We Are All Addicted

Though psychologists and researchers are reluctant to label excessive technology use as an addiction there are some tell tale signs that may be personal to us. Answer these questions:

How many of us have more than one TV in the home?

How many of us have more than one computer in the home?

How many of us leave the TV on even though no one is watching it?

How many of us talk or text on the cellphone while driving despite understanding the dangers of such actions?

How many of us have web access on our cell phone?

Does your percentage of unplugged time come close to matching your plugged time?

Have any of us interrupted a meal with family to text or answer a cell phone call?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you may have a problem with excessive technology use.

I am reminded of this advice from Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, at the 2009 commencement at Carnegie Mellon University:

“Turn off your computer. You’re actually going to have to turn off your phone and discover all that is human around us. Nothing beats holding the hand of your grandchild as he walks his first steps.”

How Would Jesus Use A Smart Phone?

Just as hurry has made the present a place that few people are satisfied living in, technology and its communicative ability to transport us digitally someplace else and with someone else has made us more and more distant from the people who may need us right where we are.

Mark Galli, in a piece entitled “Does Twitter Do Us Any Good?” expounds on this point, “I often find myself so drawn to my Blackberry and laptop that I fail to be present with the flesh and blood person who is standing before me. I look at them and pretend like I’m listening, but my mind strains to get back to my email. The technology is obviously undermining my ability to be present in an embodied way to the real person in front of me.” [i]

Have you ever noticed how much Jesus, as presented in the Gospel, never seems to lose sight of the present moment? Consider the story of Jesus when his mother and siblings are trying to reach him (Mark 3:31-35) or the way the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter progresses (Mark 5:21-43). Jesus is never in a hurry and never loses sight of an opportunity to minister in the very present moment.

[i] Galli, Mark. “Does Twitter Do Us Any Good?” Christianity Today 4 June 2009. Web.

















Are Our Digital Lives Damaging Our Spiritual Lives?

Technology Use, Southampton City College

Technology Use, Southampton City College (Photo credit: jisc_infonet)

It must be trendy to discuss the ubiquitous nature of technology and personal connectivity. A new term has even been coined for it – connection addiction. I saw this term first as a part of the headline for Newsweek’s latest cover story. Just a few months ago, The Atlantic cover story asked, ” Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”

A few years ago, I grew fascinated with the spiritual ramifications of all of this connectivity. I am convinced that the church needs to address this issue for the spiritual health of its members. I have included some of my writings on the topic below. I would encourage discussion. More to come.

  • The Ever Connected

Modern people are finding it harder and harder to unplug themselves from their electronic devices. Consider these recently documented findings:

– International studies tell us that “people would rather lose their wallet than their cell phone.” [i]

– Two thirds of 8,000 respondents in a 2009 poll go to bed with their cell phone nearby and refuse to switch them off because they are afraid “they’ll miss something.” [ii]

– an average working parent spends twice as long dealing with email as playing with his or her children [iii]

The Results of all of this Connection

Some people may be proud of their connectivity and ability to multitask but according to a 2009 Stanford study those people who are exposed to multiple streams of information have trouble paying attention, have poor short term memory, and can not switch from one task to another effectively.

Clifford Nass, a Communication professor who helped conduct the study, states that habitual digital multitaskers are “suckers for irrelevancy” because “everything distracts them.”[iv] Who would have thought that we would become addicted to distraction?

[i] Fahmy, Miral. “People would rather lose wallet than cellphone.” Reuters 4 Sept. 2009 [Singapore] . Web. 26 June 2010.

[ii] Stone, Brad. “Breakfast Can Wait. The Day’s First Stop Is Online..” The New York Times 10 Aug. 2009. Web. 26 June 2010.

[iii] Honoré, Carl. In praise of slowness: how a worldwide movement is challenging the cult of speed. p. 9. HarperCollins, 2004. Print.

 [iv] Gorlick, Adam. “Media Multitaskers Pay Mental Price, Stanford Study Shows.” Stanford University News 24 Aug. 2009. Web.

The Addicts Among Us

Addictions are for street people and celebrities and psychopaths, right?

I admit that I am an information addict that was really messed up by the internet. No, I didn’t stay up until 5 a.m. every night playing online games and I didn’t neglect my family, at least not abusively.

