Deep THINK - Madonna Magazine


Clare Deignan 25 November 2020

Dear Charlotte and Ella,

No, you can’t have a smartphone. Yes, that means the both of you. That is until you’re old enough to respect this technology’s power and to think for yourself. Hey, don’t get mad at me. I’m just following the lead of many tech executives who strictly limit their children’s access to screen time and/or social media. These men and women built these systems, and they know what they do. There’s a saying never to trust a skinny chef. It follows that I would never trust a company whose president wouldn’t let their children use its product. 

Charlotte, you asked me for a mobile phone the other day. I thought that was a bit cheeky since you just turned six. When you hold a smartphone, you actually hold access to the world in your hand. Adults could spend more time pondering how they use this tool, but I’m hard-pressed to justify the need for a child to have that power in their backpack. A 2019 article from Pew Research reports that an estimated five billion people on the planet have a mobile device – half of which are smartphones. According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, 50 per cent of Australian children, six to 13, use or own a smartphone. To my dismay, a smartphone may be sooner in your future than I would like. Even your grandpa broke down and bought one a few years ago. 

Although I am slow to warm to technology, I admit my smartphone is never far from my side. I was late to get a ‘pager’ back in the day, and compared to my friends, I was wary of the mobile phone. Even as a young person, I liked to watch how new inventions played out. I would ask myself, ‘Will I really need it? Or is it just a fad?’ Of course, new inventions can make daily life easier, tasks more efficient, and even save lives. Still, I suggest you wait and watch the fallout of new technologies before you plunge into pricey gadgets or posting on enticing social media platforms. 

Tech regret

No matter how long I’ve tried to ‘be-friend’ social media, I’m just not a fan. A fossil of the tech world, I thought maybe using social media took patience I didn’t have, or since I’m an extreme extrovert, I was actually socialising face-to-face and never stopped to share photos. It always felt a little like putting oneself on display and borderline voyeurism. 

Post regret is real and the consequence ranges from harmless to long-lasting. It’s recommended to apply the acronym THINK before you post. Ask yourself if what you are posting: is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind? Before you post, ‘THINK-ing’ will definitely reduce what is known as the ‘post-post regret’ (regretting a post after one shared it on social media).

I avoided social media because of regret, but more than just ‘post-post regret’ but a neurosis I like to refer to as an overall ‘tech regret’. I experienced regrets in joining a platform or not joining a platform, posting, not posting, scrolling, not scrolling, commenting, not commenting, liking, not liking, following, unfollowing, and then friending and unfriending. Or is it defriending…?

To be honest, I didn’t like myself when I was scrolling. I end up down a black hole of indulgent dinner posts, political rants, and tirades about some mundane daily annoyance. All within five minutes of logging in, I’ve labelled a few poor souls as immature and attention seekers. Scrolling through friends’ vacation, party and completed marathon posts, I can also get gripped with jealousy. (Of course, just a tiny bit.) And, I don’t believe I am alone. Although the rise in mental health problems in young people cannot be blamed solely on social media, researchers link the increase in smartphone and social media use and spiking rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. It’s no surprise since news feeds can be a land of compare and despair, where Fear-Of-Missing-Out (FOMO) rules the thread. I realised my own thoughts were not at all an example of Christian charity and generosity. I love people. I want to keep loving people. So, I logged off, and I stay logged off.

St Techy

As some big tech executives speak out against the addictive mechanism built into social media platforms and research continues to mark a correlation between an increase screen-time with mental health problems, the Vatican looks to inspire us to use the internet for good rather than just more ego boosting ‘clicks’ or ‘likes’. 

Recently beatified in Assisi, Italy, Blessed Carlo Acutis, was known as a teenage ‘tech wiz’ who used his gifts to help proclaim the good news online. Although his parents were not religious, Acutis developed a devotion to the Eucharist and enkindled his mother’s and others’ faith because of his fervour. As a child, Acutis taught himself ‘coding’ building and maintaining websites for Catholic organisations, and he also created his own websites, logging purported miracles. Tragically, at age 15, Acutis died of leukemia.

Dubbed the ‘Patron Saint of the Internet’, Blessed Carlo Acutis reminds me that social media doesn’t have to be all bad. Although the allure of filtered pics and hundreds of ‘likes’ may hinder rather than help us, if the power of the internet is in the right hands, like Blessed Carlo’s, lots of good can come from it. 

Charlotte and Ella, I think we will still wait until you’re much older to consider a mobile device, preferably a burner phone with no camera activated. Your father and I will sleep better, and you will have less ‘tech and post-post regrets’. Like Blessed Carlo Acutis, may you two girls and all Catholic young people bring the love, compassion, and joy of the Gospel to the world – real and virtual alike. 

Love, your Mum