Can’t Live Without Your Smart Phone? (Price)

 It doesn’t take an expert to realize that many people spend hours on their smartphones each day.  No matter where you go there are people staring at their phones.  At traffic lights, waiting rooms, baseball games, restaurants, and hiking paths, you’ll find people on their smartphones.  Some people can’t handle it when they forget their smart phone at home and others frequently check their phones in the middle of the night.  Whether texting or Facebook scrolling, our phones certainly have our attention!  Sadly, most of the time we spend on our phones ends up being mindless distraction.

Of course, smartphones aren’t of the devil or a mark of the beast.  They can be a good and helpful tool.  However, they can also start to dominate our lives, hurt relationships, and cause our attention spans to shrink, among other things.  Studies have shown that excessive phone use can lead to ADHD, OCD, depression, anxiety, and other negative behaviors.  In fact, excessive phone use is even more damaging to teens who already show signs of ADD/ADHD and OCD.  I agree with the experts who say smartphones (when used excessively) are more harmful to kids than helpful.

A few months ago I was annoyed with myself for using my iPhone too much, so I got this book: How to Break up with Your Phone by Catherine Price.  I’ve mentioned it here before, and even though it isn’t a Christian book, it’s a good common grace resource on not letting technology overtake our lives.

Below are a few tips Price gives to break phone-dependence and addiction.  She does give more tips and also spends some time discussing each tip, so I recommend getting the book for more info.

Download a tracking app.  Often just seeing how much time you actually spend on your phone each day is motivation to use it less.

Start paying attention.  Try to notice when you use your phone, how it makes you feel before, during, and after, and how often you want to check your phone.  Again, even realizing these things is a good step in breaking the addiction.

Delete social media apps.  Social media are like junk food for the brain: “bingeing on it makes us feel bad, and yet once we start consuming it, it’s really hard to stop.  So let’s take control of it.”  Many people have said simply deleting social media apps was a major step in breaking the addiction.

Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock.  Buy an alarm clock.  If you use your phone as an alarm clock, it almost guarantees you’ll start each day staring at your phone.

Shut notifications off.  “Notifications use our brains’ natural ability to associate cues with rewards… to get us to compulsively check our phones.  Every time you hear or see a notification, you know there’s something new and unpredictable waiting for you – two qualities that we are hardwired to crave.”

Get rid of “slot machine” apps.  Granted, the phone itself is sort of like an addictive slot machine, but some apps are worse than others.  “These are the apps that don’t improve your life and [they] steal your attention.”  For example, slot machine apps include social media, dating, shopping, and game apps. “Slot machine apps suck.  Delete them.”

Change where you charge your smart phone.  If you charge your phone next to your bed or another spot in the house where you spend a lot of time, it will make you want to look at it more.  Find an out-of-the-way spot to charge it so you don’t always see it right by you.

Again, Price gives more helpful tips and more comments on these tips.  I very much recommend this book, How to Break up with Your Phone, if you want to minimize your smart phone use, get your attention span back, stop wasting precious time on mindless distractions, and free yourself from a possible addiction.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Social Media and the Subtle Brag

 No mature Christian would say it is okay to brag about oneself.  We know from Scripture that pride is a terrible sin; in fact, the child of God should hate pride and arrogance (Prov. 8:13). Paul even mentions bragging and boasting among those heinous sins in Romans 1:30.  The Christian knows he or she should not go around bragging about themselves, their fortunes, their fame, their family, or their figure (to name just a few).  If someone in a room of 100 people would hold up a big sign that said, “I ran a marathon yesterday and am totally sore today!” or “I’m learning how to roast my own coffee beans,” we’d most likely think it odd and boastful.   Drawing attention to oneself like that can also be called a form of pride.

Social media does have some positives.  However, one negative is that it has made the subtle brag common and acceptable.  Quite often on social media people point out things they have done or are doing.  They post pictures of themselves after a marathon, they put up a photo of themselves struggling to cross a rushing river, and they let everyone know they just experienced fifteen minutes of fame somehow.  Or they post (a humble brag) about something funny that happened to them (which also happens to make them look good).  Many people do this: moms, dads, teens, pastors, teachers, students, and so on.  One effect of these types of posts is that it makes other people jealous or envious.  These posts are also not accurate because they only display a fraction of a person’s life: few people post about their truly embarrassing failures, dark sins, and ugly parts of their lives.  Again, I don’t think social media is bad in and of itself, but I do think one weakness of social media is that it has made the subtle brag acceptable; actually, it might reveal the weakness of humans more!

