A loud, “Daddy!” snaps me out of my digital daze and I quickly shove the phone back out of view, but of course, not out of reach.
Like any addiction, it’s one thing to recognize it, but another to overcome it.
I am not alone. The average American consumes more than 11 hours of media per day. According to a recent study, young Australians spend up to 10 hours a day on an internet connected device. There are more than 1 billion Instagram users and a staggering 2.2 billion use Facebook every month!
But this is not just a “young person problem.”
Generation X (those born between 1961 and 1981) spends about 32 hours a week consuming media, while millennials spend about 27 hours.
It seems we are ALL internet addicts.
I am one of those tweeners who has lived half his life in the pre-wifi/smartphone era and the other half in it. For those like me, this revolution of connectivity came on fast and without warning.
For fear of sounding like the 1950’s “rock‘n’roll is from the devil” dad, let me be clear that that the internet is a handy tool and can be a force for good.
Because of it, we can connect and communicate like never before. The internet has wrestled the control of the entertainment industry from a few elites, and made it possible for anyone with a voice and a wifi connection to be heard.
Through online media, the Gospel has reached countries virtually impossible to access otherwise. Human rights violations previously hidden from sight gained front-row attention during the famously dubbed “Facebook revolutions.”
I am well aware of the positives of our internet age. This isn’t some old man rant against “those kids and their fancy gizmos!”
Still, the negatives are increasingly apparent.
For many, the internet has led to replacing face-to-face relationships with virtual community, and is contributing to the loneliness epidemic of our age.
Social media creates a vicious cycle. Our feeds are filled with ‘perfect’ lives, leaving us feeling inadequate by comparison and anxious to compete. This, in turn, encourages us to portray filtered versions of ourselves.
We help sustain the very thing that is crushing us.
The always “on” reality of our lives isn’t only affecting us personally. As my opening lines attempted to illustrate, the effects are often felt strongest by those we love most.
Becoming a dad has now given me the additional concern of seeing its impact on my son. I lament that my son and daughter will never experience a pre-internet world. I fear that my level of internet use has already communicated to them that my attention is up for grabs to the highest bidder - and they often don’t have the currency to compete.
Fortunately, despite all of the ills of our online age, there is hope. Jesus is not surprised by the emergence of wifi, nor the challenges it may present to His followers. There have always been threats to our identities, relationships, and families.
HOW DO WE RESPOND?
As I reflected on this issue, I came away with two simple steps, and three practical tips that I am working hard to employ in my life.
1) Be Honest
As any counselor will tell you, the first step to overcoming an addiction is admitting you have one. I think all of us could benefit from a healthy self-assessment in this area.
Next time you get a usage report from your iPhone, instead of laughing it off, ask Jesus how He feels about it. Be honest - are you in control of your phone or is it in control of you?
We are instructed not to be conformed to the “patterns of this world.”
To live without reflecting is to submit willingly to the conforming powers of culture on our behaviors, attitudes, and actions.
For many of us, we have caved because of convenience and allowed ourselves to be sucked into the same distracted stream like everyone else around us.
This is not about feeling judged, but rather reflecting on how you want to live your life. Do you want a life of deep friendships and rich conversation, or simply entertainment and distraction?
2) Have a Plan
Adorning cubicles worldwide are posters that read, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” If you're like me, business cliches make you nauseous, but there’s usually some truth in the triviality.
When it comes to how you use the internet, your smartphone, or social media, you have to have a plan. Take the time to think through how, when, and how much you want to be online.
Invite Jesus into the process and let Him be Lord over this area of your life.
Three practical suggestions:
- Give your phone a bedtime. A good rule of thumb is, “Your phone should go to bed before you do, and you should wake up before it does.” Starting and ending your day without a screen in your face would be a good first step.
- Build in daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly fasts. I don’t know what rhythm is right for you, but engage in regular periods of total media fasting to clear your mind and hit the “reset” button.
- Embrace boredom. We have become so conditioned to fill in every gap with some form of entertainment or distraction, that we are robbing ourselves of critical mental space for deep reflection, relaxation, or creative thinking - all of which require the absence of external stimulus.
I don’t have all the answers, but it seems pretty clear that we need to assess our behaviors in this area soberly. Let’s invite Jesus to remind us that only He is worthy of our undivided attention, and that all else should be treated like any other human invention - a potential tool for good or a source of great destruction.