I got my first iPhone in 2010, as I started a role in communications and helping lead social media for a campus ministry.
“I’ll see if I like it. I might take it back,” I told my friend Cory over lunch. He smirked. “Adam, no one who gets one of these phones ever goes back to life without one.”
He was right, of course. A tremendous amount of my life moved from other spaces into this tool: maps, books, newspapers, calendars, music, notes, lists, alarms, reminders, photos, banking, files, recordings, calls, calculations, weather forecasts, and even my Bible and my friendships. Nearly all aspects of my life were somehow tied in with or managed through this little item of metal and glass in my pocket.
With so much of life tied up in my constant connectivity, I started to expect everything to always involve my phone. If I wasn’t using my phone, I felt like I wasn’t doing anything. If I wasn’t looking at my phone, I wasn’t seeing anything. If I wasn’t touching my phone, I wasn’t living.
The Problem With Constant Connection
Many of us fear being disconnected from our phones (or whatever new device you can think of). We relish and crave our constant connectivity.
We recognize intuitively that this is an issue. And now, research is starting to paint a startling picture of our problem.
A study in Psychological Reports: Disability and Trauma seems to imply that social media withdrawal closely resembles that of a drug addict crashing back down to earth. We respond more quickly to feedback from Facebook than to traffic signs.
And you may have heard that being connected all the time is bad for our sleep—too much blue light from our phones before bed can disrupt our sleep, according to Brian Zoltowski of Southern Methodist University, as reported by Scientific American. And the cumulative effect of poor sleep is terrible for our health.
And according to The Social Times, 18 percent of us admit we now can’t go more than just a few hours without checking Facebook.
When we’re separated from our phones, “we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state,” according to Russell Clayton of the University of Missouri who co-authored “The Extended iSelf: The Impact of iPhone Separation on Cognition, Emotion, and Physiology” in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.
God and Facebook
As I use social media, I know that Christians need to tread carefully here. We need to ask ourselves important questions.
The apostle Paul once pointed out that not everything is beneficial, even if lawful (1 Corinthians 10:23). And we are not to be mastered by anything, even if it’s within our rights (1 Corinthians 6:12). We know we can’t serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). Maybe we need to start asking ourselves if we can serve both God and Facebook.
Put another way, how often is our time on Facebook helping us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, as we are encouraged to do in Philippians 4:8? Or is our constant connectivity keeping us from being still and knowing God is God, as is encouraged in Psalm 46:10?
While we generally no longer make idols out of gold or wood, sometimes our connectivity interferes with our communion.
Forming Better Habits
I think this impulse to start centering our lives on our phones arises from the beauty of the device itself, the marketing thereof, and the frequent convenience of carrying one item that can help so much.
But at a deeper level, I do this—and enjoy doing this—because I am made for relationships, just like everyone else. The trick is when the tool rises above the calling.
Now, my wife and friends would not have said I was particularly rude or “addicted” to my phone. But my tech habits were warping my thinking a bit, routing my mind toward this tool more than was right or healthy.
So I started looking for ways to manage this relationship. I’ve started asking others what they do (or don’t do) to ward off dysfunction, to keep this tool in its proper place.
Here’s what I did to fight the spiritual consequences of my tech addiction:
Celebrate the Sabbath. This will be hard and uncomfortable at first, but an entire day without screens is refreshing. God commanded the Israelites to rest, showing their connection to Him. We need the same today. Put your phone on airplane mode or leave it at home, consciously stepping away.
Plan your consumption. Smartphones are useful and always with us. But that doesn’t mean we really need to check them 50 times a day. Constant checking interrupts our flow, thinking, prayer, conversations and work. I consciously connect just two to four times per day. Define how many times you’ll pull out your device, when those times will be and how long you’ll be on. I actually set a timer, and every time it goes off, I swipe to close Instagram or Twitter or Facebook or Snapchat. I’m growing in the self-discipline I should have as a follower of Christ.
Choose your channel. We have too many channels to connect—emails, texts, Snapchat, Facebook, WhatsApp, Hangouts, Skype, Yik Yak, whatever comes out tomorrow. I’ve found it better to just have one preferred platform (e.g. texts or email) that important people know. Keep on top of that one through notifications, but turn off everything else, and enjoy the calm. I’m happier and more creative without notifications from my phone. For me, switching to a no-contract plan where I pay for every megabyte helped with this.
Consider all those social ties. There are probably some people you interact with (or at least follow) on social that are a drag on you. You may need to stay connected because they’re family, are hurting or need Jesus. But for the many others, life is too short to spread yourself so thin.
Watch your heart. Practice noticing how you’re thinking and feeling as you’re connected. Maybe journal every day for a week for a few minutes after you check social. See what kind of patterns emerge. And pray through what comes up.
I lead social media for @InterVarsityUSA and @UrbanaMissions. Co-author: This Ordinary Adventure and for @Relevant with @ChristineJeske. My own ideas.