I appreciate what John Newton said about pride and arrogance in his “Review of Ecclesiastical History”:

“A desire of pre-eminence and distinction is very unsuitable to the followers of Jesus, who made himself the servant of all; very unbecoming the best of the children of men, who owe their breath to the mercy of God, have nothing that they can call their own, and have been unfaithful in the improvement of every talent.  We allow that every appearance of this is a blemish in the Christian character, especially in the Christian minister….”

There’s more to discuss, for sure, but those are good words to ponder as we consider what to post on social media and what not to post!

The above quote is found on page 67 of volume three of John Newton’s Works.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Proverb for Social Media

BRidgesProverbs Here’s an excellent inspired proverb for using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and the like: Proverbs 27:2.  This verse doesn’t use the term “brag” nor does it specifically refer to what we call a “humblebrag,” but the concepts are for sure there:

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips. (NASB)
Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. (NIV)
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips. (NET)

Here’s how Charles Bridges commented on this verse.  I’ve edited it slightly for length and readability:

‘Praise’ – says an old expositor – ‘is a comely garment.  But though thyself doth wear it, another must put it on, or else it will never sit well about thee.  Praise is sweet music, but it is never tuneable in thine own mouth.  If it comes from the mouth of another, it sounds most tuneably in the ears of all that hear it.  Praise is such a rich treasure but it will never make thee rich unless another tell the same.’  Indeed…nothing so degrades a man with his fellow-men as setting out his own praise….

[Therefore] let our works – not our tongues – ‘praise us in the gates’ (ch. 31:31).  And while our works shine, see to it that ourselves be hid.  ‘Confess your faults to one another’ but leave to another to speak our praise (James 5:16).

Our name will lose nothing by this self-renouncing spirit.  If our own mouth is silent, another’s will be opened.  John was ‘unworthy’ in his own eyes to ‘unloose the latchet of his Master’s shoes.’  Yet his Lord’s mouth did proclaim him as ‘the greatest of all that had been born of women’ (Mt. 3:11).  The centurion spoke of himself as ‘not worthy that Christ should come under his roof.’  Yet his elders did testify that ‘he was worthy for whom he should do this.’  Yes, the Savior’s own mouth confirmed the testimony – ‘I have not found so great faith in all of Israel’ (Lk. 7.3, 4, 9).

Self-seeking is a shameful blot upon Christian profession.  Shall one that has said before God, ‘Behold, I am vile!’ be ready to say before his fellow-men, ‘Come, see my zeal for the Lord! Come, see how humble I am!’  Oh for the self-abased spirit of our glorious Master – ever ready to endure reproach, never seeking his own glory (John 5:41; 8:50). …Surely that we are so little truly humble is matter enough for the deepest humiliation.

Charles Bridges, Proverbs, p. 502-3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Beauty, Image, Approval, and Social Media

Image is everything.”  While most of us might not agree with that phrase, we still get caught up in the image game.  We want others to like us, approve of us, think we’re great, and admire our talent, body, and looks.  Even Christians can fall into the trap of believing our value and identity is based on what other people think of us.  This is one reason why we suffer from eating disorders, become addicted to exercise, always try the latest fad diet, spend much time in front of the mirror, and count calories like it’s a religion.  Social media also throws fuel on this fire.  Jennifer Strickland does a good job of explaining this for teenage girls, but her words are applicable to anyone who is fixated on image and approval:

“For lots of girls in search of approval – and especially those who have suffered rejection – something twisted can happen.  They can begin to think their likability is related to their online image.  They can begin to place value on the number of likes or even ratings others put on their images.  They can keep switching their profile picture in hopes of getting more attention, and when they get older they try sexy shots to earn approval.  Now that little girl who ran around in princess crowns and gowns is posing like a Victoria’s Secret model and everyone is rating her photos.  ‘Aren’t you gorgeous!’

“…’My page is just for my friends,’ young women cry!  I’m sorry, but no one has 358 friends.  I have fifty, max.  Twenty good friends.  Ten who are super special.  Five, max, who are so close I would share almost anything with them.  And if I had a sleepover with those five, only two or three would actually sit with me and look at all the pictures in my album, and they would only do that because they really love me, not because they want to see every single one.”

“I realize many young women are wise with how they craft their social media pages.  But I also realize that far too many young women are obsessed with their own image.  When I was a young model, I was obsessed with my own image too.  I know how to make a diagnosis about this because I had the sickness!”

“What we see on the screen can be very deceptive.  On the surface we see what looks like an online photo album or a fun way to share pictures or connect with friends.  But beneath that veneer, trouble can be brewing.  If a girl gets a text or is notified every time someone likes her picture or approves of her post, that’s bad.  Because every time you get a text, you are interrupted.  You don’t need to be constantly interrupted from your activities and time with loved ones to be told someone liked your picture or agreed with your thought.  No wonder so many women are on a roller-coaster ride; no wonder they have image problems.  Social media isn’t just a way for people to connect; let’s not be that naive.  It’s also a way for kids to instantly and constantly approve and disapprove of one another.”