Part of what makes me decent at my job (I am an Academic Librarian) is being a generalist, or someone who knows a little bit about many topics. So what do you think the web does to a person like me? In the internet, I see endless possibilities to learn something new or to stay up to date with many things. But that is just it – endless possibilities. There is no way to make the flood of information stop unless you choose to make it stop. In the infographic below, Rasmussen College details the rise of media use among young people and research about media addiction and multitasking.

The stat that struck me was the amount of time people change windows or check email per hour. There is no good reason to be changing your screen that many times an hour unless you were looking for something to distract you. I know, I have been there. As tiny as the rush may be, we get little highs from online distractions and the internet becomes a distraction machine not a useful and enjoyable tool. We are all becoming addicted to distractions.

Jesus discusses distraction when he is at the home of his friends Mary and Martha. He explains to Martha, who is busy with preparation for the meal, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42) I am taken by the words “few things are needed – or indeed only one.” How hard is it for us, who, as the data below shows, are taking in three ti

mes as much information as we did in 1960, to discover what is needed and even the one thing that Jesus talks about through the downpour of information around us?

Perhaps 2012 is the time for us to radically change our digital and information habits. Distraction is an enemy of the Christian life and is slowly becoming an idol to many people.

See a recent post for ideas on limiting distractions and taming technology.

What Has Technology Done To Bible Reading?

I have done it. Me, a harbinger for the book and critic of the misuse of technology, almost decided to bring my daughter’s iPod to church yesterday because the Bible app would be a simpler choice over the oversized Bibles I seem to have at the house. I have often scoffed at the people in our Bible Study class who followed along with the passage for that week on their smart phones. Now, I was about to become one of them.

Has technology been good for Bible reading? In some ways, yes. I can have a Bible passage and a devotional sent to my email box every day of the week. Web resources such as Bible Gateway make locating scripture a breeze. And those Bible apps mean that as long as I have the ubiquitous phone, I also have the Bible with me. Also, my wife has been pleasantly surprised by the impact that the scriptures she posts on Facebook have on her friends. Khloe Kardashian was even quoting scripture on Twitter a few weeks back.

But what are the downsides? In the July/August 2008 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, writer Nicholas Carr, who later wrote a book on the topic, described the effect that the Web has had on his ability to concentrate and think:

When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.

Carr then quotes technology and medicine blogger Bruce Friedman, “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print.”

At this point, pet peeves about the proper use of a smart phone and the loss of the printed word become less important when placed up against the reality of web use altering our brain’s ability to process information and handle what we are reading. Think about what this might do to our ability to read the Bible. Reading the Bible is best done in slow, meditative ways, not in the scan and click approach we take to our web reading. And since many of us are starting to do most of our Bible reading online, are we able shut off the scan approach and actually consider what the scripture is saying, not only to our heads but also to our hearts?

The fact of the matters is, Bible reading has to be handled differently from other types of reading. This will take proper teaching and direction and will force Christians to seriously consider their use of technology and how it affects their spiritual life.  Thousands of years of effective use of the scriptures now may be changing. Perhaps we should put down our technology and consider what the future of Bible reading should look like.

How to Handle Technology

"Technology has exceeded our humanity"

Image by Toban Black via Flickr

Here are three steps to manage technology so that it does not become a detriment to your spiritual life.

1. Refuse to feel behind. No one wants to feel as if they are out of touch or behind the times. The truth of the matter is no one is completely up to date on technology. Even the person with the most advanced smart phone may not have a Blu Ray HD/3D Television with web capability. Make technology something that makes your life easier and more enjoyable but if you find yourself chasing after fads, you will quickly be stretched thin and constantly wanting. Be satisfied with what works.

2. Always choose relationships over technology. If you have a habit of texting during family dinners or checking Facebook more than twice an hour then you might be choosing technology over relationships. The people in front of you need your attention and time, especially if you have kids. Studies have shown that parents often spend more time handling email than time with their kids.

3. Read scripture slowly. The information overload of the internet era has made us all masters at skimming and scanning online material. We are losing the art of reading for deeper understanding. How is that going to affect our reading of scripture? Will we lose the ability to concentrate for long periods of time on God’s word? How are we supposed to fully consider and take in God’s word if we have no experience with meaningful reading.

