I have always viewed social media as neutral. I think that is largely true. However, its growing use seems to be tilting the scale to require more careful examination of its effects.
Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook, which now has 2.07 billion monthly active users, has acknowledged that Facebook was designed to be addictive. He said, “God only knows what it is doing to our children’s brains.” There are current studies showing that teenagers who have heavy social media use also have a greater degree of anxiety, depression and potential suicide, as documented by Gene Twenge in The Atlantic.
A study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin reports examining over 40,000 American, British and Canadian college students ages 18-25, and the majority of them showed signs of what they called “multi-dimensional perfectionism” – meaning perfectionism driven by unrealistically high expectations. The researchers report that this age group has record-setting levels of mental health issues including anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
Recently two major Apple investors warned the tech giant that the frequent use of iPads and iPhones by children is having a dangerously negative impact on our children. They have called for serious research to find ways to limit the addictive appeal.
Common Sense research has revealed that 42% of young children (up to age 8) have their own Tablets, and virtually all (98%) live in homes with at least one mobile device. Peter Mumson quotes Steve Jobs’ famously refusing to give his kids Tablets or Smartphones. One cartoon shows parents bringing their child to a Kindergarten classroom where each child is using a mobile device. The dad says to the teacher, “He’s 5 years old and knows how to read and write – we want him to learn how to speak!”
Recently I was eating in a restaurant, and there was a round table of 6 young people sitting together. They all had their heads bowed and looking down. I was impressed that they were praying before they had their meal. I noticed they prayed a long time. Upon closer observation, I saw that each of them had a phone under the table so their parents wouldn’t see them on the mobile device! I was in a restaurant recently and observed two adults and two teenagers sitting at a table. Each of them had a cell phone and spent the first 20 minutes engrossed in their mobile device – not saying a word to each other. When the food came, they did not even notice. It took the server several seconds to get their attention.
Now, we do not want a tech-free world because technological achievements have reduced misery and enhanced the quality of human life. For example, electric lights, robotics, instant global communications, cancer drugs, etc., are helpful results. Nobody wants to return to the old days of surgery without anesthetics.
I think it becomes imperative that we reflect on all that God has given us, and carefully and intentionally use it for God’s good. The Book of Genesis is pretty clear that man was intended to be the steward of creation in order to enhance his effectiveness of living out God’s purpose.
Carl Sandberg wrote “The People, Yes” in 1936. Here is an excerpt from his prophetic poem:
The machine yes the machine / Never wastes anybody’s time
Never watches the foreman / Never talks back
Never says what is right or wrong
The machine yes the machine / Cuts your production costs
A man is a man and what can you do with him? / A man is a man and what can you do with him?
Our use of social media must be shaped by our desire to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives. We are to remember to love Him first, then love our neighbors as ourselves. No social media advancements or machines should ever minimize the importance of loving people.