You might say, “That’s not me. I’m a mature Christian, and I know not to let my phone distract me. I keep my phone silenced, or in the other room.”
I believe our media and spirituality problems go much deeper than our smartphones. Dr. Archibald Hart, in his book “The Digital Invasion,” which he coauthored with his daughter, Sylvia Hart Frejd, says this regarding how our spiritual lives have been affected:
“…Researchers are warning that the ability to ‘contemplate’ or ‘meditate’ declines in those who over-engage the digital world. We already see this in many young people today. They prefer action-oriented spiritual activity to reflective or meditational spirituality. Any call to meditate or reflect on something falls flat… Clearly, this will have an effect on their ability to spend any significant time in prayer, let alone reflect on Scripture or pay attention to a deep sermon. In addition, these consequences must inevitably affect their spiritual practices, as well.”
Much research is being done on the effects continued exposure to media has on our brains, our attention spans, our social skills, and physical health.
Studies at both Stanford and Harvard Universities look at the effect of multitasking, such as that which occurs with the use of social media applications. Going back and forth between people, screens, and social media platforms has a negative effect on attention span and drastically decreases not only productivity, but memory. Hart discusses in his book the difficulty the brain has when an individual goes from one “focused” task, say studying for an exam or doing a project at work, to checking a Facebook notification, to then going back to that task. When we do this, we essentially confuse the “memory neurons” in our brain. While we may feel more stimulated and less bored, we don’t retain much from whatever we’re studying or working on, and our brain can’t be as productive or creative.
This means even if you have disciplined yourself not to have media available to you when you are spending time in prayer, Bible study, worship, or devotional reading, you may still have trouble becoming fully focused and engaged on these tasks because of the time you spend online and with media in your everyday life.
Ever been in the worship service at church and wondered why all you can think about is the instrument that’s too loud or what the vocalist is wearing? Or reading your Bible and all you can think about is your to-do list? I hate admitting it when it happens to me, but it’s not all just “the devil’s fault.” If my phone is my constant companion, no wonder my brain craves its distraction even when I turn it off.
A recent Psychology Today article warns, “Recent studies now validate the reality of Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). IAD can cause tremors, shivers, nausea and anxiety in some addicts. Many professionals now consider IAD analogous to substance abuse. They include it among other pathological behaviors such as gambling and eating disorders. Try removing a young “gamer” from a video game in a hurry. You will discover how difficult it is to break the attachment between the teen and the screen.’
“In short, some people use broadcast and Internet media as a mental and emotional retreat and refuge. Addicts are connected to their screens; their minds trapped for hours to the exclusion of the world around them. Addicts neglect family, work, studies, social relationships and themselves.”
A trademark of an addict is that they don’t realize, or just don’t want to admit they have a problem, but everyone around them seems to see it.
Has your friend, spouse, or child ever complained that you are always on your phone instead of listening to them?
Do you struggle with relationships in real life yet find yourself retreating to your nightly television shows, and becoming engaged with your favorite characters?
Do you find ever dream about the video games you play?
Do you check your phone for notifications even when you haven’t heard a sound or vibration indicating that there is one?
Do you ever feel that something isn’t “real” until you’ve posted about it on social media?
Do you check every post to see how many “likes” it has, and feel happy when the count is higher and disappointed when it’s lower?
Then it may be time for a little self-examination.
And what about our emotions? When we are retreating into movies, games, and tv shows for comfort or solace in our stress or sadness, we aren’t seeking it from the One who could truly heal our hearts and minds. When we are seeking validation from social media users, we don’t have a healthy view of who God says we are. If we are venting our anger or fear in a text message or email, we are giving it room to grow and develop rather than receiving God’s peace that is beyond all understanding.
For any area of life in which we struggle, God has a Word. If you wish you had more peace, more joy, more wisdom- whatever that need is- you probably know at an intellectual level that the Bible says God can meet it. If you’re wondering why He isn’t, or hasn’t, as challenging as it is, ask yourself, “Is the obstacle in the way actually me?” If you were to remove distractions and truly, on a regular basis, not just one time when you’re really desperate, “Be still and know that He is God,” how much might change in your life?