The light in my room slowly started to fade as reels continued to flash by my face, only provoking a laugh every ten minutes: I finally looked up and realized I’d been scrolling for an entire hour. My life was no more enjoyable than when I had started scrolling while the sun was up.
I’ve struggled with social media addiction for a couple years now. You can phrase it however you’d like: overuse, binging, a slave to social media, etc.
What’s funny about social media is that we often isolate ourselves from others with it when we are in public, and yet we reach for it in private to be a part of a bigger crowd. What social media promises is community and connectedness – a vital part of a thriving life. But what we end up receiving from social media is often isolation. Could we ever use it virtuously? Should all Catholics leave social media, or do we have a place in the digital space?
I find it challenging to speak on how Catholics should use social media since Jesus didn’t warn us specifically about digital addiction. However, we know a lot of themes in our digital age showed up while Jesus was on Earth: the desire for community, public dialogue, personal reputation and image, and pleasure moderation.
The Desire for Community
Each human has a deep desire for community – we are built to interact with one another. Social media promises community, inclusivity, and the cultivation of friendships. While media does allow us to connect to others in a way we never have before, we must not value a digital interaction over a physical one. The danger begins when we neglect the souls in front of us for endless entertainment and “friendship” in a feed. Often we believe a media platform is an easier outlet for vulnerability: we can monitor the reactions, we usually receive affirmation from others and feel supported. However, our responsibility is to foster safe moments for vulnerability in our friendships in real life; this solidifies our bonds and makes us a dependable and reliable friend in others’ lives.
When Jesus was alive, His words spread far and wide, but human understanding of Him was limited to a few thousand people. He was God. Today, think of how accessible someone’s “personhood” and words are. If we want to know something about Chris Pratt, we can take 15 minutes to research his life and discover intimate details about his life. We sometimes believe we can know people we’ve never met. This is false. Jesus invested deeply in twelve apostles, and even then, Peter, James, and John were His closest friends. We must love those in front of us first before exclusively cultivating online friendships that stay fed through social media.
Personal Reputation and Image
In order to succeed in a social media algorithm, content must appear as “you” in order to draw the attention of an audience. Can you imagine if everyone on social media found their identity in Christ? What revolution would take place if users’ first priorities were to encourage your hopeful sanctity and their own? Joy and hope would come from a 15 minute scroll. Our view would be a crucifix and our priorities would be well-ordered. Next time you pick up your phone to scroll, simply invite Jesus into your heart and mind. Ask for the gift of prudence and discernment to know when enough is enough. Jesus is not worried about how other people view you – He sees the heart. See Him before you see yourself and Instagram.
Currently, our pleasure intake is far greater than any other generation. Reaching for an emotional pacifier in your hand, even on your wrist for some (i.e., Apple watches). The number of times I’ve been upset or angry only to have my negative emotions melt away when I click a new app… it’s happened more than I’d like to admit. We run from pain in order to kneel in front of pleasure. And yet this is not Biblical in any way. Suffering can be redemptive. It is suffering that leads us on the path to pure hope (Romans 5:3-5).
The joy of being a Catholic in this digital generation is that God chose you for this time. The Holy Spirit is using us to evangelize even in this age, especially in this age. The Trinity has dominion over all things – including the digital space. Let’s get practical, shall we?
Here are my top recommendations for getting to know your personal social media habits and growing in virtue with digital spaces:
- Educate yourself. If you don’t already know how social media is affecting you and what it’s designed to do, start researching. My favorite book on this is 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke. Another suggestion is Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.
- Make an examination of conscience that is media based. Here is an examen written by the Pauline Sisters tailored to media consumption.
- Challenge your assumptions about social media. Ask yourself, “How does social media affect my view of God? How does social media affect my view of others and myself?” We often lack reflection time, and these are great questions to journal about and pray with in your free time.
- Engage with intellectual formative content on social media in regards to our culture and psychology. “The Social Dilemma” is my favorite movie about social media, and Digital Minimalism is a great book for that unveils the sobering reality of media’s effect on your life.
- Be aware of when your binging occurs: is it when you’re alone? Do you have roommates or friends that can help you put your phone down? What emotion are you reaching for when you grab your phone?
- Make a social media fast when necessary. Delete the apps when you need to, and have a friend hold you accountable when you slack on your commitment. There are apps like “Clear Space” and built-in app limits that can be utilized.
While these recommendations can help us to consume media in a moderate and appropriate way, you may continue to struggle to put technology down. I struggle every day to be detached from it, as well. Accountability partners help us in other areas of vice, and this can be an open discussion you have with a friend: how are we consuming media in a way that honors God?
We must live in reality. Truth, goodness, and beauty – the transcendentals – are so much more enjoyable than hours on screens. They hold true meaning and the presence of God exists within them. They’re all around you. Let’s log off and look up. On the crucifix, Love is calling out to you. You must lift your chin in order to see Him.