Social media is brain poison. That is what runs through my mind every time I see one of those nicotine commercials. Yes, I see the irony in that there is a good chance you found this post on social media. I am not saying that every aspect of social media is negative. There are good things that social media can do for us, but my time on social media usually cost me more than it gives me. What I am getting at is that most people are not aware of how this relatively new tool is effecting them.
T. David Gordon, in an episode on the White Horse Inn called “Distracting Ourselves to Death,” pointed out that you cannot use a tool without that tool shaping you and the culture in which you live. For example, imagine a nomadic hunter-gatherer culture being introduced to good land and a shovel and a plow. If this group of people begin to use these tools repeatedly it will change them. The muscles used working these tools will develop. Their backs could grow stronger and their hands could end up with new callouses, and they would begin to spend more time in one place instead of moving around.
If the use of these tools is effective enough, it could even change the values of the culture. Once, the lean quick hunter was the most valuable body structure because it could provide food. Housing and supplies that could be quickly packed up and moved would also have been more valuable than those that are permanent. Now that these new tools have been introduced, and the people are settling into a specific place, the easily moved supplies are no longer as important. Along with that, the stocky strong body becomes better able to provide than the lean quick body. All of this change happens because of the introduction of new tools.
Social media is a new tool, and we must be aware of how it is changing us. Christians especially. Changes brought on by new tools which are positive or neutral are fine, but if you see changes taking place that move you away from what Christ has called you to be, it is time to either change the way you are using the tool, or abandon it altogether.
There have been enough studies conducted on the use of social media that the negative effects are unquestionable. Long use can cause anxiety, depression, unhealthy sleep patterns, negative body image, and unrealistic expectations. One of the most counter-intuitive effects is loneliness.
Social media is also addictive. Have you ever posted something and repeatedly gone back to check to see how many likes and comments it is getting. This is not something that has happened accidentally. It was designed to get you to do that. Posting is like inserting a quarter to a slot machine hoping you hit the jackpot. You sit and watch the wheels spin to see what is going to happen. One more quarter, one more post, yet the viral jackpot rarely ever arrives, but there are enough little wins to keep you coming back. It is addictive, but did you know it can also diminish your ability to concentrate?
When was the last time you spent 20 minutes on social media and had sustained concentrated thought on one subject? That is not how it was designed. It was designed to have your mind flit from one unimportant piece of information or entertainment to the next, rarely spending more than 30 second on each new thing. What this does is it trains your alert attention to be at full strength; constantly looking for the next shiny object presenting itself for your consideration. All this happens without a single deliberate thought. If you do this for hours and hours, your alert attention grows stronger, but your executive attention grows weaker.
Your executive attention is your ability to stay focused on one topic or task at a time. Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, points out that long hours on social media, and even our constant alerts and notifications on our smart phones, programs our brains to be more focused on alerts, while at the same time diminishing our ability to concentrate. If you find it more difficult to maintain deep thought on something for a sustained period of time, social media may be one of the reasons. The good news is that this can be reversed by changing your habits. Knowing this, it is easy to see how social media effects productivity in more ways than one.
I could go on and on with example after example of the negative effects of social media, but let me end with just a few more points. Social media was supposed to help give a voice to the people, which it does to some effect, but have you noticed that we seem to have made it more of a megaphone for fools?
Social media has become a bullhorn for ignorance, and it is our fault. This is how it works. Some person, way off their kilter, says something ridiculous, and they hold an opposing political view to our own. In order to show how stupid the other side can be, and to lump our opponents all into a nice stereotype, we share this person’s stupidity with all our friends and followers just to point out how bad the other side is. Our followers, in-turn, share it, and before long, this unknown person who has no grasp on reality has gone viral, and not everyone will think their idea is ill-advised. And we gave it a voice.
The fact that social media can be a megaphone for ignorance is one thing, but it leads to a greater problem because, as mentioned earlier, people are always hoping their next post will hit the viral jackpot. As they look around, they begin to notice that sane and normal thinking does not gain much traction in the likes and comments department. If you want your posts to rise above the noise, you will have to stoop to the level of social media, which usually involves half-truths, outrage, offense, and quick demeaning comebacks for the other stupid people on social media. It seems not even our president is immune.
Finally, have you ever noticed that cowards are courageous on social media? That is what trolls are. That is because social media gives a false sense of authority without vulnerability, and functioning this way will always fail to satisfy. As Christians, we are called to function with authority and vulnerability. The anonymity of the internet often causes us to act in ways we would never act in person. Social media, even with the good things it can bring, is mired in a cesspool of powerless tyrants. Then again, maybe they do have some social media authority because we continue to use social media like it is a tool we cannot live without, and they have figured out how to get their voice heard. Get enough of them together and you have a social media mob. This leaves us with a few options, either stoop to what works for them, or begin to devalue the importance of social media by changing the way we use it, or by abandoning it altogether.
Lets also not forget that these platforms are collecting all of your activity into a persona so they can market to you. They exist because you are a commodity. That is how they make money. They offer you their tool at a price, and that price is information about yourself harvested and sold. These platforms are also becoming more authoritative in the types of speech, or should I say views, they will allow to be communicated. Christian beliefs often fail to meet their standards of conduct. Even if you do have a multitude of followers and influence, if you continue to communicate the truths of scripture, it could all be taken away in a moment.
I have personally given too much of my life to social media. I have since made significant changes to how I use it. I only check my accounts once a week, and I spend no more than 15 minutes doing it. I still post continually throughout the week, but that is done through a scheduling tool which allows me to schedule posts without directly interacting with anything else on these platforms. I know you may actually be using these platforms for the sake of the gospel, or some other worthy endeavor, but that can continue without spending long periods of time scrolling through infinite feeds. Since I have made the change, it has been wonderful. I have been freed up to focus on things of greater importance. What about FOMO (the fear of missing out)? Well, I don’t fear missing out on brain poison.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8