All you asked was to be plugged in now and then. A small charge and you were happy. You took pictures and you took calendar items. You called and emailed my coworkers and friends for me. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to sending a text or two through you – “HH has started. Where r u?” (Thank you, oh phone, for your discretion.) The kids played games on you, especially Bubble Breaker.

But now, the IT people will have you. You’ll be shoved in Richie Jackson’s messy, cable-filled drawer. You’ll be forgotten and your happy ringtone heard no more.

But I’ll remember the sledding pictures from Central Park, the time I dropped you in the toilet, the times we stared at one another.

Oh, Cingular 8125, we have loved and now we are lost.

Hey, does anyone know if the Verizon Droid is any good?