“Is that a bible?” my son asked. “No,” I replied, “it’s a phone book.”
Last Saturday morning-on day four of my digital detox-I went on a desperate search for the ancient artifact. Eventually, I found our phone book buried in the recesses of my husband’s desk, underneath his 1999 Sony Disc Man. (The latter narrowly escaped a garbage bag during my last household purge. Next time, it won’t be so lucky.)
I opened the book and started flipping. Prior to the detox, I would have sent off a fun and friendly Facebook message to my friend, Stephanie. Now, I was actually going to phone her. I considered using Canada411.ca instead of the phone book as an “essential service exception.” Knowing myself to be a “give her an inch, she’ll take a mile” type, however, I decided to remain true to the original terms and the bigger spirit of my Lenten practice.
As strange as it was thumbing through the phone book to look up my friend’s number, stranger yet was how nervous I felt about phoning her. Why? It reminded me of the not-so-glory days of my adolescence, summoning the courage to ask some unrequited love out on a date. I realized that although our virtual friendship on Facebook is filled with mutual likes and witty commentary, in some ways, our real-life friendship had been withering on the vine.
Two rings and Stephanie’s husband Dave picked up the phone. I made sure to give him my first and last name, just in case he had forgotten who I was. He sounded pretty surprised to hear my voice and I felt awkward. Our families used to socialize on a fairly regular basis. Stephanie and Dave and the kids-along with another couple we know-would take turns hosting potluck dinners. They were good times with good people and now, I felt the absence of that fellowship acutely. Part of me wondered if I could even reclaim it.
Dave said Stephanie wasn’t available so I left a message with him. Our children are in the same class-and their daughter left quite an impression on my son that Friday when she announced she was going to take all the snow God had given us and build a snowman all the way up to heaven. I was hoping to share the story as a kind of ice-breaker to invite them for dinner, but I lost my nerve.
My heart was still racing when I hung up the phone. I realized this digital detox involved a process of stock-taking more painful than anticipated. But I could hear God’s message coming through loud and clear: the internet is not meant to replace authentic human interaction. To allow it to become a master over us turns a communications dream into a virtual nightmare.
I have found a more accessible home for the phone book because I know it will be needed again. As difficult as this might be over the next 40 days, I will not use this Lenten discipline as an excuse to go quiet or to stop communicating with people. I’m sure at some point I’ll get over my anxiety about picking up the phone-fear of rejection and all. And surely, if a six year-old can dream about building a snowman to heaven, I can dream about breathing new life into old friendships that have gotten a little lost on the information superhighway.
Michelle Hauser is a parishioner at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Napanee, Ont., and manager of annual giving for the Anglican Church of Canada.