Digital media can harm us. This is not a new subject to any of us. But I felt it imperative to throw in my thoughts as a spiritual director. None of these thoughts are original, but perhaps seeing them summarized may be helpful. In addition, while the whole topic is disturbing, we have choices that can keep us untangled. There is always hope with the resurrected Jesus. With that said, here are three of the more significant ways digital media can harm us:
1. While we can be connected to more people, we are feeling more lonely.
The social media world promised us more connections to more people, literally connections to anyone in the world with internet access. But the promise has turned empty. The stats are staggering: the rise in depression, anxiety, suicide, and other mental health issues. We don’t really connect to others. What we connect to instead is often a carefully constructed image of happiness, fun, and good times. And then we are left to wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” Humans are made to connect face-to-face with real conversations about what’s happening inside of them. God created us for connection. The internet substitutes for that to our own peril.
2. We are not just being analyzed; we are being farmed.
Again, the whistle blowers in the digital media world have been sounding this alarm for some time. The AI algorithms that process what you do online are not there just to predict your behavior, but to shape it. We are being analyzed not just to gather data about us, but to farm us and harvest our minds and wills. Digital media is purposefully designed to change us. This would be disturbing enough, but much of it happens without our being aware of it. That is what makes it even more frightening.
3. The circuitry in our brains is being rewired.
The constant barrage of information has forced our brains to adjust. We are forced to multi-task, to keep moving, to quickly move our attention from one thing to the next. In the process, we become shallow thinkers. We have more difficulty with concentration, with being still, with contemplating, with reading anything deeply. In addition, we are more exhausted. We don’t know how to take regular rest, how to keep the Sabbath, how to stop. This last danger invades my territory as a spiritual director. The need for space, for silence, for learning contemplative prayer, for being still in the presence of Jesus — all of these feel less like luxuries and more like weapons to fight the digital tyrant.
Some Hopeful Suggestions
Let me end on a hopeful note. We don’t have to be enslaved to digital media. We can choose differently. Here are a few random (and hopefully helpful) points of action:
- Consider limiting or removing yourself from social media. I made the choice to get off completely two years ago. I cannot tell you how freeing it has been.
- Take up activities that require no internet use: a new hobby, a new skill, a new outdoor adventure. Invite someone else to come along with you.
- Take a Sabbath day each week from all technology, as much as you can. Give your brain a chance to rest.
- Learn different ways to pray and enter regular periods of silence. Our next Half-Day of Silence on May 20 is a great opportunity for silence. Click here for more info.
- Ask Jesus to help you feel His resurrected presence more strongly than the pull of the internet.
Last Sunday was Easter. The center point of history is not the digital revolution. It’s the resurrection. So we can have peace amid the dangers because Jesus has overcome the world.
PS. Some of this post came from a fascinating article by a thoughtful philosopher. I need to give credit if you would like to read more. Click here to see the article.