It is certainly amazing how the human heart can make an idol out of almost anything, even our technological devices. This past week, the psychologists who publish the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” announced that an addiction known as “Internet-Use Disorder” was officially being added to the list of mental illnesses. Diagnosis of this mental illness began as psychologists began to recognize problems that arose with video game addictions.
In a 2009 incident, 17-year-old Daniel Petric of Ohio shot his mother and injured his father after they confiscated his Halo 3 videogame because they feared he was playing it too much. A Korean couple was arrested in 2010 after their infant daughter starved to death while the pair played an online game for hours. The videogame the two were playing involved raising a virtual baby. Chris Staniforth, 20, suffered a blockage to his lungs and died while playing his Xbox for up to 12 hours in 2011.
But the problem has grown beyond gaming. Addiction to internet-use and online social media has also grown at an exponential rate, especially as access to such media have expanded through the use of smart phones. The Pew research group recently published a study where they noted that 90% of young adults, ages 18-29, sleep with their cell phones in or right next to their bed. That number is 65% for all adults. Psychological studies are now underway that investigate the issue of “Facebook” addiction. Some people spend several hours a day reading, posting, playing, and otherwise interacting on this site, and many are manifesting all the classic symptoms of addictive behavior as a result.
Texting is also a growing issue. Adults who text typically send and receive a median of 10 texts a day; teens who text send and receive a median of 50 texts per day. Each year, 21% of fatal car crashes involving teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 were the result of cell phone usage. This result has been expected to grow as much as 4% every year. Almost 50% of all drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 are texting while driving. Over one-third of all young drivers, ages 24 and under, are texting on the road.
But our electronic devices and the convenience of social interaction and information afforded through them are not the problem. The problem is what the sinful human heart does with such devices and outlets. We can have tremendous impact and reap great benefits through them — we can enjoy some forms of entertainment, learn about Christ and theology, encourage one another, and even share the gospel with unbelievers. However, we can also venture into sinful and self-destructive behavior when we fail to look to the model of Christ and, by His grace, keep godly priorities.
It is truly amazing to consider the sinlessness of our Savior. His every word and action served the divine purpose. He never had a single thought outside of the will of His Father. He never ventured into gluttony because He was not governed by His appetite. He never exhibited an unrighteous anger. He never surrendered to the temptations of pride. He never coveted a single thing. He was obedient unto death, even the death of a common criminal. (Phil 2) Jesus walked in perfect obedience because He is God incarnate, and because He set Himself steadfastly to do the will of His Father.
To guard ourselves from the abuse of earthly blessings, we should look to Him, depend upon His strength and grace, and set ourselves to do the same. We should put on the priorities of Christ, and live like persons who truly believe that what He has given us in salvation is far greater than anything this world has to offer. With such priorities, the balanced use of electronic media can be a blessing. But texting while driving is not worth risking the life God has given us or the lives of other image bearers. “Living” in a virtual world of video games, devoid of biblical truth and cut off from real relationships, wastes precious time and is ultimately self-destructive. It offers some of the sensations of life, but it severs one from the responsibilities of life. And being consumed by the search for novelty among all that the web has to offer ultimately results in emptiness.
Even social sites (like Facebook and Twitter), though offering many positive benefits, can steal our focus and stunt our spiritual growth. We can become so consumed with regurgitating our life on a two dimensional profile that we fail to examine ourselves and personally digest information and experiences that are meant to mature us spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. We can slip into a place where our relationships with others are measured and defined by trite status updates and silly photographs rather than heartfelt conversations and practical displays of Christian love.
Social media has it’s place in our culture, but it cannot define us, and it should only serve to enhance “real” (in-person) social interaction. We must remember that our ultimate priority is to live this life “Coram Deo” — before the face of God, not “Coram Sociis” — before the face of our associates. I love you all dearly!