This presidential election I made the regrettable decision to try and watch one of the debates via Facebook. I say “regrettable” because the medium of viewing on Facebook changed the entire experience of a debate for me.
Instead of listening carefully to what the candidates were saying or not saying, my eyes were drawn to the constantly updated stream of comments from strangers also watching from the same Facebook page or the myriad of emojis streaming across the screen. It proved to be too much for me—I gave up and shut off the debate. (Which might have been a good idea anyway.)
This is just one example of how technology can be a hindrance rather than a help. With so much of our lives these days lived through a device, we must optimize our technological lives for productivity and service.
The following resolutions against technological distractions, far from a rant against technology, is a personal call to greater intentionality and self-control while using it. I hope it helps you steward technology better for God’s glory.
Resolution #1: Strive for a sharp focus when using technology.
While technology makes many things in life easier than they’ve ever been, it also makes being distracted easier than ever. Constant access to email, social media, and my favorite apps makes it hard for me to go from one thing to another and stay focused. Jumping on Facebook to respond to a message might cost me several minutes as I scroll my feed, see new notifications, and try and remember why I logged in on the first place!
I’m seeking to do a better job focusing on one thing instead of fooling myself into thinking I can multitask well. This means not only cutting out distractions but also cultivating habits of distraction-free deep thought. This can be tough to do, and might feel like battling an addiction (probably because it is!). Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows writes,
The Net’s interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.
Tim Challies aptly sums up the consequences of shallow thinking in The Next Story:
Distraction —> Shallow Thinking —> Shallow Living
For the sake of Christ, let’s avoid shallow lives filled with needless distractions and pursue a self-disciplined focus.
Resolution #2: Protect Bible reading and prayer time from distractions.
My most important time each day is my morning Bible reading/prayer time. Letting technology steal or damage that time is truly a tragedy, and typically brings anxiousness instead of peace. This is my primary time to draw near to God, hear from his Word, and be strengthened in truth and grace. When I let distractions creep in, I am further from God, hear his voice less, and am weaker in both truth and grace.
To help combat this, I have found that a physical Bible (not a digital one) is most conducive to a focused pursuit of the Lord in Bible study and prayer. Even while using a physical Bible, my temptation is to want to check my phone for notifications or new emails—but I must discipline myself for what is best. I do whatever I can to avoid the Internet for the first ninety minutes of my day. This helps me focus on the Lord and get ready for the day. If I do sneak a peek at emails before my time with the Lord is complete, my attention is lost and hard to reel back in.
I’m a big fan of the PrayerMate app, but I focus in prayer better after a period of praying apart from my phone. Once I’ve done my “warm-ups” in prayer, I grab my phone, open the app, and keep a better focus scrolling through my various prayer lists.
Resolution #3: Don’t rush to technological distractions by default.
You know the drill. When in the bathroom or waiting in line at a store, you reflexively reach for your phone and begin checking things that don’t need to be checked (emails, social media, etc). Our technologically-driven culture has almost forgotten just to be still.
Here’s something else to do: Think about your life. Think about your relationships. Think about your relationship with the Lord and service to him. And pray. Use spare moments to draw near to God and better yourself as a godly and thoughtful person instead of aimlessly surfing the web or scrolling through apps.
Just think how God can use this in your life over the course of the next decade.
Resolution #4: Establish proper boundaries with technology.
This is really an objective of this whole article, but we must set up fences of protection in our lives to protect from technology creeping in.
I’ve already mentioned for me, this means no internet the first ninety minutes of the day. This also means not having certain social media apps on my phone (or at least not easily accessible on my home screen), having accountability for tech use and accountability software on all my devices, and choosing a “less is more” attitude toward technology.
No, I don’t have to have the latest technologies right when they come out. No, my wife and I do not need (or want) cable TV because we don’t want to consume more entertainment than we already do (except when the Cubs are in the playoffs). And no, I do not feel like I have to reply to every email or promptly answer every text.
Resolution #5: Realize the limits of technology.
Many of us suffer from an over-exalted view of technology that says using technology or being connected makes everything better. (This is closely related to the fear of missing out, or FOMO). When technology is over-exalted, more important things in our lives get diminished, reducing the quality and effectiveness of our lives.
It is painful to be at a restaurant and see a couple on a date using their phones the whole time. Don’t they realize that face-to-face interaction is so much better? Don’t they realize how their phone has shaped their habits and life?! Don’t they realize no matter how helpful our phones and other devices may be, they can never satisfy our deepest needs?! Perhaps…if they have taken the time to think deeply.
Every technology has its intended use and unintended consequences. Smartphones were made to make our lives easier, richer, and more productive. But we can so easily complicate our lives and destroy our productivity if we are not careful. Knowing the intended use of a technology will help us realize the limits of a technology and keep us from unintended consequences.
Master Your Distractions
These resolutions won’t be silver bullets to keep you from being distracted by technology—they require discipline and determination. But they are important, so we master our technology instead of it mastering us.
In the end, growing in these areas will help us live quiet and productive lives of service to the Lord, our employers, and each other.
Editor’s Note: Kevin Halloran’s new book is When Prayer Is a Struggle: A Practical Guide for Overcoming Obstacles in Prayer. Pastor Colin Smith called the book, “A treasure chest of wise and practical counsel. . . . This book will expand your horizons and give you a new vision for how you can pray more effectively.”