“If you are changing your profile picture constantly, you probably need to focus on something other than yourself.”

Again, these things are also applicable to teenage boys as well as grown men and women.  I’ve been studying this topic a bit lately, and I appreciate Strickland’s helpful observations on beauty, approval, and image.  She’s quite wise when it comes to this topic since she struggled mightily with these problems herself.  I’ve edited the above quotes for length, but you can find the entire discussion on pages 119-120 of More Beautiful Than You Know.

{Note: I do have some concerns about the theology in this book; for example, Strickland sometimes writes words to the readers as if God/Jesus were speaking them. I’m uncomfortable with that.  In my view, the practical side of this book is very helpful, the biblical/doctrinal side – not as much.}

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Digital Media, Screen Time, and the Christian Home

9780801015298_p0_v3_s260x420.JPG I have to admit that I often wish my wife and I were raising our children before the digital age – before there were 6+ screens in each home, before people spent 7+ hours in front of a screen each day, before people’s conversations always got interrupted by the cell phone.  I’m not at all against digital media, and I realize there have always been difficult areas of parenting, but digital media sure makes parenting tough (especially when “everyone else’s” kids have the best tablet, IPhone, or gaming system)!

On this topic, I’ve mentioned The Digital Invasion before here on the blog.  This is an excellent resource for those of us trying to handle digital media in a wise, Christian way.  Here’s one helpful section on how to keep a home from being consumed by digital media; in other words, here are some tips on helping avoid screen addiction in the home (I’ve edited them for length and added a few lines of personal observation/notes):

1) Be alert.  Watch, listen, learn, and engage with your kids.  When your kids are playing video games, watching TV, or engaging in some other digital activity, use these times as teachable moments.  Don’t assume your kids are always going to make the right choices when using technology.  Be aware of what your kids are doing in front of the screen.  Also be alert to signs of too much media use – sleepiness, weight gain, sore necks/backs/wrists, irritability when asked about online habits, etc.

2) Create a safe home environment that makes it easy for your kids to share their concerns, fears, temptations, and experiences in their areas of technological use, even their mistakes.  They must know it’s safe to discuss these things with you, and do it regularly.

3) Establish good media habits.  Lead the way.  Model a Christian perspective and attitude towards media in front of your kids.  Don’t be a screen junkie yourself!  Media should be a privilege instead of a constant activity that is simply taken for granted.  Have your kids get into the habit of asking to use a screen (like they would ask to use matches, dad’s tools, or anything else that might be dangerous or that needs supervision).  Take screen time away or limit it when disciplining kids.  Contrary to popular beliefs, your 11-year-old is not legally entitled to own a digital device and use it for hours each day!

4) Attach all media to a system of accountability.  Location is everything.  Keep a common area.  Never allow a computer or television in your child’s room.  Have good filters, and require your children to share their passwords.  You have the authority to look at their screens/tablets/phones, so do that to make sure your child isn’t using the device in a sinful way.  Consider times during the week to have a “screen off” period.  Also remember to use rating systems on apps, safe search options on YouTube and Google, and IMDB or pluggedin.com for movie reviews.

5) Determine a media diet and stick to it.  Discuss this with the entire family, and hold one another accountable.  Don’t be afraid to have time limits, and use blocks on devices so during certain times, they cannot use all the functions of the device (e.g. our devices use the Ubehind app which makes it so certain apps are blocked for a certain time).

6) Give your children alternative entertainment activities.  Sports, hobbies, board games, and books are just a few of the myriad of nondigital activities that are very healthy for kids (mentally, socially, and physically!).  In my family (SL), rather than purchasing an extra laptop, cellphone, or tablet, we used that money to get a small fishing boat, kayak equipment, some camping gear, and sports equipment so the kids had more options of things to do outside.) (see pages 183-184)

These are some helpful ways to keep our Christian homes from overuse, misuse, and unwise use of digital media.  If you’re a parent who is growing more and more lenient about your children and their screen time, remember your God-given role and authority, and prayerfully and lovingly begin to “reign in” digital media in your home.  It might be a tough job, but it will be good for you and your kids in the long run – spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially.

Here’s the book to help you: The Digital Invasion by A. Hart and S. Hart-Frejd.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Internet Addiction

9780801015298_p0_v3_s260x420.JPG This is an interesting, thought-provoking, and helpful book: The Digital Invasion by Archibald Hart and Sylvia Frejd.  From a Christian perspective, this book discusses media technology (computers, smart phones, Facebook, email, etc.) and its effect on people.  Hart and Frejd’s book is not an outright attack on technology, but it is a call to be wise in a world where media technology can seriously alter a person’s life for the worst.