Ways To Connect

I am working on a special post that maps out ways a Christian Life Hacker can use technology to enhance their spiritual life. Look for this post in the next couple of days. In the meantime, here are two easy ways that you can connect to this blog. First, click on the “Email Subscription” link to the right of this post. Once you filled out the proper information, you will begin to receive my posts in your email box whenever they are posted. Secondly, follow me on Twitter by visiting my @christlifehack feed or if you have a Twitter account, become a follower and get all of my Tweets in your feed list.

‘Society’s Policy’ Can Damage Your Christian Life

The Seven Storey Mountain

Image via Wikipedia

“We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.”
Thomas Merton (The Seven Storey Mountain)

The Merton quote above paints a stark picture of a society that is addicted to falseness and superficiality.  Do you agree with his assessment or is it an overstatement? What can we eliminate from our lives to help break this addiction to artificial desire and “synthetic passions?” Maybe then we will experience the God whose existence is rich, deep, unfathomable, powerful, and unceasing.

One thing that we can do is simply eliminate the amount of information clutter in our lives. I find that the more information that is flooding my way the more jumbled and distracted my mind becomes and the more susceptible I am to the falseness that Merton describes. Here are a few things I do to limit my information intake:

1. Take a real lunch break – I am such an information junkie that I could spend my entire lunch break surfing the web and reading countless web sites but it leaves me disjointed and jumbled. I try to get out of the building, take a book of fiction, and just disengage for a while.

2. Listen to more music – instead of listening to news as I get ready for the day I listen to a CD, instead of listening to sports talk radio in the car I listen to my MP3 player. It really helps at the end of the day when I need that “cool down” period to move from work mode to family mode.

3. Keep the Sabbath – I try to get all of my “honey dos” and errands done on Saturday so that Sunday is open for worship, rest and time with family. We have to unplug from the “tyranny of the urgent” and just be for a time.

Has any of our discussion over the last three days given you some thoughts on what you will be intentionally eliminating from your life next week? Again, I will be going on a Sports Fast from Monday through Sunday. I would encourage you to pray about it and make it an activity that God is involved in from the very beginning. I would also caution you to be wary of choosing something that is too big and too difficult. If you have not had much experience with fasting you will want to start small and make it doable.

Eliminate to Illuminate

If I am not careful, my stack of books to be read can grow by the day. I have never met an interesting website that I didn’t want to subscribe to. If I enjoy a blog or writer I am never satisfied with reading just a few things by them, I have to read their entire body of work. If I find a workout or nutrition program interesting, I want to follow it to the letter even though half of what is being asked doesn’t apply to me or requires too much money or time. Call me obsessive compulsive, a nerd, or even crazy, but what it really comes down to is that I consistently and foolishly think that I can add infinitely more to my life and that somehow that is a good thing.

The truth is, the only effective way to change is by first eliminating all that is a distraction, a burden, or time waster. No one followed Jesus without sacrificing something, maybe even something that was good. Even if we have many Godly things in our lives or Church activities that fill our schedule, we may need to cut some of these things out of our lives so that we can make room for God in an intentional way.

Over the last few years, I have stopped following every sport that showed up on Sports Center and streamlined the teams and events that I will let myself get fanatical about. I have tried to keep the list of books that I am reading at one time down to two so that I can take notes and fully consider what I am reading. I have stopped checking email obsessively and have become okay with emails gathering in my inbox or going unanswered. I no longer feel the need to read a magazine from cover to cover. I have been known to take whole months and devote them to one area of interest or activity instead of being thinned out by trying to keep up with multiple interests.

I mention all of this to possibly help you realize that if you have visions of including more prayer in your life, or reading through entire chapters of the Bible, or being more consistent with your Spiritual Enrichment Workout, you are going to have to eliminate something that you currently do. Piling on things to your already busy schedule cannot be sustained and will only lead to frustration and guilt.

So I would like to propose an exercise to be done starting next Monday and lasting one week. For this activity, I will be going on a Sports Fast where I will not read about or watch sports for one week. I will instead, try to use any extra time or mental storage space for meditating on God, spending time with my family, or praying and reading scripture. Your biggest distraction may not be sports. It may be political talk shows, or Facebook, or reality TV, or People magazine, or iPhone apps. Whatever it is that is teetering on becoming an obsession with you and it is getting in the way of  what is truly important you must eliminate it for one week.

My posts for this week will talk more about fasting and will be designed to prepare us for our upcoming Week of Elimination.