We’ve all seen them: Photos of crowds where every single person is staring at their phone. Not looking up. Not interacting with one another. We bemoan this situation, even though we get caught up in it ourselves.
It isn’t that we’re shallow, weak, or “have no life.” We’ve been targeted by very sophisticated algorithms that analyze what we like, even what we linger on as we scroll through various apps and sites. Because the owners want to sell ads, they tailor everything you see to enhance that probability. As the saying goes, “It you’re not paying, you’re the product.”
Have you ever searched for something online and then found you’re getting dozens of pop-up ads for similar items? Good luck at Christmastime keeping that robe or blender a secret.
Social media have employed the techniques used in casinos to keep us coming back. A swipe down is like pulling the handle of a slot machine. They create psychological dependency and even lock users in a habit and loop of addiction. These methods can activate the same reaction as cocaine in the brain, create cravings, and even trick users into hearing “phantom calls and notifications” (buzzes) when they aren’t actually there. (1)
This is how teens become virtually addicted to “likes,” some even spiraling into depression and anxiety if they don’t get enough of them. Entire counseling practices specialize in helping people overcome their addiction to electronic screens. Special “blue screen glasses” are sold to protect our eyes from our constant staring.
A friend of mine says, “The reason mousetraps work is because mice don’t wonder why the cheese is free.”
So, let’s stop being mice. Let’s stop falling prey to people who care only for our wallets, not the fallout: Depression, ignored relationships, isolation, poor health, and more.
Yes, it’s fun to catch up with friends on Instagram or Facebook, and see how they’re doing. I particularly love the humorous posts I see on there. But it has to be our choice, not a compulsion created by Madison Avenue or Silicon Valley. When we visit an app we need to stop and ask ourselves why. Is there a legitimate reason? Are we researching? Looking at church sites for inspiration and answers? Using the app to help us in some way?
We all benefit from uplifting information. From General Conference talks to ChurchofJesusChrist.org., even to Meridian Magazine, there is good to be found. On my own sites I like posting videos and memes created by the Church, and think this is a fabulous way to reach out and do missionary work.
But too much of our time is spent scrolling and sighing. The sighing is the problem—we’re admiring something on Pinterest that we cannot duplicate. We see someone else’s apparently magical life and ours is less so. Envy can creep in if we mindlessly jump in without remembering our own blessings, or that people’s lives are not accurately depicted online.
We also see too much fury and contention on there. Political posts offer harsh evaluation of your mental abilities. Friends give and take offense. It seems people are at each other’s throats over things we used to discuss in civil tones.
Many sites might be “clean” but run ads that are not. Pornography is the poison of all time, and has hooks extended constantly, so we must be vigilant and teach our children to be, as well.
Run a check of recently visited sites and see where you’re spending your time. Try giving yourself a time limit, then get busy exercising, serving, interacting with family members, studying scriptures, working on your church calling, developing a talent—something other than the blue screen.
You might even keep a usage diary. Note how you feel after each session on the internet. Uplifted? Down? Angry? Be absolutely honest– I think many of us will be surprised.
As a writer, I definitely spend more time on the computer than most. Family History is another good reason to spend time with your screen. But I give myself time limits on social sites, and notice when I’m being targeted with ads for items sold at stores I’ve merely driven by. Your cell phone is communicating with more people than just you.
A young man I know recently shared a great way to see if you’re managing social media or if it’s managing you. First, let’s look at dogs and cats. I love and have both. But there’s no question they’re different in disposition, right? Dogs jump, gleefully wag their tails and want to lick your face. They’re adoring and attention-seeking. Cats strut by with indifference, aloof and superior. We find this charming, even funny at times.
So, here’s the formula. When it comes to social media are you a dog or a cat? A dog wants to get on there and interact, chat, get hearts and stars and laughing emojis. A cat glances over and will only interact if there’s something spectacular there, something worth their valuable time. When it comes to social media, be a cat. Be finicky. You’re in charge, not the cell phone, not the computer.
This also ties in to what we know, that we are children of God. We have divine worth and phenomenal potential. Would we really spend our time flitting about the internet? Or do we live deliberately with a specific end goal in mind? How would God want us to structure our day? Now, how would Satan like us to structure our day?
I’m not saying to cut out the internet entirely. Just be a discriminating viewer. Maybe we should hold it to our 13th Article of Faith: “…If there is anything virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” And if there isn’t, well, you know what to do.
Hilton is an award-winning playwright and the author of many best-selling Latter-day Saint books. Those, her humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.