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Social media, smartphones, and our spiritual health
Pastor Ben Sadler
by Pastor Ben Sadler
November 26, 2019

2007 changed everything.

In 2007 Facebook left college campuses and broke out into the rest of the world.

In 2007 Twitter became its own company.

In 2007 Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone.

2007 changed everything. It changed the way we think. It changed the way we get information. It changed the way we relate to one another. It changed everything.

It also changed our mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Jean Twenge, in her book iGen, explains how anxiety, depression, and even teen suicide increased dramatically in 2012 when over 50% of Americans owned a smartphone. (You can read a synopsis of her work in her article in The Atlantic.)

I can see why smartphones and social media can wreak havoc on our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Here’s how it plays out in my own life. Usually when I write articles on my personal blog, a few hundred people read them. But every once in a while, I’ll write something that goes viral, at least to my standards. At first, there’s a feeling of delight. I think, “Some people like me; they really like me.” But then come the critics. They take jabs at my point of view. And it doesn’t take too many to make me feel depressed and embarrassed.

The worst part: There’s no escape. Once something is shared on social media, there’s nowhere to run. I can’t move away from the internet. It’s an ever-present scorecard, declaring me a winner or a loser.

That’s how I, as a relatively mature adult, experience social media. Now picture the 15-year-old girl who is caught on camera at a weak moment doing something embarrassing. The event is uploaded to Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok, and moments later it’s multiplied to most people in the school. From her perspective, there’s no escape. Social media never sleeps. And because there’s no escape, there’s no hope.

So, is there anything we can do for one another? Is there anything we can do for our young people?

Here are a few ideas I’m trying to implement in my life.

1. Recite and meditate on the love of God.
In his book, The Shallows, Nicholas Carr describes the latest research on our brain’s plasticity. In other words, our brains are always rewiring themselves and changing. If we’re constantly checking social media to find our identity and worth, our brains will be wired to believe that we are only as valuable as how many “likes” we get.

So for the past few years, I’ve tried to start every day by saying out loud, “I am a forgiven child of God. God delights in me.” I want to hear God’s love enough that my brain and my heart are wired to believe that truth.

2. Rest from the distorted and enjoy what’s real.
Most of what happens on social media is distorted. I know. I’ve posted pictures of family events that were just “okay,” but because the picture turned out great, it looks like the event was perfect. Our camera filters out reality. Life, this side of Jesus’ return, is not complete. Even the best days have their slivers.

That’s why we need to rest from what’s warped and embrace what’s real. So each day I try to turn off my phone for a number of hours. Often I will deactivate my social media platforms to disconnect from the fake and connect with what’s real, like real people, real work, real food, and the real natural world.

3. Initiate real interaction with real people.
I’d like to say that I don’t ever get sucked into the screen, but I’ve been pulled into the YouTube vortex on more than one occasion. Yet, I’m trying to connect daily with my wife, kids, and friends.

Every morning my wife and I have a face-to-face conversation, discuss a devotional thought, and pray. I try to hug my kids as they scurry out of the house. And I try to meet face-to-face with friends during the week. Those real interactions are like an instant antidepressant for my soul.

Concluding thoughts
2007 ushered in a new world. The smartphone-enabled social media dam has burst, and it’s flooded our culture. There’s no going back. But there’s a way to go forward in wisdom.

We don’t need to submit our identity to the whims of our social media followers.

We can find our identity in Christ.

We don’t have to entirely detach from God’s created world.

We can enjoy what he made for our good.

We don’t have to wade in superficial relationships.

We can love our neighbor and our friends as ourselves.

So much has changed since 2007, and yet our Savior, his Word, and his love for us remain the same. He is our ever-present help in challenging times.