By Lindsey Bell
Sometimes I miss the days when a phone was just a phone.
There are many good things about having the world at our fingertips. Now more than ever before we can connect with people who live far away from us. We can also access information more easily and more quickly than ever before. People have used smartphones and other forms of technology to get God’s message to people who otherwise might not have heard it. My husband is a creative arts minister, and he uses technology in nearly everything he does.
Technology isn’t the problem. The problem is the way in which we interact with technology. The problem is that many of us have allowed our online relationships to replace our face-to-face ones. The problem is that we’re too connected to our devices.
More Than Entertainment
Social media—for many of us—is no longer something we choose to use for entertainment. Instead it’s an addiction. It’s something we have to use. If you’re not sure whether or not you’re addicted to social media, here are a few clues. You know you’re addicted to social media when . . .
• You spend more time looking at a device than at the people on the other side of the screen.
• Your identity is wrapped up in how many likes, follows, or friends you have.
• You can’t leave home without it.
• It’s the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night.
• Instead of being in the moment, you try to capture the moment on your phone.
• You miss sleep to be online.
• If you ever go without it for an extended amount of time, you feel like you’re missing out.
• You are online all the time. Dinner is no exception. Nor is any other family activity.
• Your friends or family worry about you if you haven’t posted anything for a day or two.
I know about social media addiction because I have struggled with it. As a stay-at-home mother, I understand the pull to connect with a world outside of my four walls. I understand the desire to feel validated by another human being who is over the age of 8. But I also understand the dangers of social media.
The truth is, if we are convinced we need to be online—for whatever reason—we’re probably addicted to social media. There are many reasons we grow attached to our devices. Here are a few of them.
We’re Afraid We’ll Miss Out.
For many of us, we go online because we’re afraid we’ll miss out on something if we’re not there. People are posting new things constantly, so if we go quiet for a few days, we will miss a lot of posts. Many of us also hear about world events through our online networks. If we’re not on social media, we might not know what is going on.
Though the threat of missing out is real, and you probably will, in fact, miss things when you go offline, you will gain much more. You might not hear about a friend’s baby announcement, but you will see your own baby more clearly. I love this quote: “You can’t look a child in the eye through a text. You can’t hug a child through the cellphone. You can’t instruct a child in a 140-character tweet” (Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane).
Our most important earthly relationships are not found through a screen. You might not read a life-changing article offline, but you will live your own life better. You might not connect with your online friends, but you will connect more with your in-person ones.
Everyone else is doing it.
Another reason we’re addicted to social media is because everyone is. There’s an expectation to be online. If someone wants to connect with you, they assume you will be online. There’s a kind of social pressure to be online. It’s accepted as a part of life now. No, it’s more than accepted; it’s expected. Just because something is expected, however, doesn’t mean we have to do it, nor does it mean we should.
It can make us feel good.
A third reason we’re addicted to social media is because it can make us feel good. I say can because the evidence on this is interesting. When we are on social media and receive positive interactions (such as comments or likes on a post), we often feel a surge of emotions. This is very similar to the rush other addictions create. It feels good so it leads us to spend more time online.
However, the more time we spend online, the more likely we are to feel depressed. If we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, we’re bound to be discouraged. The same is true if we’re constantly searching for a “like” that may or may not come. When we spend more time online and less time involved in our real lives, we often feel guilty about our behavior. Social media can make us feel good, but it can also make us feel lousy. This is especially the case when we know in our spirits that something other than God is controlling our lives.
The Problems & One Solution
There are other reasons we are addicted. Some of us turn to social media when we’re bored, others when we’re frustrated and want to escape for a time. Whatever the cause of our addiction, the consequences are similar. When we’re addicted to social media, we’re not where God wants us to be.
We might be exhausted because we’re sacrificing sleep for social media. We might be hurting our families because they are never able to get our full attention. We might be hurting ourselves because we’re allowing other peoples’ comments to determine our self-worth. We might be hurting our workplaces because media is distracting us from work. We are certainly hurting our relationship with God because we have allowed something of this world to replace him as our number one priority.
Social media, in and of itself, is not wrong. In fact, a healthy amount of social media can be very God honoring. It is a tool that, when used wisely, can bring people to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But it can also be dangerous.
If you’re too connected to your device, combat social media addictions by scheduling your time on it. Set a timer on your phone. When the timer goes off, your device does too. Or, if this is too hard at first, schedule moments when you’re not on it. Make dinner a screen-free zone. Make first thing in the morning your time with God rather than your time to catch up on what you missed overnight.
Addictions of any kind are hard to overcome. But the effort put in to overcome it is worth it because our loved ones deserve our best, not our leftovers. The people we spend the most time with shouldn’t see our eyes the least.
Lindsey Bell is the author of Searching for Sanity and Unbeaten and a blogger (Lindseymbell.com).
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