As some of you know, I’m now working as a free-lance writer and part-time researcher, which means I get to make my own schedule. Which I love.
The only problem with making my own schedule is that it requires a tremendous amount of discipline, discipline I really don’t have. I’ll sit down to work on a project and then out of the blue I’ll decide to check my facebook for some hair-brained reason. The next thing I know an entire hour has gone by. Poof.
After about a month of this I began to suspect that it was a bigger problem than I’d first given it credit for. But apparently God wanted to make it crystal clear. First I noticed that Ed Stetzer had posted a blog about a recent study on Christian college students and online social networking. You can read more about it on his blog, but apparently “over 30% of Christian college students spend 1-2 hours a day on Facebook alone, with 12% percent going at it for 2-4 hours each day. If you add in Twitter, email, texting, and popular websites we’re looking at a significant investment in the internet in general and social media in particular.” The study then explained,
“It isn’t yet clear whether over-zealous use of computer-based activities will be formally accepted in the U.S. as a distinctive, unique form of addiction. What is clear from our study is that a surprisingly high percentage of Christian students who frequently engage in electronic activities report several troubling negative consequences.”
Stetzer added, “Over half admit that they were ‘neglecting important areas of their life’ due to spending too much time online. Over 12 percent believe that they are addicted to some form of electronic activity. 21 percent felt that their level of engagement with electronic activities at times caused a conflict with their Christian values.”
I think what caught my attention was the language of social networking as a kind of addiction. We tend to equate addiction with drugs or pornography, but obsessively looking at pictures of my friends’ babies? I hadn’t considered that a potential threat.
Then I looked up the definition of addiction: “The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming.” Psychologically habit-forming? Bingo. I may not be using facebook to cope with depression, but I’m certainly using it as a mental stimulant when my brain isn’t entertained by my work.
Well God wasn’t done there. A day or two later I saw that John Piper had tweeted (ironically) the following statement: “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”
Ouch. Between the study on social networking and Piper’s words, I was noticing a theme. This isn’t just about procrastination or filling my time with meaningless busyness. This is about being a bad steward of the days I’ve been given. It’s about abusing God’s time.
But God still wasn’t done with me. Yesterday I got on facebook to find that one of my favorite seminary professors had posted a status declaring that she was “going off FB for a while, and I pray that others will do some investigating of their own.”
All of this in one week.
Now I do recognize the irony in reading all these messages on the internet. But I think there’s something to them. I don’t feel compelled to swear off facebook altogether given that it does help me to keep up with old friends as their lives change and grow. But the question is how do we handle these social networking devices in a healthy way? How do we prevent them from controlling us?
Recently Miley Cyrus got off Twitter because she had become more focused on tweeting what was happening in her life than on what was actually happening in her life. I think she makes a good point. I wonder what God thinks about all this virtual noise? We are constantly attached to our blackberries, e-mails, text messages, etc. that I wonder if we’ve blinded ourselves to how self-involved we’ve become. Is that a tactic of the Enemy?
All of these technologies can be used for the Kingdom of God, no doubt. And that’s one of the reasons I would never make a blanket statement about getting rid of them. The question is whether or not we’re actually using them for the Kingdom. Perhaps that is the very filter we should use for our time on facebook and Twitter: “Will God’s glory be advanced by this tweet?” “Am I serving God by spending this much time on facebook?” If I can’t answer yes, then I don’t think it’s worth my time.
Any thoughts out there?