The Social Media Dilemma and Courage to “Unplug”

By Joe LaGuardia

The first thing my son does in the morning is open his laptop and watch his favorite YouTube channel.  My daughter checks her social media pages.  I groggily turn over and tune in to Facebook to see what is new.  My wife tells everyone to unplug.

This is our typical day, as I’m sure it is for millions of other Americans who enjoy technology without knowing how it affects their lives for good or worse.

My wife once recommended we unplug from Facebook, and I have been putting off the idea for some time.  The subject came up again, this time at my own initiative.  I’ve been reading The Driver in the Driverless Car by techno-ethicist Vivek Wadwha after hearing an interview with him on the radio.  I knew that I was spelling the end of my social media days when I ordered the book.  It was just a matter of time.

When I recommended we unplug, I asked, “How will we keep in touch with friends and family?” My wife replied, “The same way you kept in touch before we had Facebook.  Make a phone call.”  The wheels started turning, and prayer ensued.

Wadwha’s book focuses on several ethical issues surrounding the emergence of technology.  No matter how invasive, he contends, technology is only as beneficial as we are autonomous.  Dependence upon technology can be harmful and, in some cases, immoral.  Its just as Jesus might have said if he lived in the 21st-Century, “Man does not live online alone, but on every word of God.”

Autonomy is about choice — do we have a choice whether we can survive apart from the technology in our lives, and do we have a choice to go beyond our online tribes and algorithm-shaped echo chambers?

My question about Facebook –“How will we keep in touch?”– revealed an acute dependence whether real or perceived: in short, “How will I live without Facebook?”

That evening, we mapped out the needs, fears, benefits, and costs of social media.  We then sought to rectify our needs, confront our fears with biblical antidotes, and list benefits related to being unplugged.

Assuming we have only three needs for social media–the social media “triad”, as it were: friends and family, news and entertainment, and (in my case as an author and pastor) publicity — that means we had to devise a couple of alternatives for each need.  For instance, we can keep in touch with family and friends the old-fashioned way, by phone or mail (a much more personal touch).  We also have messenger and texting.

For news, we can spend time reading the newspaper that calls our driveway home every morning without fail.  And for publicity, we can drive up subscriptions to this blog, knowing that every post is emailed to those who sign up.

Professional relationships and publicity can also go through the church Facebook page, of which I will be a part, primarily during work hours or ministry projects.  No need to check the church FB page at midnight, during dinner, or any of those other obtrusive times when we seem so addicted to our screens.  Our world has to be larger than 3 X 5 inches, you know.

Our fears were clear: fears of being “out of the loop”, missing news, of not being “present” online either for publicity or pastoral sake, a concern for any clergy worth his salt.  But when we looked to the Bible for help and focused on two admonishments (maintaining privacy and freedom in Christ — autonomy and choice, per Wadwha), we found 2 Thessalonians 4:11-12 relevant and all-inclusive to our conundrum:

And make it your ambition to lead a quiet life…so that you will behave properly toward others and be dependent on no one.”

And, we figured, to be dependent on no thing, social media included.

We had charted our course, now it was a matter of unplugging.  We devised a plan: Write this article, put posts on our Facebook pages to inform everyone of our decision, and put with a link to the article with instructions on how people can contact us.

If you are reading this now, you’ve likely seen the post.

So begins our new adventure without social media.  It will be a challenge as any change is, but we are confident in God’s guidance for this endeavor.  And there is God’s Word to consider: If more of us lived quietly and earnestly, putting our hands to the Lord’s harvest, perhaps we might be a happier society, creators of healthier churches, and the source of a more dedicated, simple folk.

Here’s to unplugging!

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“About that day or hour no one knows”

btfOver the past few weeks, my wife and I have been catching up on the classic Back to the Future trilogy.  We haven’t seen the movies for quite some time, and its been a real treat to see how that DeLorean time machine brings all kind of trouble.

I get a kick out of the second movie in which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) goes into the future to the year 2015.  It is fun to see how the director and prop artists envisioned our future from the mid-1980s, and how far we have yet to come considering 2015 is only two years away.

I doubt very highly, for instance, that we will have flying cars or hoverboards in the next two years.  We are still trying to figure out how to get 100 miles out of an electric car, let alone how to make Fords fly.

Then there is the futuristic soda shop in the movie.  In it, robots with screens take orders from patrons.  They got the screens correct in some respect with the internet, but I don’t think we will have any “Max Headroom”-like images of Ronald Reagan asking us if we’d like cheese on our burger.

This vision of the future, as fantastic as it is, simply reminds us that for all of the predicting we do, we don’t know what the future holds.  We don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.

By the way, wasn’t it just last year that the world was supposed to end?  So much for Mayan math.

Now consider that nearly 2000 years ago, someone who was quite close to God–was God in the flesh, in fact–told us that we will never know the “day or hour” of God’s ultimate return to earth (Mark 13:32).

No, Jesus didn’t leave any room for interpreting when the end will come, but he did warn his disciples that they are not to sit around and wonder either.

If you read Mark 13, Jesus gave a long lesson about what things will happen in the future and what his disciples were to do.

One thing on the disciples’ to-do list was not to let anyone lead them astray (Mk. 13:5, 22).  Some folks think this means that false prophets will come preaching all kinds of explicitly false gospels.  I think it is more subtle and insidious than that; perhaps Jesus was referring to the nearest salesperson who scares you into thinking that you need a new car (instead of that old 3-year old one) that might lead you into deeper debt.

Or maybe its a commercial that distracts you with the next “big thing” instead of inspiring you to use your resources for the mission field.

Another thing on the to-do list was not to worry about what to say when being persecuted (Mk. 13:11).  If Jesus’ disciples are living and embodying the Good News of the Gospel, then their lives should speak for themselves.

Disciples only bear witness to their experience in God, not try to focus on some big, long explanation that tries to defend a God who needs no defending.

Lastly, Jesus encourages his disciples to “keep awake” (Mk. 13:37).  I had a feeling that Jesus knew that his return would not be as soon as the early church first suspected.  He knew that the longer the anticipation, the more people tended to get bored, give up, or simply turn away.

Jesus insisted that they–and we–stay “awake” and to spread the gospel as if every day is the last day before his return.

Back to the Future is fun because it inspires us to predict the future, but we Christians must always keep in mind that God cannot be predicted.  We are to simply stay alert and be on guard, for only when the gospel has spread to the whole world will the end come.