Social media addiction is a thing. It is not simply a projection of our parent’s failure to understand and appreciate new technology. Many parents are as likely to be addicted to social media as their children. Of course, the internet and social media have a great many positive aspects and provide definite benefits. But every aspect of human life can be turned to something harmful, even if it can also be used for good. Recognizing that social media can be addictive is not the same as saying that social media is always and necessarily bad. It is not surprising that any addictive behavior, even if relatively mild, will have an effect on our spiritual life.
Social Media Addiction: It leads to me being distracted from God, from finding God, from enjoying the nurturing and transforming relationship with him for which he created me. Fr. Peter Farrington
A recent study in the journal, Computers in Human Behaviour, (van den Eijenden, Lemmens, Valkenburg, 2016) presented a scale for measuring the disorder caused by social media use. Such disorder becomes more debilitating in those who are very addicted and in those who are young. But even the moderate misuse of social media among those of more mature years is often representative of an underlying spiritual condition, as much as of social and psychological concerns, and things are getting worse, not better.
The study found that a significant proportion of those studied, up to 44%, agreed that they had often found it difficult not to look at messages on social media when doing something else, such as school work, or often sat waiting until something happened on social media again. Many had felt the need to use social media more and more often. Social media was used as a means of taking the mind off other problems, and those taking part in the research often failed to get enough sleep because they were using social media late at night, or failed to pay attention to schoolwork and other responsibilities because of social media use.
If these were the only consequences of this sort of behavior that would be serious enough. But those taking part in the study also experienced and reported low self-esteem, loneliness, isolation from others, depression, and episodes of anger and frustration. This doesn’t mean that anyone who has a Facebook account or uses WhatsApp, will develop these conditions. Nevertheless, there is a continuum, a spectrum of negative effects, associated with an increasing and overwhelming need to be connected to social media.
Social media addiction | The Orthodox View
The Orthodox spiritual tradition has something to say about our preoccupation with social media, and the effects it has on our lives, and especially on our spiritual life. We are created to be connected. There is an insatiable urge within us to find ourselves in a transcendent relationship that truly fulfills an eternal hunger within us. Almost all of the problems we face, our sin, our sickness, the brokenness of our own heart and the societies in which we find ourselves, are caused by this lack of the one thing which would make us whole, life in union and in love with God who created us as unique human persons to be in an eternal relationship with him.
This is not a religious message, as if another ideal could ever be found that was just as necessary. This is the truth. We are all of us made for a transforming relationship with God, to be caught up in the captivating beauty of his presence, and everything else is a counterfeit, especially when we are deceived into thinking that this or that will make the connection that we need so much.
Social media addiction | Out of hand, and Out of control
It is not that being addicted to social media will undermine our relationship with God, as it will also undermine all of our real relationships with others. It will do that, addiction does that. We will be unable to make proper use of social media to sustain healing relationships, just as we will be unable to develop fruitful relationships with any others until the need for relationships is fulfilled in our existential knowledge and personal experience of God himself. It is not that social media misuse will prevent us from praying, or praying with attention, or reading the Scriptures, or even being really present, really participating, in the Liturgy. It will do all of these things when it gets out of hand. The real issue is that it will get out of hand, and it gets out of control when we are trying to satisfy the need for a divine relationship with everything else other than God.
Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, and every other social media platform, allows me to feel connected to hundreds and thousands of people. At the same time, it allows me to be obsessively, compulsively, necessarily connected to one or two, all of the time. I can share the outside of my life with a global audience, or the minute details of the working of my mind with a few. But in both cases, I am seeking the fulfillment of an interior need in the wrong way, in a way that undermines every relationship, that prevents me from having true relationships. It leads to me being distracted from God, from finding God, from enjoying the nurturing and transforming relationship with him for which he created me.
Social media addiction | A real problem
Love me, look at me, notice me, let me belong…. this is what we are silently saying when social media occupies the wrong place in our lives. It cannot help but become an overwhelming compulsion and addiction for many of us. One which leads away from God because it is presenting to us the connections of social media in place of the necessary and healing connection with God. Social media is not unique in representing a fake fulfillment of our human longing, but it is surely one which is powerfully attractive to our youth and even ourselves at the moment.
All of those positive aspects which it represents in moderation are lost and become positively harmful when we do not have the relationship with God which is all that can satisfy. When we do not have a relationship with God that draws us always back to reality. When we do not have the relationship with God which makes sense and properly orders all of our human relationships so that in God we are able to say… I am loved, I am known, I am noticed, and I belong.
Social media addiction | The solutions
Social Media can become a real problem. In the second article in this series, Father Peter Farrington will consider what we can do to prevent ourselves and our families from falling into Social Media Overload.
By: Father Peter Farrington | A priest of St Mary and Saint Cyril Coptic Orthodox Church in Liverpool. United Kingdom ~ Diocese of the Midlands.
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