Let’s face it. We’re all addicted to our phones, our screens, social media, 24 hour news cycles, email, text messages, and trying to swallow the fire hose of information that is sprayed directly into our mouths on a nearly constant basis. For some of us, it starts with falling asleep with our phones next to us (you know, in case one of the kids really needs us… plus, I use it as my alarm clock). Eventually, we steal a peak in the wee hours or when those of us on the declining side of the bell curve get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Speaking of which, when was the last time you didn’t bring your phone into the bathroom with you?
I see it on the beach, in the drive-in line at Starbucks, at the park where parents are “watching” their children play, and almost every place I go. That’s when I actually notice. When I’m not looking at my own phone, that is.
Much has been written about this addiction, including on the growing and highly damaging problem among children. See Nicolas Kardaras’ work here. And like those addicted to other things, we often deny it. We say the equivalent of: “I drink a lot, but I can control it, really.” Or: “I know it’s not that big of a problem.” There’s a reason that twelve step programs begin with an admission.
But this isn’t the worst of it. The bigger challenge we face is that there’s gold in them there hills for marketers and hawkers. By keeping our eyes affixed to screens, they can sell us stuff – directly through advertising or indirectly and probably even more insidiously, through studying our every move, reading our text messages, seeing where we are navigating to on mapping sites, understanding what we are searching for and tracking our clicks. Knowing us as well as they do means that we are the product. And, therefore, we are the ones for sale. For sale to anyone who wants to know what we’re interested in so they can shoot us like the fish the barrel we have become. And let’s not even get into the security and privacy considerations.
And still, this isn’t the worst of it. The biggest challenge we face is that those who want us to be addicted know that we will spend more time engaged with content and on-line and within the social media circles that bind us when we are angry, pissed off, truly outraged. So, if we show a tendency on Facebook to follow some bit of content on a topic, such as women’s rights, guns, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, abortion, LGBT issues, whatever… then they feed us more of it. They send us content on those topics but not just because we’re interested in them but more so because they want to incite us. They will send us carefully algorithm-based curation about how those on the other side of our interest are crazy and dangerous. This makes our blood boil and because they control what we see, we start to think that the world is actually like this. We become unwittingly radicalized into our positions and this only serves to separate us, to create divisions between us.
This is not in our best interest, whether as a society, as a country, as Church, as community, as family, as person. The mental health towel snap we take by getting sucked into social media is becoming well understood and clearly documented. This is bad for us individually and it’s bad for us collectively.
Separation and outrage makes us forget about all that connects us. About our common interests. About those things that all us want for ourselves and for those we care about. And there are many of those things. Time spent on screens makes us forget all this.
The bickering and conflict on social media platforms is out of control. Some will post messages bemoaning this fact but score one for the social media platforms. Separation and outrage is the objective.
But only if we choose this.
This is my admission. And I have many more steps to go…