It's a scene that's become more commonplace as technology: One or more of the people gathered for a meal is constantly interrupted by his or her phone. Conversation is stilted, light, and in short bursts between phone checks. Clearly, those gathered at the table aren't the complete group. They're not "the happening." The "others" never called or came, and nobody seems to have a very good visit.
I also notice in conversations, people seemingly are unable to discuss something for very long — like baseball, history, movies or even getting into a good old disagreement — before someone pulls out a cell phone to "get the fact." (Why someone thinks what's on the internet is always correct is another matter.) When "the fact" is supposedly obtained, that conversation is over. We learn nothing more about each other or what we value. Someone else's "fact," from outside the room, was more important.
That cell phone use is changing our interactions isn't startling news. The ways in which it's changing our interactions are still just starting to be understood. According to a 2015 Pew Research study, 89 percent of cell phone users said they'd used a cell phone during social interactions. Surprisingly, 82 percent said it hurt the conversation. Even if a cell phone is just sitting on a table between people, researchers say, the conversation is different — shallower, less invested in each other.
These questions come into our presence to one another at the Eucharist. Cell phones regularly ring during Mass, whether or not a request has been made before Mass to silence them. It seems these requests have already become just more background noise.
What's just as disruptive is how often phones are pulled out and checked for messages or news. Don't think "There go those young people again"; people of all ages do this. Is it so urgent to check that sports score, that news update, that text response from a friend? Do we "fact check" something in an announcement or the homily? (Yes, priests know it's happening.) Every time we do this, we say by our actions that "I'm not just 'here;' I'm also partly 'out there."" With those around me also being distracted from the present moment by seeing me do this, it's no wonder how hard it's becoming to call a community of people together to pray.
Imagine the Last Supper if some of the apostles had cell phones. "'This is my body?' What does that mean? I'll look it up ..."
We believe in the real presence of Jesus in the species of the bread and wine. We believe Jesus is also present in the assembly gathered. This sacred room is all we need for now. As Jesus said at Gethsemane: "Can you not watch one hour with me?"
Father Wyrsch is Pastor at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.