The technology we have today for everyday use is quite incredible—smartphones and laptops, Wi-Fi and data, social media and search engines. We depend on it all. These technologies can make our lives easier and more efficient. They enable us to connect with more people, including people who live in other parts of the world. But technology can also distract us. It can be a form of escape, which isn’t a healthy coping mechanism. It can actually drain our time and energy.
Now more than ever, we may have a complicated relationship with our technology (exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the emergency orders and the physical distancing measures). In today’s reality, technology is essential for schooling and work (if we’re able to work from home). We use it to maintain personal connections with our friends and family. Some of us may even order our groceries online now.
At the same time, many of us feel fatigued from all the Zoom calls. We want breaks from our screens, the same screens we would usually turn to for entertainment or to pass the time. We’re craving the in-person interaction and are starting to recognize the limits of our digital technology.
Perhaps we’re all taking stock of our go-to reactions when it comes to our digital devices these days. Have you ever done this before—sat down and evaluated your default habits with the technology you use every day? This might be the perfect time to do so. This is a unique season of life we’re all going through, so it’s a great time to reflect on your relationship with technology.
In his book “The Tech-Wise Family,” Andy Crouch writes about keeping technology in its proper place, and the importance of making deliberate choices to prevent technology from taking over our lives. We can benefit from all kinds of devices and technology, but we shouldn’t build our entire lives around them.
So, how can we use technology as a tool rather than being passive and letting the technology use and control us? What is the best way to utilize technology so we can flourish as human beings?
First, evaluate your default habits with technology. Take a moment and think through your response to these questions:
- Do I check my phone within minutes of going to sleep and/or waking up?
- Do I sometimes go to sleep later than I planned because I was on my phone, computer, YouTube or Netflix?
- Do I scroll through social media just to kill time or when I’m waiting?
- Do I find it hard to set time aside in my day to read the Bible or pray because of my technology use?
If your tech use is unhealthy, and it’s actually impacting other areas of your life, it might be time to re-think some of your choices with your devices. We could all use a healthy dose of self-reflection and self-evaluation when it comes to our default habits with technology.
It’s good for us to take an honest look at our lives and consider what we can do to establish healthier habits in our lives. Habits are the automatic and unconscious things we do that shape our day-to-day life. Habits can be useful because they help us conserve mental energy as our actions become automatic, and we’re not making as many conscious decisions. However, these habits can become harmful when they become addictions.
Justin Whitmel Earley talks about habits in his book “The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose in an Age of Distraction.” He notes that habits form more than our schedules. In fact, they form our hearts. They reveal what we really care about based on what we dedicate our time to.
Establishing new habits with your technology will take time and discipline. Studies show that it takes at least 3 weeks to turn new practices into habits, at a minimum. One psychological study found that it took an average of 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. So this will take effort, commitment, and perseverance. We need this kind of discipline in various areas of our lives. It’s a muscle that’s built and strengthened, giving us spiritual resources for everyday life (like self-control and patience).
Have you ever thought about how your smartphone, social media, and digital technology use impacts your spiritual life?
Think about it. As Christians, what are we called to? First, we are called to love God, and second, we are called to love our neighbour. Loving God requires all of us: to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. That’s tough to do when we’re so distracted, obsessed with multi-tasking, and consuming endless amounts of information and entertainment through our devices.
Justin Whitmel Earley writes, “we desperately need a set of counter-formative practices to become the lovers of God and neighbor we were created to be.” God can sanctify you through the ways you relate to, think about, and use your technology.
Reflect on a few more questions as it relates to your relationship with God:
- Do my digital media habits move me toward God or away from him?
- Do my digital media habits reveal a compulsive desire to be seen and affirmed?
- Do my digital media habits distract me from genuine communion with God?
- Do my digital media habits mute the sporadic leading of God’s Spirit in my life?
After some thorough evaluation and reflection, take some time to consider some new technology habits that will put technology in its proper place. The goal is to fulfill our call to love God and others more fully. Here are a few healthy habits you can establish in your life, starting today! As you read through this list, think: “what changes could I make that would be beneficial for me personally and for my relationship with God?”
Have screen-free buffer time around your sleep. Your phone can shape your first desires of the day (FOMO, envy, cynicism, stress), so wake up before your phone or computer does, and enjoy some moments of solitude in the morning. You could try using a physical alarm clock or turn the Wi-Fi off once you get ready for bed. Keep your bed as a place for rest, not for social media scrolling. Try to turn your screens off 30 minutes to 1 hour before you go to sleep.
Look to scripture before your phone. We turn to the Bible for wisdom and to remind ourselves that we are God’s children. Reading from a physical Bible is even better (you will naturally read slower and linger over the text compared to reading the Bible off a screen).
Frame your day through prayer. These can be quick prayers, but take time to acknowledge who God is and what he is doing in your life each day. You could pray the Lord’s Prayer each morning, or use a simple format like the examen at night, or follow a prayer guide/liturgy throughout the day.
Set boundaries with your technology use. This can include simple things like disabling non-essential push notifications (which can be little interruptions), or turning off your device for one hour per day (to have some silence and a break). You can be more mindful and use your screen for a purpose (like going on your phone to text someone, or only checking certain apps at specific times each day). Another boundary would be to curate your media/video consumption (we choose good things by setting limits). Perhaps start by tracking how much you watch each day, and work to reduce your weekly consumption.
Take a digital sabbath. Set aside a full day to take a break from your technology (laptop, phone, Wi-Fi, social media, Netflix) and rest deeply. Instead, spend your time doing activities that draw you closer to God. This is like a digital detox. FaithTech has a Digital Sabbath Experiment you could try.
Connect with people (IRL when possible). Be present and undistracted with people in real life by putting your device away when you’re talking with someone. If possible, try to have a meal with others each day and have a one-hour conversation with a friend each week (with physical distancing this might look like a phone or video call instead of an actual coffee or lunch date). We need human connections beyond texting and messaging. Real, vulnerable, in-person relationships make us feel known and loved.
Another useful set of practices you can check out is Justin Whitmel Earley’s “Spiritual Rhythms for Quarantine.”
You can test your use of technology in the same way you would a physical diet (establishing new habits like going to the gym or eating healthier and seeing changes in your body and health). Reflect on what happens to your mind and body when you stay off Instagram for a week; when you don’t answer emails right when you wake up; when you don’t sleep near your phone; or when you limit Netflix to four hours a week. Change your smartphone routines and see what happens to your devotional life. Are your mornings more fruitful and focused? Are you recognizing God’s voice and leading in your daily life more? Listen to your body and your soul as you start applying these practices. I pray that as you make some changes, it will be beneficial for your health, your relationships, and your walk with God.
- The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place by Andy Crouch
- The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction by Justin Whitmel Earley
- 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke