“An Addiction of Epidemic Proportions”

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.”
(1 Corinthians 6:12)

At the breakfast table, Bob’s wife tried to engage him in conversation but to no avail. He assured her he was listening and mumbled some “uh-huh’s” and slowly nodded his head at all the wrong places while he kept glancing down at the article open on his phone.

Later that morning, at the packed waiting room in the doctor’s office Bob filled out the necessary forms and began to wait for the nurse to call his name. It might be 5 minutes or an hour so he pulled out his phone and began to mindlessly swipe, like all the others in the room.

At work, Bob’s team met for their 1 o’clock meeting to discuss next week’s agenda. Frank said he was running late so he pulled out his phone and checked Twitter. Until Frank came in a few minutes later, no one even lifted their eyes to the other faintly glowing faces in the room to engage in conversation.

At his desk, Bob typed away at his computer while his phone laid face up between his arms in front of his keyboard. Every so often he would check it for any notifications. By 3 o’clock he hadn’t received any so he decided to tweet something controversial to create interest. He hungrily checked and rechecked his phone relishing in the heated responses he had provoked. Satisfied, he laid the phone to the side so he could get his work done. At first, he laid it face down but thirty seconds later thought better of it and flipped it over.

Walking in the hallway to leave work Bob’s colleague asked if he could talk about something serious for a moment. “Sure,” he said while holding his phone, “what’s on your mind?” The man began to disclose some marital issues he was having when Bob’s phone buzzed. He looked down to see who it was. “I’m not getting that.” He saw he did not have Bob’s full attention and decided not to confide in him.

Bob came home to his wife checking her phone to see how many digital reactions the selfie she took during her Starbucks run earlier had garnered. He could see on his wife’s face it provided a much-needed boost to her self-esteem as she read comments praising her physical beauty. Bob commented in like fashion… on Facebook, not in person.

The two exchanged pleasantries and packed in the car to take their 10-year-old daughter to the Verizon store. Her iPhone screen broke so Bob bought her a new one before they went out to eat together as family. This was important family time. At the restaurant, they spoke less than 100 words to each other while they stared at their phones.

At this point, you may be surprised to discover that Bob calls himself a Christian. After dinner, they went to the church building to offer up their worship to God. During the study, Bob tried to follow along on the Bible app on his phone. But then a message popped up. The study wasn’t very intriguing and the teacher was not a good speaker so he justified spending the rest of the time swiping.

Bob doesn’t realize it but he is addicted. He is a slave “dominated” by social media. When he receives a notification on his phone his brain’s pleasure centers also receive a small shot of a chemical called dopamine. This makes him feel good so he finds himself, like a drug addict, chasing after this ever elusive pleasure high. All the while, the neurological pathways are being rewritten in his brain. As a result, all the research shows Bob will be less creative, less productive, less likely to communicate effectively while growing more anxious.

More importantly, every relationship in his life is slowly falling apart. He will not create meaningful relationships at work, in the community or in the home. To make matters worse, he buys his daughter a smart phone at an age when her brain is even less equipped to cope with the dopamine brought on by social media. One addict creates another.

This addiction not only destroys Bob’s relationships but it also warps his self-image and plunges him into anxiety and depression. After all, when he compares his miserable life with all those apparently happy and fit people taking pictures of their perfect families traveling to exotic destinations without a care in the world, why wouldn’t he be?

But Bob is busy doing the same thing, trying to fool other people into thinking his life is better than it really is. Like others, he tends to paint himself in the best light, highlighting the good and digitally nipping and tucking the bad until he has a perfectly photoshopped version of himself that is a far cry from reality. In the process, Bob has manufactured a little shrine to himself hoping to receive the digital praise of men. In the end, Bob will have his reward. (Mt. 6:2)

Many people are going through life like Bob, living in a culture addicted to social media. In the age of social media, the breadth of communication has never been greater, but the depth of communication has never been shallower. As a culture, we are, at once, more connected than ever and, yet, lonelier than ever.

Why? Because relationships are made during those times in between moments, the very moments we pull out our phones to escape having to talk with people. We are essentially robbing ourselves of our own lives. And the devil is laughing while we wait for hours in line to fork over $700 for a rectangular idol-factory.

Our phones are amazing tools but when they become more than tools it’s time to unplug. Here are few suggestions if you find yourself in Bob’s situation: 1) take two weeks off social media, 2) turn your phone off at a certain time every night, 3) leave it in the car when worshiping God, 4) catalogue your screen time to see how often you use your phone, 5) do something fun without documenting and posting pictures of it. Whatever we do, we must begin healthy habits of self-evaluation and self-control. Life is too short. Put down your phone and live.