3 Habits to Develop a Healthy Relationship with Social MediaBy Guest Author
March 29, 2021
Guest Post from Chris Martin
Americans spend more time on social media in a given week than virtually any other kind of activity other than sleep. We spend more time on social media than we do eating, watching TV, working out, reading, or any other sort of free-time activity you can fathom. I spend a lot of time, reading, thinking, and writing about what our unfettered relationship with social media is doing to our hearts, our minds, and our souls.
As you can imagine, a lot of the research shows that our relationship with social media leads to more unhealthy consequences than healthy ones. Increased social media use has a positive correlation with increased anxiety, increased depressive episodes, and an unhealthy lack of sleep, among other issues. On top of all of that, extended social media use is changing the way we understand what is true and what is valuable. That which is sensational and entertaining has the most value on social media, and I fear we are letting that spill over into our lives, leading us to a sort of discontentment with the mundanity that defines normal life, leading us to wish our lives were as interesting as the people we follow on Instagram or the like.
How can we, as followers of Jesus trying to live faithfully in an increasingly online world, try to maintain a healthy relationship with social media? One possibility, surely, is to log off social media entirely. But that is a big ask these days, I understand. So with the understanding that you and I likely aren’t leaving social media, what do we do? I propose three activities that can help us maintain a healthy relationship with social media.
1. Admire creation.
So many of us scroll Instagram and consume the content without thinking about how that mindless scrolling and double-tapping are warping our ideas of what is beautiful and remarkable. When we take time to set our phones down, go outside, and admire creation, we get to experience real-world beauty with our own eyes.
If we have any hope to reorient how we understand beauty, there is really only one solution: we need to spend less time scrolling Instagram and more time admiring the beauty that is all around us in our own lives. If we want Instagram, or any other social media platform, to cease being the lens through which we come to see anything as “beautiful,” we need to make the conscious decision to let our own eyes see and experience the beauty around us. Take a walk around your neighborhood and note the different kinds of trees. Check out an art museum and admire the creative work of others. Reorienting our eyes to appreciate the true beauty all around us requires intentionality, and we have to first be willing to spend less time on the app(s) that have warped our understanding of beauty in the first place.
2. Value silence.
What would it look like for you and me to spend more time listening on social media than we spend talking? Perhaps you currently post something on Facebook or Instagram once per day. What would it look like if you only posted once per week? Or twice a month? What if you vowed to only interact with others on Twitter if you had an encouraging word to share?
Our default mode is set to speak our minds as we please and listen to those with whom we agree. This default mode that governs our hearts is characterized by brokenness and what Christians call “sin.” Let’s make less noise and work to intentionally listen to others so that we might learn who they are, what they value, and how their life may be different from ours. Let’s have the humility to recognize that we aren’t the main character of our lives and that we exist for more, namely, to love others and point them to the true main character of our lives.
3. Build friendships.
My fear is that we are so consumed with social media and making “friends” online that we neglect the real-life friendships available with people in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, or our churches. My hope is that we see social media not as a primary means of maintaining our friendships with people, but as a sort of “bonus” avenue to cultivate the friendships that primarily exist offline. If we spend too much time collecting virtual friends and building relationships with people who we never see with any regularity, we rob ourselves of the sacrificial love we can give and receive in embodied friendships with those around us.
We would all do well to examine how we spend our time building friendships. Perhaps a challenge for us would be to tap our way to the dreaded “screen time” section of our phones to see how much time we spend on social media and compare it with the amount of time we invest in friends each week. My fear is that many of us spend 15 hours a week scrolling our preferred social media platforms (the average for Americans) and spend only a small fraction of that in the physical presence of friends who live among us—even when COVID isn’t a factor. What if we reduced the amount of time we spend mindlessly scrolling Facebook and increased the amount of time we spend having conversations about the deep things of life over coffee?
We Must Be Intentional
I mentioned it briefly in the discussion on the value of silence, but because we are all bent toward sin, our relationship with social media is bent toward sin, too. If we hope to regain any control over how social media influences our lives and our walks with Jesus, we must be intentional. Discipleship and spiritual growth don’t happen by accident.