Imagine a world without clocks. Rewind history to the point where the sun was the only method of time keeping. How would the pace of life look different then, as opposed to now? It would assuredly be much slower. Our time-measured society now focuses on efficiency and speed to make the most of our seconds, minutes, and hours.
Our students are walking around with a super computer in their back pocket — what does that change?
The point of that illustration is that making something changes something. These simple dynamics are heightened in our present day. Our students are walking around with a super computer in their back pocket — what does that change? It changes a lot, but there's one particular aspect I want to focus on.
Research shows that teens and young adults with higher-than-average screen time are more likely to say they feel isolated, insecure, and critical of themselves.
This is in large part due to the phenomenon of decontextualized information. We see this playing out on a global level, but also an interpersonal level.
FROM TRAINS TO TEXTS
Remember how I said making something changes something? Until the invention of the telegraph, information was largely localized and spread slowly, usually no faster than the speed a human could carry it — by train, at roughly 35mph. By localized, I mean that people in Chicago were far less aware of what was happening in New York, let alone in China. Their field of view was much smaller.
[I]nformation became decontextualized, and with it, we could begin hearing about murders, riots, burglaries in all cities all within the hour.
Furthermore, because information was localized, the issues were unfolding before their eyes, in their communities. They also were much more likely to affect change or gather more information. With the dawn of the telegraph, information could now move faster than humans — very quickly across broad spaces, actually. And so therefore information became decontextualized, and with it, we could begin hearing about murders, riots, burglaries in all cities all within the hour.
Fast forward to now. We can see all of these things, some with pictures and video, in seconds. We have almost unlimited knowledge — something close to omniscience — but we have very little ability to do anything about it. We see unrest in the Middle East. Do any of us have the power to cause effective lasting change?
We know all things and have little power to change anything. This is why, in the lives of our students, omniscience minus omnipotence equals anxiety.
So we have this perceived omniscience with little to no omnipotence. We know all things and have little power to change anything. This is why, in the lives of our students, omniscience minus omnipotence equals anxiety. They are rehearsing the dysfunction of the entire world every time they open an app and can’t do much to solve it.
Omniscience – Omnipotence = Anxiety
THE MISLEADING SURFACE
On an interpersonal level, information is also decontextualized. A trend that I’m sure you’re well aware of is the intentional editing and curating of one's account to only show the positive aspects of their lives. Filters cover blemishes. The camera doesn’t show the tears the night before — only the triumph of any given day.
- 65% of teenagers report feeling critical of themselves after using social media.
- 31% reported looking at other people's posts makes them feel bad about the way they look.
- 40% said “looking at other people's posts often makes me feel bad about the lack of excitement in my own life.”
Yet, the information causing these feelings does not represent the full picture. It is an intentionally curated, edited, static representation of an individual.
Through prayer, we “cast all our anxieties on him, because he cares for us.” This is the rooted life in the barrage of notifications, and this is the way in which we must encourage our students.
Here’s where the ancient way speaks a better word and forms a better heart. Scrolling through the Word that says “fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” is the counter rhythm of the digital life. Through prayer, we “cast all our anxieties on him, because he cares for us.” This is the rooted life in the barrage of notifications, and this is the way in which we must encourage our students.
- Ask your child intentional questions about how mindless scrolling impacts them. Sit down with your child and learn to develop ways to cope with and regulate comparison, and maybe, just maybe, this habit will begin to equip our kids to process better on their own.
Erik Most has been a High School Bible teacher at CCA for eight years. He teaches the class Christ and Culture and is currently the Lead for High School Discipleship. He completed his undergraduate degree at Wheaton College and earned his Master of Divinity at Knox Theological Seminary. Most serves as an elder at Rio Vista Community Church where he attends with his wife Meagan and their son August.
Be sure to circle back to the CCA Blog next month to hear what Mr. Most has to say for part three of this thought-provoking series! Missed last month’s article? Click here to give it a read!