New research about social media has proven what Scripture told us about ourselves some 3,000 years ago: whatever we pursue consumes us. Scientific study after scientific study is showing that too much time on social media can be extremely harmful both mentally and physically.
Social media has proven to be extremely addictive, and it has rapidly became transformed into dumping grounds for just about everything toxic, negative and malevolent that you can possibly imagine. Today, many of us spend far more time on social media than we do with real people. The average adult in the U.S. spends six hours and 43 minutes a day staring at a screen.
A study of more than 450 youth aged 11 to 17 found that 97 percent of participants indicated that they used social media. Thirty-five percent of participants were categorized as poor sleepers. Forty-seven percent of participants were identified as anxious and there was a direct link between social media use and increased levels of depression and loneliness.
Today, Americans take more anti-depressants than anyone else on the entire planet. “Deaths of despair” have hit an all-time record high in our nation, and all around us people seem so incredibly unhappy. One of the biggest reasons for all of this unhappiness is the fact that we are all so isolated. According to a recent YouGov poll, over 20% of American Millennials say “that they don’t have a single friend”.
Scripture — in both the Old and New Testaments — warns us against investing in that which cannot give us anything in return, in pouring our affections and attentions toward the worthless and temporal.
In Ecclesiastes 1, Solomon cautioned against pursuits in this world. “I observed everything going on under the sun,” he wrote, “and really, it is all meaningless — like chasing the wind.” Earlier on, he described everything on earth as “wearisome beyond description,” adding, “No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.”
The hollow promises of this world — like the ones we tell in our perfectly manicured Facebook posts and Instagram photos — will never bring us true contentment or satisfaction, but only a fleeting escape from our dissatisfaction.
Scripture, on the other hand, promises to never leave us empty-handed. In Isaiah 55:11, the prophet wrote, “It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”
We don’t turn to social media, though, only to be distracted. At times, we open up our social media apps in hopes of finding justification, belonging, and praise — at some level, we all want to be liked.
There’s nothing wrong with our natural longing to be desired. The problem comes when we fill that emptiness with retweets and Instagram hearts, a cheap and speedy substitute for a God offering total approval, acceptance, and salvation to anyone who trusts in Him.
These problems aren’t new or unique. They didn’t originate with Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. They began in Eden, when sin entered the world, continued into Jesus’ earthly ministry, and persist even today. Social media is just the latest tool the enemy uses to distract us from our good and loving God.
Still, social media and technology has value and is incredibly helpful. It has enabled millions — yes, literally millions of people — to have access to Scripture for the very first time in their lives. It has connected the body of Christ in ways that have revolutionized how we see one another, giving those in the West the opportunity to pray with and for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the globe. But just as with anything, moderation is key.
We need to see social media as a tool to be leveraged for the Gospel, for good and for spreading love. Social media offers valuable opportunities to connect with one another and to foster community. But it can’t give us fulfillment in and of itself; it can never bring peace, joy, or lasting satisfaction. It can, though, point us to the God who promises all those things. The amount of time and treasure we pour into social media is a good indication of where our affections and attentions are.
“Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal,” Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-20. “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”