ON BEING ‘PLUGGED IN’
You, like me, have probably grown up or lived through the period which in the affluent West has seen the rise of mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, blogging and iPads, to name just a few of the devices and social media that we now use to connect with one another. It has become a cultural cliché that in this day and age we are more connected than ever before. In fact, we seem to be constantly ‘plugged in’ to some device or other in order to connect us into our various networks.
But this can become addictive and all-consuming. When I’m at my worst, I can be checking my newsfeeds every 5 minutes, habitually cycling through Facebook, Twitter, BBCNews, videogames websites and emails, contantly looking for that one little extra endorphin kick, that tidbit, news-item, photo, or message to keep me entertained. If I don’t have my smartphone in my pocket, available to make instantly accessible to me texts, apps and the internet, then I feel naked. It becomes the instinctual, default position, when I don’t know what to do next, to check my phone.
And it has become almost as much of a cultural cliché in our society to acknowledge that although we are more electronically and superficially ‘connected’ than ever before, we are less manifestly and deeply connected than ever before.
What’s more, in relation to this, the detrimental effects of social media and electronic device usage are already well documented. Here’s just a small selection of articles:
Amount of Facebook use can be inversely proportional to happiness
Steve Jobs, inventor of the iPad, didn’t let his kids use them. I wonder why?
The average person checks their phone over 100 times a day (apologies for Daily Fail source)
Constant device and social media use maximises transient, superficial, mediated connection via a screen at the expense of authentic and deep connection with people face-to-face, leading to increasing isolation, shortened attention-span and depression.
But what is the alternative? What is the greater reality that the false intimacy of social media plagiarises and offers a sham imitation of? What is much more worth ‘plugging’ into all the time?
As a Christian and a theologian, I put it to you that the best things you can be ‘plugged in’ to, rather than devices and social media, are: first, the living Spirit of God, through prayer; second, the coordinating historical texts that document the past activity of the Spirit of God, through reading the Bible; and third, the cosmic Body of Christ, through face-to-face physically-present relating to our families, friends and the church, our community. Authentically connecting with the other people around us and the created environment in which we live will be natural consequences of these. Incidentally, both scientific studies and the Bible agree, especially in the case of prayer (/‘meditation’) and family relationships, that these will also have positive and beneficial effects on our wellbeing.
Now, I’m not saying that Facebook, phones, Twitter, blogging etc. are bad, just they can easily become obsessive, addictive, all-consuming, and idolised, which is bad. Hence, an aspiration to maximise manifest, high-quality connection with God, family, church, others and the environment, and to use these electronic tools merely to facilitate these things rather than as an unsatisfactory replacement for them.
How can these things be maximised instead? Here are some suggestions, for myself as much as anyone else:
-Turn off the phone, the iPad, the laptop for a while each day. “Go into your room and shut the door.” (Matthew 6) Rest and be still for a while, and pray to God: connect to and talk to God, the Creator of the Universe. As you connect to him more, you will even discover that he can talk back (1 Corinthians 14) through a still small voice (1 Kings 19), through mental pictures (Acts 10), through impressions and senses (Galatians 2) and through other means that of course need to be tested and weighed against one’s own judgment, scripture, and community, but can nonetheless constitute God speaking. This –he– is the most exciting, thrilling and satisfying thing –person– to be connected into in the whole Universe. To experience the presence of God, to commune with him powerfully in prayer, and to hear words from him spoken specifically to you, though it takes time, space, and effort, is unlike anything else in the world, and trumps Facebook every time.
-Open the Bible. This subjective connecting-into-God also needs a more objective component to ground it and which rationally reinforces and makes coherent this faith in God. This is provided by the documents that record the development of the Jewish faith, the life of Christ, and the birth of the early church.
-Spend time with your family, friends and church. Not just ‘doing’ something like watching TV, playing videogames, or always pursuing some other activity, but face to face, perhaps over food, conversing, sharing what is going on with you and actually listening to one another. Exodus 24:11 speaks of the elders of Israel, along with Moses, eating and drinking with God, face to face. Similarly, Jesus sanctified the simple act of eating and drinking with one another by choosing bread and wine (basic food and drink) as the symbols of his sacrifice by which to remember him. Eating and drinking together is a holy and sacred thing in itself, the wonder of which we forget and supress by doing other things.
-Pray for others too. I believe that the compulsion we have to be ‘plugged in’, ‘up to date’ and ‘in the know’, to need absolutely always to have the most recent piece of news, is actually a secondary derivative of the deeper, supressed desire we have to be plugged into the worldwide interconnected network of intercessory prayer. By the Spirit of God, that is a grapevine (see John 15) by which we can hear and discern far more important news, which can connect us much more powerfully to others and through which we can actually participate in the transformation of the world through the aligning of our wills with God and the offering of petitions and requests to him.
Some other practical ideas to close:
-Only go on facebook and social media at certain times. Maybe at the end of the working day.
-Put your phone on silent, so it’s not always interrupting you and invading other higher-quality connections.
-If you have a smartphone, turn off emails and notifications, for the same reason. Sort out those work-rest boundaries.
-If necessary, infiltrate technology with means that work towards other connections. E.g. Get the Bible on your phone or iPad through a site like this http://www.htb.org/bioy
-Have daily times with God without devices.
-Have regular times of face-to-face connection with family, friends, church, others and nature.