In a move to help people re-assess their over-reliance on social media, the Royal Society for Public Health in London, England, has just launched a campaign – ‘Scroll Free September’ amid growing concerns that our pre-occupation with social media is undermining our mental health [https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/scroll-free-september.html] . It is appealing to social media users across the globe to stop scrolling their social media sites for a whole month. This includes but is not limited to social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and  Snapchat.

But although social media may be the most to blame for mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Screens in general are consuming more and more of our attention and time. We cannot go anywhere literally without there being one – hotels, airports, select retailers. The public square no longer fosters social interaction but rather social alienation. Very rarely on public transport or, in public parks or around family dining tables will  a mobile device of some sort not intrude on conversation, and in most cases short-circuit it altogether.

If it’s true that the average adult watches just over 26 hours of television a week, then our lives are literally disappearing into a ‘cloud’. In essence, we are in danger of wasting our time, minds and lives through constant and mindless entertainment and distraction. Nielsen, the global data analytics company, determined that in 2015 Americans spent about nine and a half hours each day consuming media whether watching tv, surfing the web on computer, using an app on their phones, listening to the radio and so forth. [https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/01/business/media/nielsen-survey-media-viewing.html] According to statista.com, the Statistics Portal, in 2017, the average UK adult aged 16 years and older watched 3.73 hours of television per day [https://www.statista.com/statistics/269918/daily-tv-viewing-time-in-the-uk-by-age/]. That equates to nearly 24 hours a week and nearly a decade of their adult lives. Suddenly these devices seem more expensive than what we paid for them in terms of monetary currencies.

In 1969 an advertising executive, Herbert Krugman, conducted brain wave experiments which uncovered  the science of why we are so hooked on screens. After turning on the television “… What he found through repeated trials was that within about thirty seconds, the brain-waves switched from predominantly beta waves, indicating alert and conscious attention, to predominantly alpha waves, indicating an unfocused, receptive lack of attention: the state of aimless fantasy and daydreaming below the threshold of consciousness.” Reading, on the other hand, did not produce a similar effect. [Nelson, Joyce. 1991.The Perfect Machine: Television and the Bomb. British Columbia: New Society Publishers.]

Consider how vastly our lives and communities would improve if we were not forever glued to our screens, and we channelled that time into:

  • building family bonds,
  • visiting neighbours,
  • volunteering,
  • taking care of our health,
  • wholesome reading,
  • prayer and meditating on God’s Word.

We are living in a voyeuristic age where people want to be ‘peeping toms’ in other peoples’ lives without the messiness or heartache of face to face involvement and commitment. The internet encourages us to see living human beings – their voice, smell, touch, even sharing the same space with them – as an inconvenience.  TV is not just a distraction from our lives – it can be a distraction from our very selves. We lose touch with who we are as we live vicariously through others and apart from others. We may fail to realise that:

  • Our priorities and values are changing;
  • Certain relationships have become distant;
  • Our health, whether mental or physical, has deteriorated;
  • We have drowned out the voice of God.

God warns us against “the prince of the power of the air [the ‘air waves’ not excluded]” who wants to control our minds by planting seeds of deception which contradict the truth (Ephesians 2:2). In the parable of the sower, the seed which  fell amongst the thorns was choked and could bear no fruit. Jesus explained that the seed represents the Word of God and that the thorns symbolise “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things  …” (Mark 4:19)

It is possible to spend our down-time in ways which allow our minds to be receptive to the word of God whether it’s the written word or his “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). Jesus, the living Word, wants to nurture an intimate relationship with us where we feel no inhibitions about sharing our burdens, fears and anxieties with him. He offers each one of us a personal invitation – “ Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20) There is no better feast – food and drink as a result of  which your soul will never hunger or thirst again!

Screens with their array of bright colours, dazzling lights and scintillating sounds offer the fast food of maximum taste and minimum satisfaction. They whet our appetites for tuning out of our own lives and escaping into a false, hyper-inflated world which we cannot control but instead provokes greed, envy, competition and a sense of inferiority. We can never be as bright, beautiful, rich or famous as the people we follow, and our lives will never be as picture perfect as the Instagram photos which captivate us. The sad reality is that, having been conditioned to believe that a greater sense of well-being is only a click away, we give little thought to the fact that precious moments of our lives are ticking away; and once gone, they can never be recaptured.

Carla Cornelius

Dr Carla seeks to bring a fresh and thought-provoking perspective to today's popular culture. With her Ph.D. in Biblical Counselling, she invites readers to see the relevance of the Bible in addressing the difficult and disturbing issues of our times.
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