Digital devices, platforms and faith have a problem. How they intersect in our lives have created unhealthy rhythms in many of our lives and what has become normal in culture risks the health of our mind, bodies and soul.
I have been on a journey over the last two years of evaluating my digital usage and wanted to share a few observations I’ve found, some questions I found helpful and some research from those wiser than I.
Conforming to the pattern of this world
There is a very real danger that those of us with smartphones and social media accounts are spending unhelpful quantities of time time scrolling, posting, liking, sharing and tweeting, when we should be building an intimate relationship with the Father; walking in step with the Spirit; participating in and building communities of hope through the love of Jesus.
Romans 12:2 NIV
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The pattern of modern culture is a digital bubble built around distraction. Distractions become habits, habits become addictions, and addictions wound us.
A recent survey of more than 1,000 18- to 24-year-olds across America discovered a total of 41% are made to feel anxious, sad, or depressed by platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Social media isn’t a hobby it’s a habit, it’s a distraction, which is designed to be addictive. There is fresh awareness of this in recent years, but we need to be careful both personally and corporately, that we’re not feeding addictions, whilst mindful of what moderate use is and how we can implement this.
The distraction we find in phones removes our focus from that which is important.
Not to say that we can’t connect and relate to people through our phones and social media channels, but that we need to find times that are solely for this use and to learn how to not be distracted by the pings and dings of our phones.
Oversharing and under-thinking
I’m not against devices or social media per se (I think they can be very helpful at times); but I am against the negative impact they have on our minds, souls and bodies as culture shapes their hopes and expectations around perceptions gained from social media.
Social Media encourages us to contribute little value from a place of little. Little thinking and rapid oversharing fools us into thinking we’re contributing value to the world. That’s a pitfall that many of us fall into, which social media activity encourages.
Twenty years ago many teenagers (and adults) would write their most sacred thoughts in a diary. Today, platforms are begging them to share every area of their life online which lines us up for comparison, inadequacy, oversharing, and addiction; not to mention issues with sleep, memory, attention span and mental health.
“When we derive a sense of worth based on how we are doing relative to others, we place our happiness in a variable that is completely beyond our control,” Dr Tim Bono, author of When Likes Aren’t Enough explained in Healthista.
Christians need to not forget that our identity and worth is found in God, our heavenly Father. When we go seeking it from our Instagram feed (or anywhere), we step away from what the Father says about us and welcome what the world will say about us.
1 John 3:1 (NIV)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
That’s not to say that all personal use is bad (some of the best leaders I know have very healthy attitudes to their own social media channels), but I think any distraction can affect how deep we go with God — and digital distractions are a current and very real issue.
Colossians 2:8 NIV
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
Social Media is designed around shallow communication, but God calls us to deep communion with him.
As leaders we can risk confusing influence with platform; calling with culture; digital followers with making disciples.
There’s a freedom in the fresh realisation that none of us are God and although we can use these tools (in healthy balance), we can also put down these tools and God will continue to sit on his throne. He doesn’t need us to be ‘on’ 24/7 for the Kingdom to extend.
Being fully present
When we make it our intention to remove a device from our attention, we can prepare to be fully present with a neighbour or colleague as they share their story; with our children as they download their day; and in church as we fall on our faces in Worship. Then at the appropriate time we can use the tools, but being mindful that a tool has a purpose and to be aware of the purpose.
When using your phone at certain times you’re inviting other people into that place and space. A friend of mine said that one of their phones rang at a mealtime and before it could be answered her husband said, ‘that person isn’t invited to this mealtime.’ Not meaning that they weren’t a hospitable family, but reminding them that their family mealtime was just that and not one for phone call invasions.
Think about what and who you’re inviting into situations when you use your phone. It may change what you check and when you check it.
The Silicon Valley Revenue Model
These tools are wonderful to inform, inspire, encourage, invite; but we need to not let our personal use descend into distraction addiction, as it affects our minds (mental health), our souls (spiritual health), and bodies (physical health) and that’s not what we were designed for.
Silicon Valley design tools to distract; God designed us to worship. As disciples of Jesus we need to recognise tools for what they are, and put boundaries in place so our life is not derailed by devices.
Platforms (like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) are revenue driven, their bottom line ultimately affects your user experience.
Advertising tells you you’re missing out. The Kingdom tells you you’re invited in. Let’s not confuse the two, either personally or corporately.
There should be healthy patterns to our use of communication. Especially as leaders, we can feel the need to constantly be contactable, which is fine if you’re God, but he’s the only one of us who needs to be constantly contactable.
Steps to healthy use
‘The good news is that very few people are genuinely addicted to social media.’ writes Mark D. Griffiths, Ph.D, ‘However, many people’s social media use is habitual and it can start to spill over into other areas of their lives and be problematic and dangerous, such as checking social media while driving. Other behaviors may be annoying rather than dangerous, but may be indicative of problematic social media use, such as checking social media while eating out with friends or constantly checking your smartphone while watching a movie at the cinema. Others may snub social contact with their loved ones or friends and prefer to check out social media on their smartphone instead (so-called ‘phubbing’).’
Many people can change their smartphone habits by putting in place simple boundaries and sticking to them. Others will need help and even counselling, especially if you have grown up only knowing a digital device within reach.
Mark D. Griffiths, Ph.D, ask these questions:
‘Do you spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning to use social media?
Do you feel urges to use social media more and more?
Do you use social media to forget about personal problems?
Do you often try to reduce your use of social media without success?
Do you become restless or troubled if you are unable to use social media?
Do you use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on your job or studies?
If the answer to all six of these questions is “yes,” then you may have or be developing an addiction to using social media. We say “may” because the only way this can be confirmed is through a diagnosis from a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist.’
34% of Gen Z say they’re permanently quitting social media, and 64% are taking a break, according to new research. This is encouraging for their health and might be something that intrigues you.
If you are interested in decreasing your smartphone and social media usage, here are some questions that I have worked through over the last two years, alongside prayer, reading the Bible and journaling, which you may find helpful in your own journey.
Ask yourself, what does a sabbath look like with phones and social media?
What does a digital sabbatical look like for you?
Is it possible to allocate slots in your day that are for Social Media and switch off notifications the rest of the time?
Can you leave your phone downstairs when you sleep, so it’s not the first thing and last thing you see every day? If you need your phone near you at night, make a written list of what it’s there for, eg. in case an elderly family member calls, and try to stick to that sole use.
Are there times that you can put your phone on silent and keep it in a bag or pocket, so you’re less tempted to check it?
Would you allocate slots in your day that are for reading the Bible, Prayer and journaling; prioritise these over phone time?
When you use a Bible app, can you put your phone onto airplane mode whilst reading it, so you’ll be less tempted to flick between apps or incoming messages?
When are the instances that you reach for your phone? Why do you do it then?
Is the article you’ve read or quote that’s inspired you helpful for you or is it something that everyone needs?
Do you need to share on social media, or do you need to prayerfully journal?
What is the time of day that you switch off from work? (Being mindful that on-call doctors and others will have a different perspective on this). Whilst pondering this I found Cal Newport’s book on ‘Deep Work’ very helpful, read in conjunction with ‘Rest’ by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, to help guide what I viewed as healthy rhythms of work and rest, helping me to be more productive.
What is the time of day that you switch on to work? What do you need to have done before then? I reached a point where I saw that my productivity increased when I only touched my phone when I was ready to face the day, having completed a morning routine. That allowed my mind to wake up and mentally prepare for the tasks ahead without a screen in my face.
Ultimately, we have in our hands a wealth of tools, but we need to remind ourselves that all tools should only be used for a specific purpose and then put to one side, ready for their next use.