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Important questions to ask about our social media pandemic

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To what extent is our time in a virtual world conditioning us to hate, be revolted by, or be bored by the real world? asks Fr Josh Miechels. Photo: Unsplash.com
To what extent is our time in a virtual world conditioning us to hate, be revolted by, or be bored by the real world? asks Fr Josh Miechels. Photo: Unsplash.com

Are the online Catholic influencers you follow really helping you, or are they the problem?

Jesus does not ask us to be on top of everything that is happening in the church, to fight raving trads or liberals, or to classify who fits where—but rather to love him with all our heart, mind and strength, and to love and serve everyone.

To obey those he has set above us, and do our daily duties properly.  To not be afraid, and to not be troubling the others. How’s that going?

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Simcha Fisher recently published a really excellent column in this paper which touched on the place of social media in the lives of Catholics.

If you want to know what the biggest pastoral concerns priests have for their sheep are, this is certainly one of the biggest.

We are at this very moment in a massive social media pandemic. It is hard to overstate how serious it is.

During the COVID-19 pandemic there were few sacrifices we were unwilling to make, even if grudgingly, to protect people. Yet in a social media pandemic, which is touching the quality and freedom of our young people’s very hearts—what are we doing about it?

Technology is not bad.  It is a gift which generously shared makes us rich in good things, and wisely used can solve enormous human problems.

Bingeing on social media to assuage our anxieties, feelings of boredom, loneliness and spiritual emptiness is not a good use of this gift.

Contrary to what tech companies (who sell all this gear) say, tech magnifies the human problems and divisions that are already there: it is virtue, and above all divine grace, not tech, which resolves interior and exterior divisions.

There are important questions we should be asking of ourselves and our children:

Are our kids being mainly educated by influencers—many of whom are happy roping our kids into their particular whacko and wounded ideology—instead of their parents?

How is it that we are spending hours each day scrolling social media yet “don’t have time” to spend 10 minutes, let alone an hour, in silent prayer?

On social media, which easily troubles and tempts and addicts and makes impatient, instead of on prayer, which guarantees healing, peace, freedom, and makes patient? Should we even be spending more time in social media in a day than we have on prayer that day?

How is our social media use affecting our behaviour? To what extent has increased time in the virtual world, which we can fashion any way we want, conditioned us to expect, ridiculously, that we can do the same in the real world?

To what extent is our time in a virtual world conditioning us to hate, be revolted by, or be bored by the real world? By normal highs like time with family and friends, achieving goals, exercise, non-phone hobbies, using our gifts, appreciating nature, and rendering service?

How are our phones making us isolated creatures, preferring our solitary screen fix?

Is social media, and dependence on screens in classrooms generally, making us dumber? The continuing collapse in Australian education results raises serious questions.

Is spending much of the day on screens making our young people harder to teach? Lowering their capacity to be attentive, study, be disciplined? How are the artificial dopamine highs of phone use reducing our capacity to spend minutes and hours absorbed by a book with ideas, a gripping novel, an inspiring biography?

How is our phone time conditioning us to instantaneous results, making us impatient, and so less resilient and less loving?

Do teenagers need a phone at all? If so, what kind, to help them treat it as a tool?

How is our phone use making us forget the point of our lives is not to spend it being continuously immediately amused—a selfish, immature and pitiable way of living—but being in service of God and others, selfless, noble and satisfying?

In other words: how is allowing too much time for phone use making our lives empty and pointless, rather than lives full of love which inspire others?

These are good questions to consider before Lent.  Replacing artificial phone highs with more natural, real and human highs can be an effective way of putting our phone in its place. Switching it off for longer, putting it in greyscale, and having paper books is another.

One final point. What the Holy Father says is important: he is our pastor. At the same time, news out of the Vatican is not that important.

The news generally is not that important. Do we really need it more than once a week? I’m not saying we shouldn’t use our brains: but anyone serious about brains is serious about books and is not too serious about social media.

If you already know the teachings of Jesus, and have a relationship with him—then just live it, and enjoy that, with him, and the rest of the church. And don’t be distracted by the noise. Most of it is not that important.

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