Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, penned the lines of his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, 75 years ago:
When I leave home to walk to school,
Dad always says to me,
“Marco, Keep your eyelids up
And see what you can see.”
In 1940, the world, presumably, did not have as many distractions as we do today. There was no television, Internet, emails, smartphones or texting. But, even so many years ago, Dr. Seuss gave us a reminder not to go through life with eyes focused down, but to look up and “see what you can see.”
On a trip to a Florida amusement park earlier this year, I watched over and over again as parents missed the eyes of their children light up over the wonder because their heads were down, checking their phones.
I saw preteens and teens go through entire attractions with heads down, texting, playing games, Instagramming and Snapchatting, dulling the memories their families hoped to create.
Children were placated while standing in line, playing games and watching videos. “Dad, can I see your phone?” they would say. “Mom, give me your iPad!”
I watched hundreds of people stand shoulder-to-shoulder and watch a fireworks display through the screens of their iPhones so that they could capture every moment. Meanwhile, their children’s squeals of delight went unacknowledged.
We have become a culture – a people – who keep our eyes focused more on our devices than those near us. Marketers have recognized the phenomenon that technology has overtaken our lives and are taking advantage of it. Apple, for instance, has introduced its new Apple Watch. On Apple’s website, the iWatch is promoted as a representation of “a new chapter in the relationship people have with technology.”
Have we bought into the belief that we can build “relationship” in and through technology?
Do we validate our worth based on the number of “likes” we get on a Facebook post?
Do we go through withdrawals if we don’t always have our phones with us and get frustrated if the Internet connection is slow, or if friends do not instantly respond to our texts?
Do we keep our eyes focused downward more than upward, missing what is right in front of us?
I am an avid user of technology. It is helpful to me in my work. I like staying connected to my family and, yes, I do check Facebook on a daily basis. But as I watch what is happening around me, I have become convicted that I need to “keep my eyelids up and see what (and who) I can see.” And because this is a daily battle for me, living and working in a technologically driven world, I keep boundaries and reminders constantly before me.
Being willing to disconnect for a time. In my own life, I intentionally turn off email, choose not to check Facebook, and essentially disconnect for periods of time. The more antsy I become during these disconnected times, the more I am reminded how dependent I have become. Disconnecting periodically helps keep in perspective the role technology should have in my life.
Pondering in my heart more than instant sharing with the world. Mary, Jesus’ mother, experienced and saw so much, especially in the first years of motherhood. But, we read that she pondered all this in her heart. There are experiences we will have and memories created that should be cherished and held close to ourselves and those we love. Our over-share culture almost cheapens these moments that should be held closest to our hearts.
Keeping people first and technology second. Technology is wonderful and extremely helpful in our lives today. But, technology is still a thing. When I am with family or friends, I want to be careful not to communicate that what is happening on my phone or other device is more important than they are. Put the phone down. That text message or email will be there for later.
Relationships are best built through face-to-face communication. Look up. Who do you see? Yes, I can use technology to communicate facts and information, but I do not see a tear, hear excitement in a voice or give a reassuring touch through a device. That only comes by talking to, being with, and seeing a person in the moment.
At the end of Mulberry Street, Dr. Seuss writes:
Dad looked at me sharply and pulled at his chin.
He frowned at me sternly from there in his seat,
“Was there nothing to look at . . . no people to greet?
Did nothing excite you or make your heart beat?
When I one day meet God face to face, I wonder if He will ask the same thing. Will He look at me and point out the people that I missed, the opportunities that marched past me, the relationships that are still too shallow, and a passion never discovered all because I had my head down and never saw what there was to see?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terri Stovall is dean of women’s programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and co-author of the book “Women Leading Women.” This article first appeared at the seminary’s BiblicalWoman.com website.)