Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Filled With a Sense of "Ugh."

I've been off of Facebook since the middle of October, and I've talked about it here and there.  I look at my wife's account every once and a while and am stunned at how uninterested I am in any of the content therein.  This is not to speak disparagingly about the digital company The Mrs. keeps, but is more accurately a commentary on how meaningless and shallow and unworthy of my time I have come to believe Facebook is (again, I'm not trying to call anyone who has a Facebook account meaningless or shallow).  I've toyed with going back to Facebook, albeit with a much more focused intention (such as using it strictly for ministry purposes), but I can't even bring myself to do that.  Just the thought of reopening my account fills me with a sense of "ugh."  It's kind of hard to explain.

But in the time I've been off of Facebook I've had time to reflect on what it was like for me to be connected to social media, or even more simply, connected to digital devices such as computers, phones, iPads, etc., through which we access Facebook, games, and other digital services.  I've come to realize that people today simply spend a lot less time thinking.  There's no downtime for their brains anymore.  If you're bored, you plug in to something - even if it's something mindless.  Other times, we're programmed to be plugged in to two things at once.  Think about it: have you ever "watched" a movie while also being on your phone or computer or other digital device?  I know I have.  And it's not just during movies.  Seems to me like people are plugged in most times, regardless of whatever else is happening.

As I've already said, it's been my observation (I'll speak for myself) that because of this I spend a lot less time just sitting and thinking.  It used to be that when I worked around the house or did chores I would do it without any kind of distraction.  Nowadays I do it while listening to Wretched podcasts.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if you work around the house or do chores without something in your ears, you have time to think - time to reflect.  For the most part, I (and I think it's safe to say "we") have lost that time.  We don't reflect much anymore, because we're listening to someone pontificate on our favorite podcast.  And we don't observe and think anymore, because we've got our noses buried in screens.

All of this came to a new reality for me today as I was preparing this week's middle school Sunday School lesson, focusing on Philippians 4.8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  The point of the lesson is that what we put in our minds influences our thoughts, and in turn influences our actions.  The admonition of the lesson is to evaluate what you put in your mind: is it God-glorifying?  Will it build you up?  Will it cause others to stumble?  And so on and so forth.  The secondary intention of the lesson is to encourage kids to be filling up their minds with praiseworthy things, as delineated in Philippians 4.8.  Put simply, if we're filling up our minds with bad input, we'll have bad thinking, which will manifest in bad actions.  But if we fill up on the things of God and think about those things, our behavior will be God-glorifying.

But here's the problem: since we have our faces glued to screens, and since we're constantly engaging our minds in what I'll call mindless activities (such as browsing a Facebook feed, playing an online game, etc.) we don't have any brainpower engaged in thinking about things, let alone good and godly things.  I would argue that technology and things like Facebook are morally neutral.  That is, they don't cause us to sin directly, and they don't have to be used in sinful ways.  And even if we are using these good gifts of God in non-sinful ways, they're still locking our minds onto whatever it is they are showing us, thereby diverting our mental capacities away from thinking about anything useful.

It comes down to this: you may not be using Facebook or digital devices and services to do sinful things or fill your mind with bad input, but you're almost certainly not using these things to think about stuff listed in Philippians 4.8 either.  But then again, maybe you are.

I guess I'll just speak for myself.

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