Twitter-itis: Is Social Media Making Us Sick?
Could you live without Social Media? How many hours a day do you spend looking at news feeds and pictures? What is the result of a life of constant entertainment, connectivity, and distraction? What is the condition of the soul dulled with a steady input of mindless screen-watching? I began to ask these questions after noticing some undesirable patterns in my use of social media last year. My days were bookended with checking news feeds; my phone was the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing at night. The urge to keep scrolling and scrolling echoed the feeling of trying to pull myself away from a bag of chips yet hopelessly saying, "Just one more" til the bag is gone. I remember thinking, "This is not how I want to live. Only halfway living my life while spending the other half passively connected to an online world."
Out of desperation to regain balance and soul health, I spent nearly 6 months of last year completely free of all social media. No instagram. No twitter. No facebook. And very limited Pinterest use. YES, I did survive! Not only that, I began to see 6 harmful effects of unrestrained and aimless social media use.
1. Stillness Ceases
"Be still and know that I am God." (Ps 46:10) "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him." (Ps 37:7) Stillness (which is simply quietness of the heart and mind) creates space for God to make himself known. If you remember the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19, God doesn't speak to him in a loud voice, but a low whisper. Intimacy with God flourishes in stillness. And that is primary thing social media drove out of my life. Moments that used to be still became times of mindless entertainment. Waiting in line used to birth a prayerful awareness of God and a pondering of scripture. Sitting at stop lights turned into intercession. Waiting for my friend to arrive created an awareness of and spiritual sensitivity to the the world around me. But social media invaded every one of those sacred moments of stillness and kept my mind dulled with needless busyness.
2. Horizontal Comparisons Increase
Every one of us receives the call from Jesus: "Follow Me." Peter, after receiving this command again, asks the question "What about John?" Jesus responds by saying "What is it to you what I do with John; you follow Me!" (John 21:18-22) We are all called to different things within the Kingdom of God and none of our lives will look the same, nor should they. But a continual awareness of what others were doing through things like Instagram and Facebook, caused me to compare my life to theirs. Rather than asking God, "What do you want me to do?", I began asking "How can I do what so-and-so is doing?" Jealousy, pride, and judgment bloomed.
3. Self-Glorification Thrives
Without realizing it, posts became less about the glory of God, and more about how I could really impress others with how "spiritual" I was. I enjoyed noticing how many people retweeted things I said, or liked a comment or link. I checked my social media apps noticeably more when I had posted something "really good," if you know what I mean. Instead of caring about God's Kingdom, I began to care more about my own. Everyone wants to be accepted, liked, and affirmed, but this desire is to be found in the acceptance we receive from God, our Father, not each other. While I don't think we should stop commenting, liking, and retweeting, too much social media can grow an addiction to the affirmation of man and not God.
4. Counterfeit Community Develops
We need people. Genesis 2:18 and the communal nature of our Triune God demonstrate this truth. But we need REAL people. In person. Social media has an odd way of convincing us we know people, or that we are getting to know people, without actually spending time with them. Not to mention there is less risk when you can calculate each response from behind a screen, instead of sitting face to face. When my soul was aching for real community with other believers, texting and social media interactions masked this need through a facade of feeling connected. Ironically, the end result of this is isolation.
5. Procrastination Grows
It's difficult for me to patiently engage 2 toddlers all day long. Teaching my daughters about God and how to be well-mannered, functional human beings is hard work. And social media provided a tempting escape. Though this is my most significant and impactful job, I often avoided it by conveniently opening an app and mindlessly scrolling. Beyond basic responsibilities, social media apps aided my natural tendency to evade other eternally-significant activities. Reaching out to a new neighbor, sitting in prayer with God, or intentionally encouraging a friend all escaped my attention through the day due to accumulated minutes of my eyes on a screen.
6. Spiritual Alertness Fades
As a citizen of heaven, this world is no longer my home. I live in a state of war with the world around me and the ruler of it. As long as I live on this earth, I am on enemy territory. The worst thing you can do while in enemy territory is be distracted and inattentive. This is why Peter tells us to "be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8) But all this contant screen-watching actually produced the opposite of this command: lack of self-control and spiritual drowsiness. Have you considered that constant distraction may be an insidious tactic of Satan? It's an effective strategy on his part because nothing seems dangerous about checking updates from your friends.
Please hear me, I don't think any of these apps are wrong or harmful in themselves. It's the excessive use of them and lack of purpose that makes them harmful. Just as a diet of junk food results in poor health over time, so unrestrained and purposeless social media use breeds disorder in the soul. And, as in my case, this overuse usually happens so slowly that it goes unnoticed. Not until I deleted these apps did I become aware of how many times a day I had been checking my phone: sometimes more than 30 times a day.
For you, it may go beyond what I mentioned here. Maybe you're lured to your phone to play Candy Crush or Words With Friends. Or you spend most of your time watching YouTube videos or reading blogs. Whatever it may be, be vigilant against excessive and aimless time spent in these ways. As Jesus-followers, we are not to live aimlessly, but with purpose and conviction, as one competing for the prize. (1 Corin 9:24-27) Whatever social media we use, let us "do it all for the glory of God". (1 Corin 10:31)
So what does it look like to do social media "to the glory of God'? To be connected online with purpose? To be self-controlled in our use of these apps and forms of entertainment? I'll be discussing that in my next post.