Technology: our spiritual black mirrors
Jessica Grant challenges us to find time to switch off from the always-on world of the internet.
Black mirror: “The reflection of an unlit computer screen after it is accidentally or unwillingly shutdown while you’re in front of it, giving you a chance to rethink your life as you see yourself.” Urban Dictionary
The day after a compromising leak left the Brazilian president in the midst of a political crisis, El País published an article entitled: “Memes, the only fully functioning institution in Brazil.”
Internet memes, a characteristic of online culture, are images or catchphrases that spread rapidly via social media, often making fun of something.
In Brazil, the internet is accessed by only 58% of the population, but almost everyone uses the messaging app WhatsApp. Brazil provides Facebook — the biggest social network in the world — with its third largest audience.
An extension of our brokenness
The El País article may be justified in referring to the avalanche of memes as “collective therapy” for a society numbed by content and finding itself increasingly difficult to shock or disturb.
Social media can provide positive “distraction”, but families and friends can often find themselves divided, fuelled by the polarising effect of strong and insensitive comments posted online. This is without mentioning “fake news” and false rumours propagated online, leaving many unsure about the wisdom of engaging in or withdrawing from challenging conversations.
The internet can often seem like a wild land, providing an apparent lack of accountability. From behind the safety of their screen, users feel free to say anything, including things that are unwise, untrue, or unedifying.
A few years ago, former ABUB staff member Andrea Ramos Santos said she sometimes preferred to stay off social media because of what people posted and how they answered her. It upset her. That was the first time I understood that disengaging from technology could be a way to take care of your own emotional and spiritual self, (and not avoiding reality as I thought before).
Engaging with those who think differently to us
Technology is not in itself a problem — for example, it helps to connect the IFES family despite geographical distance — but it does help highlight some issues particular to our age and society.
Algorithms applied by social media platforms determine what will appear in our timelines, based on our past interactions. Much of what is presented in your news-feed is increasingly content that you agree with, perhaps creating a false sense of being updated and informed.
In the bubbles created by these algorithms, we forget that other people and cultures might think differently than us, might use technology differently than us, and might react in surprising ways to what we write and share, and how we choose to communicate.
Living faithfully online
Social media can also provide an unhelpful distraction for our spiritual lives, occupying an increasing portion of our days. If we find it difficult to find the time to pray, but can watch — and post about — the latest series on Netflix, surely there is something wrong with our priorities.
On the other hand, we might be led to believe that others have a wonderful spiritual life, according to their Facebook posts at least; but are they projecting a more positive version online than might be true in real life?
Alerts and notifications on our always-on devices offer constant interruptions. The need — and expectation — to respond immediately can create anxiety. Are we leaving ourselves the space for more profound thinking and critical questioning? God calls us to not speak without listening (Proverbs 18:13) and to control what we say (Proverbs 10:19).
Just like in the sermon on the mount, I imagine Jesus saying nowadays that “if any of these modern distractions causes you to stumble, cut them off.”
After all, Andrea was right. Sometimes we do need to disconnect. We need to fast from our online activity, and reconnect with God.
Jesus was in the desert for 40 days. Can we manage to disconnect for 40 minutes?
What reaction did this article produce in you? Do you feel time offline can be helpful? How have you been challenged to think differently about your use of technology?
About the author
Jessica Grant is a graduate of Social Communication and Journalism, and works in communications for ABUB Brazil.