“With great power comes great responsibility.” —Spiderman
You probably hold a device in your pocket or purse that has the power to either destroy your life or change the world. Yes, I am talking about your cell phone. We live in a time when social media and technology has become a part of our daily life. Both in my job as Watermark Director of Digital Ministries and in my personal life, I have the opportunity to use technology day in and day out. I also have a front row seat to see both the blessing that these devices can bring and the harm they can inflict. I want to share some tips below to help you use technology and not let technology use you. I constantly battle the dangers below, but I hope by sharing these tips we can both become better users of technology.
5 Ways to Use Technology and Not Let Technology Use You
1. Assume the Best About Everyone. What an interesting season it has been on social media. You can’t scroll through your timeline without seeing someone’s opinion on politics, Starbucks, movies, or a march they attended (or didn’t attend). If you make a post, you risk the possibility of getting accused of being too far to the left, too far to the right, or too much in the middle. You get labeled as being loving or unloving, caring or uncaring, progressive or behind the times. If you don’t make a post, you risk the possibility of getting accused of staying silent. It seems like a no-win situation, and it’s easy for feelings and relationships to get hurt. What should we do?
Before you respond to someone’s post, pause and assume the best about the person on the other end of the computer. You likely don’t have all the story, and you certainly can’t be sure what they were thinking when they published their post or comment. When reading a post or comment that causes you to get upset, ask the person this one helpful question, “Can you help me understand what you meant by _________?” Sometimes, a simple clarifying question goes a long way. You may find that you misunderstood what the person wrote, but at the very least you can attempt to have a helpful conversation about the topic at hand based on facts rather than assumptions.
2. Offline > Online. Even when you assume the best about someone, misunderstandings (and hurt feelings) are still a real possibility. After asking the question mentioned above, a second question that is helpful to ask is, “Would you be up for grabbing a cup of coffee and talking about _____.” Typically, what will happen is the conversation will end there. However, on rare occasions you’ll find someone that is willing to meet and talk in person. This is a great opportunity to deescalate the conversation and provide an opportunity for mutual understanding.
It’s easy to misunderstand and misinterpret someone on Facebook or Twitter or in an email or text. Anytime you can take an online conversation to an off-line interaction, it is a win for all involved. You’ll also probably find that it’s much easier to have a non-emotional conversation in person over a cup of coffee than it is behind a keyboard. (And it’s also impossible to give a hug after a hard conversation online.)
3. Celebrate, Don’t Compare. Perhaps one of the biggest ways technology can use us if we aren’t careful is to cause us to be dissatisfied with what that the Lord has blessed us with. Have you ever scrolled down your Facebook feed, seen a picture that someone posted, and thought something along the lines of, “Wow, they have the perfect marriage! I wish my spouse was more like theirs!” or, “How in the world are they on the beach every weekend, and all I do is stay around the house!?” Or perhaps you spend your time on Pinterest trying to find a way to make that perfect birthday cake, only to end up with a #PinterestFail and feeling discouraged.
Proverbs 14:30 says a tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. Everything you see on social media is only one side of the story. The next time you scroll down your Facebook feed and you begin to compare your life, job, marriage, house, car, or spiritual life to someone else’s, stop and thank God for all that He has blessed you with: your spouse, your children, your friends, your job, your walk with Christ. Be as specific as you can, take as much time as you can, and remember that everything isn’t as it appears on the internet.
4. Don’t Drown in a Sea of Information. We hold in our hand access to more information than any person in history other than Jesus Christ. The information can be used for good, or it can cause our thoughts to drift toward worry and fear.
There was a season in my life when I had extreme anxiety when it came to flying. Several years ago, I allowed that anxiety to get the better of me. Long story short, the night before my family was scheduled to board a plane for a short vacation, I found myself on Google looking up weather reports and turbulence maps. (Turbulence maps! As if I somehow became a pilot and had the ability to interpret turbulence maps!) I spent hours “researching” (read: obsessing) various websites and even talking with a pilot I connected with through someone on Twitter, trying to convince myself it was safe to fly. In the end, I canceled the trip and stayed home.
For you it may not be Googling information an upcoming flight, but maybe you’re convinced you have a serious disease because you Googled about your headache? Or maybe you’re obsessed with looking up people from your past on Facebook? Or houses. Or Pinterest. Or Googling yourself. Or whatever else your mind wants to obsess over.
There is more information than you can ever decipher on the internet. If the massive amount of information online causes you stress and anxiety, I would encourage you to take your fingers off the keyboard and take your heart to the Lord. Philippians 4:8 reminds us to focus on what is pure and lovely. If what you’re looking up on the internet doesn’t cause you to do that, perhaps it’s time for a change of focus.
5. Don’t Mistake Being There with Being Present: This is perhaps one of the biggest ways that technology uses me. I carry a device with me that is constantly chirping, vibrating, and ringing to steal my attention and time from others I’m with, not to mention my time with the Lord.
Whether it be on vacation, at dinner, or even (*gasp*) at church, I can physically be there, but mentally I’m at work, on Facebook, searching Google, or anywhere other than where I should be, which is present. The irony in this is that I know how important it is to spend quality, uninterrupted time with my family and with God, yet I am constantly distracted by my iPhone, Apple watch, or computer. I know it’s wise to shut things down, yet I still struggle with it.
Psalm 90:12 says “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” The older I get, the wiser I would be to slow down and remember that today will be over before I know it and that I need to slow down and be present wherever I am.
This is an area I seek to get better at, and, if that’s your desire as well, here are a few simple ways to improve:
- Put your phone away on dates, dinner, and vacations. This is hard because if you have a date with your spouse and don’t post it on Facebook, did the date even happen? :)
- Establish time boundaries for technology use. For instance, at 8:30pm, set your phone to “do not disturb” and not use your device until the following morning.
- Create a technology box. I once heard someone mention the idea of setting up a box in their home (perhaps by the front door) that everyone must put their phones in from time A to time B. Maybe your family puts their phones, iPads, laptops, watches, etc. in a box when they come home from work or school and leaves them there until after dinner. Allow everyone in the home to have permission to hold each other accountable. Yes, even the kids have permission to ask the parents why their devices aren’t in the technology box during the agreed upon time!
- Set up an accountability system. I hope you have a group of people in your life that encourages and challenges you. If so, it may be helpful to ask them to hold you accountable in your use of technology. I suggest giving them specific ways you want to be held accountable and asking them to help you stick to your word. For example, you may tell your community group you want to put your phone away every night at dinner. Let them know that is your plan and have them ask you how you’re doing at that regularly.
James 4:14 tell us that our life is a vapor. In 20 years, we’ll never wish we posted more status updates or scrolled through our Facebook one more time. We will wish we would have played more with our kids, gone on more dates with our spouse, or invested more time to cultivate deep friendships.
Technology can be a gift and a curse. The more technology becomes a part of our life, the more important it is to be smart about how we’re using it. We want to use technology, not let technology use us! I hope these tips spur you on as you think about your use of technology. If you bump into me at church or around town, please know that you have full permission to ask me how I’m doing with any of the above. In fact, I need you to!