One section I appreciated was the one on Internet addiction.  The authors say that Internet addictions share the following four components (the same could be said for any digital addiction):

1) Excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives and duties.
2) Withdrawal symptoms, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible.
3) Tolerance, including the need for upgraded computer equipment, more software programs, and longer hours of use (for example, with drug addictions it means you have to take more and more of a drug to get the same effect.  The same is true for digital addictions – you need more and more).
4) Negative repercussions, including arguments, family abuse, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.

Here are some of the consequences of Internet addiction:

1) The important relationships that need nurturing will increasingly be neglected.  This could result in more marriage failures, affairs, and family breakdowns (either parents neglecting their children or children avoiding their parents).
2) Loss of employment because of excessive use of the Internet for personal uses while at work.  Or, the distraction of the Internet interfering with work effectiveness.
3) Loss of sleep, where excessive use of the Internet at home and late night can lead to insomnia or just plain ‘sleep robbing.’
4) Diminished energy, not just from sleep deprivation, but also from excessive digital engagement in general.
5) Health problems associated with sitting for long periods, including eyestrain, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, back aches, and obesity.
6) Internet addiction opens the pleasure-center door on a lot of other addictions, such as gambling, gaming, and pornography, as well as drugs and alcohol.

There’s much more to the discussion, obviously (I edited the above very slightly).  I realize we may sometimes joke about being an Internet junkie or a smart phone junkie, but these things can be seriously addicting in a most debilitating way.  In fact, it is something that we should pray about – pray that God would give us wisdom and self-control when it comes to our use of Internet and other media technology.

Here’s the book to get if you want wise words and counsel about this topic: Archibald Hart and Sylvia Frejd, The Digital Invasion (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013).

shane lems

Unfriend Yourself

I really enjoyed this short book on social media and the Christian life: Unfriend Yourself by Kyle Tennant.  It’s only 97 pages long so one can read it in just a few days.  In fact, that’s what Tennant suggests in the subtitle: “Three days to detox, discern, and decide about social media.” I have read a few other similar books, but I do think this one is a good addition to the social media conversation.  What’s the main point of the book?

“At its core, this is a book about the promises Facebook and other social media make and how they often fail to deliver on these promises” (Kindle Loc. 147).

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“In essence, Facebook’s agenda is for us to broadcast ourselves (notably the YouTube tagline), to talk about what we’re doing and what we like. This is what psychologists might call “self-presentation,” which is a fancy psychological word for what we do all the time: we wear clothes, talk in a certain way, do things how we do them, all to tell the world about who we are. Facebook is a digital opportunity for us to self-present through status updates, photos, and ‘likes.’ The problem with the promise comes when we realize that: Self-Presentation + Sinful Selves = Self-Promotion.”  (Kindle Locations 208-213).

We present—or promote—ourselves [or our kids – sl] in such a way to cause people to think of us in a certain way. When I log on to Facebook, I find that I want to put my best foot forward; as a result, I find myself bending the truth and skirting circumstance, ever so slightly, to offer to my “friends” the best part of myself, the part of me that is the coolest, the funniest. I announce to others something good about me with the goal of getting others to think a certain way about me. The biblical term for this kind of self-promotion is “boasting” (Kindle Locations 216-219).

[When I read Facebook updates, I think] “I don’t measure up. Suddenly, I think to myself: “Oh, I’m not nearly as fit as he is,” or “She is far more witty than I am.” As a result, I want to find ways to make myself look better so that I can keep up with everyone else. So begins an endless cycle of self-promotion and self-rejection” (Kindle Locations 223-225).

Attempts to build a true community online will always fail, because you are using the tool for a task the designer didn’t have in mind. It’s like using a screwdriver to cut down a tree” (Kindle Locations 244-245).

While we would love to believe that social media can give us a place to “know and be known,” the question is whether that can happen through mediated communication. Sure, I can read about someone’s burdens and joys, but can I truly weep with those who weep when they are in their house and I am in mine? I don’t think so. I can weep for them but certainly not with them” (Kindle Locations 417-420).

Tennant doesn’t talk about everything in this brief book, but what he does discuss is great food for thought.  I highly recommend it for those of you who 1) might be addicted to social media, 2) want to do some simple research on the topic, or 3) those (like me) who go back and forth on the issue of social media and the Christian life.

Kyle Tennant, Unfriend Yourself (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012).

rev. shane lems
hammond, wi