July 4. I expect the glow of fireworks to be the only thing that lights up my surroundings. Instead, I’m surprised. With each dazzling firework rose the glow of iPhone screens trying to capture the moment.
It’s no surprise that our screens are slowly taking over. In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered that the typical 8- to 10-year-old spends an average of eight hours a day on an electronic device (that number has probably increased by now). Also, the average American home has more televisions than people in their household. These television screens remain on for a third of the day (eight hours and 14 minutes).
Screens surround us, which begs the question—what’s feeding our addiction to them?
Being a Christian, part of me can’t help but think our addiction to screens and inability to distance ourselves from them stems from a spiritual place. Maybe we rush to screens to solve something that we can’t clearly see—spiritual matters.
I believe there are five distinguishing marks that make our screen addiction a spiritual problem. In acknowledging them, maybe we can have a shot at battling this addiction—in our homes and in our daily lives.
Consider these five things that make our addiction to screens a troubling spiritual matter:
1. Screen Addiction Disables Us From Being Present.
We are created for community, and we all experience community in the same ways—through shared space, attention, care and concern. It’s nothing new to say that screens interrupt this connection. By taking away our attention, our screens remove our presence.
As missionary Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there.”
This practice of being present in situations helps foster our intimacy with others. As our presence fades, so does our intimacy. And as our inability to get past the surface in our relationships fades, so does our community.
Community is more than what we do to quell our boredom. We were created for it. So anything that gets in the way of that is a spiritual problem.
2. Screen Addiction Teaches Us to Be Discontent in Solitary Moments.
God says we are never alone. He is with us. But when we take out our screens and scroll through Facebook, we must admit that we feel alone in those moments. We immerse ourselves in our phones because we want to feel surrounded by people. We fear being alone.
As Sherry Turkle said in her TED talk, “If we do not learn to be alone, we’re going to be more lonely.”
In the Gospels, we see Jesus go to solitary places to pray. I believe He is setting an example—to feel comfortable enough to be alone and quiet enough to hear God speaking. If we continue to take out our screens as a reflex reaction to loneliness, we’ll never learn to sit still—to hear God in all moments.
3. Screen Addiction Latches Us to People’s Approval.
People are constantly engaging with social media and updating their profiles. At the heart of this is the idea that we want to influence how others view us. We can’t sit through moments before sharing them because we want people to see us in a different light—and by somehow proving that we are witnessing a moment, we can illicit a favorable view from others.
Yet this is relying on others to form our identity.
What happens when people don’t like what we put up? What happens when we don’t receive the attention we desire? What does that do to our identity and pride in who we are?
Christ says our identity is found in God, but if we really believed that, then I believe we would have the courage to not post everything we experience on social media.
If we believe our identity is in God, then we don’t need to prove ourselves. But that’s exactly what we want to do when we’re focused on our screens.
Instead, learn to receive love without having to put up a mask for it. The more genuine you are about yourself, the more you’ll be surprised by how much people appreciate that.
4. Screen Addiction Can Numb Us to Sin.
While asking a second grader what his favorite memory from his recent vacation was, he responded with playing Call of Duty with his classmates. I was shocked. In another setting, I had to scold a third grader for drawing a gun and pretending to shoot people.
The more we expose ourselves to cultural messages, the more they influence our behavior and way of thinking.
And this isn’t just a problem with kids who don’t know any better. Adult video game addicts have troubling blurring fact from fiction as well.
We can’t let our muscles of moral discernment grow lax in our constant addiction to screens. We can build our moral fortitude if we learn to be comfortable without our screens and the messages we unconsciously receive from them.
5. Screen Addiction Fosters Distraction Instead of Mastery.
When God created man and woman to subdue the earth, He acknowledged our authority over the environment. We have a power to control our circumstances and not be victim to them. It’s in our very design.
But when we turn to screens for escapism and distraction, we give up this power to affect our surroundings. We instead try to control a fictional world in games or develop a habit of running from our problems by immersing ourselves in computers or movies.
If we’re not careful, our digital world can teach us to run from our problems, not overcome them.
The truth is, with God we don’t have to play the helpless victim to our circumstances. We have a power and authority that can trump our daily problems. We just have to be willing to face them—and that’s the hard part, the part our screen addiction speaks to.
Let’s develop the courage to not escape our problems, but lean on God—not our screens—to face them.
Seeing how glued we are to our screens makes me think our inability to live like Jesus is partly caused by our lack of sitting still without digital stimulation.
But of course, the answer is not being a strict purist, to disavow the use of technology altogether. The solution is to see what spiritual insufficiencies our screen addiction is attempting to solve, and work to correct them with the help of community, the church and God. Maybe then we can return to the important matters of living like Jesus in everything we do.