In 2021, over 3 billion people use social media. The average American is on social media 2.4 hours each day. That’s 876 hours or 5.2 weeks a year. I don’t know about you, but doing the math shocked me! That’s more than twice the time most of us take for vacation each year.
So what’s the impact of that much screen time? Wellness experts mention obesity, sleep problems, chronic neck and back pain, depression, anxiety and lower test scores in children, for a start. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports teens engaging in high-frequency digital media use are twice as likely to develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Digital technology is not only affecting our health and wellness, but it may be killing our soul. When we wake and before we sleep, for example, have traditionally been times of prayer and meditation. In our digitized world, more and more people report checking Facebook, Snapchat and other forms of social media to start or end their day.
Benn Mac Stiofán is the founder of the Dún Mór Druid Order and has studied Druidry for over 20 years. A Pikes Peak region native, Benn has explored the power of the local landscape and its ability to transform, heal and guide, since his youth. Because he’s so connected to nature, I expected he’d have a strong opinion about digital influence and its impact. He did — and it wasn’t what I expected.
“Spiritual degradation” can mean a lot o’things to a lot o’different people. Digitalization is a tool like anything else. A knife can kill, a scalpel can save lives. The tool is usually not the problem. The problem comes from the intention of the one who uses it. In fact, as a practitioner of a minority faith, the internet has been an incredible resource to connect me with others and make valued friends. It has also afforded me the opportunity to spread the gospel of single malt’s inherent superiority over blended whiskey.
First the dark side of digitalization. Like many, I’m frequently angered by the disrespectful treatment of others from a safe distance on various social media platforms. Along with a common lack of respect, is the mass enslavement of people’s minds by teaching them, over time, to think solely in partisan terms. Break every problem into one of two sides and you’re “a free thinker.” You must either be a conservative or a liberal.
A believer or a non-believer. Blah blah blah. How little people’s opinions seem to be their own these days. Instead, you often find many just regurgitate the words of pundits, bloggers or religious leaders. It remains a sad fact that some “influencers” talk to their audience convincing them that they alone know the truth and think for themselves, all the while subtly telling their audience exactly what to think. Unplugging is one of the most important keys to maintaining integrity, truth and sanity.
Now the bright side of digitalization. If you wish to start learning a new skill, you have YouTube. If you want to connect with others who are concerned about a problem, or people who enjoy an art form, or someone who shares similar spiritual or religious perspectives, then the internet makes this task far easier than it was before. And because each of us is necessarily limited in our perspective, the internet creates the possibility of seeing life through someone else’s eyes, giving us a chance to hear their thoughts and get a glimpse into the challenges they face every day.
Digitalization isn’t the problem. If you’re looking for the source of the “problem” you need only look in a mirror. When it comes to the online world, I keep one Irish proverb in mind: Ná tabhair taobh le fear fall — “Trust not a spiteful man.”
Ahriana Platten is founder-executive director of In Good Faith, leads Unity Spiritual Center and speaks around the country on the topics of interfaith and intercultural understanding.
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