This is what I learned this past weekend: The woman at my big box store who checks the receipts before a customer can leave the building has a daughter who needs to be reminded to listen to her aunt who baby-sits her.
I also learned that a woman who sat at the table next to mine at a local restaurant has a friend who bought a new house.
How do I know this? I know about the daughter/babysitter imbroglio because the receipt-checker was on her cellphone yelling at her daughter while I was standing waiting to have my purchases given the once over. She held her hand on my cart so I could not leave while she yelled at her daughter over the cellphone.
The woman with the friend who bought the new house was having a rather loud conversation with her friend while sitting at the restaurant table with whom I assumed to be her daughter and husband. Neither daughter nor husband was angry that their lunch companion was on the phone – they were both hunched over their own mobile devices.
These two incidents occurred within hours of each other. Sadly, that is not the only time I have witnessed such disconnect. Perhaps one of the saddest incidents I saw was about a month ago when I took a priest friend out for breakfast. At a nearby booth, a young mother and father were both engrossed in their own cellphones, while their young toddler son sat babbling to himself. He chattered on and on and mom and dad did not once acknowledge their son.
So prevalent is this phenomena of cellphone use being more attractive than interpersonal interaction that even the pope has spoken out against it.
Last September speaking to college students in Rome, Pope Francis said, “In our families, at the dinner table, how many times while eating, do people watch the TV or write messages on their cellphones? Each one is indifferent to that encounter. Even within the heart of society, which is the family, there is no encounter.”
He also lamented last November that “a family that almost never eats together, or that never speaks at the table but looks at the television or the smartphone, is hardly a family. When children at the table are attached to the computer or the phone and don’t listen to each other, this is not a family.”
And, most shocking of all, in a recent general audience address, our Holy Father actually had to remind people not to use cellphones during Mass. “It makes me very sad when I celebrate Mass in the (Vatican) Square or in St. Peter’s Basilica and I see so many phones in the air,” he said, urging the faithful to “lift up your hearts” and not “lift up your cellphones to take a photo.”
Pope Francis has warned that today’s modern tools and technologies can cause “mental pollution” that harms relationships and destroys human interaction. My recent experiences tell me that unfortunately our good pope is correct.