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Is your media consuming you?

In Formed
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We live in a world that is absolutely saturated with media – like soggy bread. It’s a rare moment when we don’t have a screen either in our sight or within our reach, each one of us connected to all the content in the world. A nearly endless list of articles, videos, songs, social media posts, podcasts, pundits, and influencers are begging for our attention – did you know social media algorithms are literally set up to keep us in their platform for as long as possible? They will send notifications when they have noticed a trend of your usage. Their technology is able to target us; it thinks like this: Madi is normally scrolling at 3:12 p.m. when she’s experiencing an afternoon energy lull, let’s target her with notifications since she is currently not scrolling.

This level of media overload is a new thing. Many of us are old enough to remember a time when life wasn’t online; when phones were used to talk to each other, and you had to wait a whole week to binge the next episode of your favorite show.

Does that mean we are now better off? Or are we just more distracted? It feels like we are busier, since every moment of down time is filled. We tend to be more anxious and isolated and yet social media hasn’t made us more social. And having access to all the information in the world hasn’t necessarily made us smarter about what media we consume.

So why do media choices matter?

I am not saying that all media consumption is bad. Obviously, you’re consuming a piece of media right now. We each have wide freedom in what we consume. However, “All things are lawful” for us, “not all things are helpful”—and we should “not be dominated by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Our media usage becomes a problem when it negatively impacts what we think about, how we think about it, or how we act. If we constantly fill our eyes (or ears) with things that are worthless (Psalm 101:3), untested, or outright sinful (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22), it will have an effect on who we are and what we do (Matthew 6:22-23). My mom used to tell me as a teenager that "you are what you consume" – which is so true for more things than just food!

Scripture encourages us to focus on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). It is possible to find those things in media; the question is whether you are even trying to.

How can we tell when media consumption is becoming a problem? Here are questions to I have used to help me discern whether or not I am having a healthy relationship with media:

  • Why are you consuming the media? Are you looking to feed your flesh, numb a pain, or escape from dealing with pressing problems?
  • Does your time online stir feelings of jealousy, lust, worry, or discontentment?
  • Is there anything in your life that is chronically deprioritized so that you can spend more time with media?
  • Are you addicted? Is it difficult for you to not check social media? Does the thought of canceling Netflix or Instagram cause you anxiety? Could you survive if your smartphone was just a plain old phone?

Answer honestly — for me, after answering these questions, I realized I needed to start putting my phone away at night. Every night at 9 p.m. my phone goes to bed and I get back on it in the morning after I have spent time in the word. But I am not perfect and this system doesn’t always pan out exactly right but it has helped me sleep better, compare less, and spend more quality time with my roommates or family.

Chances are that your current media consumption is driven by habits. We habitually check our phones, scroll through news, and turn on the TV at the same time night. We don’t think about it; we just do it.

After many conversations with friends, family, and colleagues about social media, I found a consistent theme in things that have helped with breaking media habits.

  • Be selective. Maybe you don’t need to cut down on your media consumption; you just need to consume better things. You can rarely go wrong consuming Philippians 4:8 content.
  • Track what you consume. An honest audit can bring insights and clarity on what needs to change. Tools like Screen Time and your browser history can provide automated tracking, or you can spend one week keeping a log of how you spend your time.
  • Check your follows. What accounts are you following on social media? What channels, podcasts, feeds, or email lists are you subscribed to? Do they tend to be focused on certain subjects, or biased towards only one point of view? Unfollow anything and everything that is not helpful.
  • Seek accountability. Share your media consumption choices with your Formation group. Ask for input or feedback (Proverbs 12:15). You can also give each other recommendations for things to read, listen to, or watch that actually encourage you to become more like Christ.
  • Commit to time without media. Some people have regular “book nights” when TVs must remain off. Some literally lock their phones in a box every evening. Others take social media fasts, choosing to delete apps completely for a set period of time. Taking intentional time away from media breaks up your mindless scrolling or binging habits and helps you discover other ways to use your time.

Ultimately, the goal is less about curbing consumption and more about focusing our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). The way to end an unhealthy love affair with media is to fall more in love with Jesus. Follow Him. Spend time in His presence; fill your heart and mind with God’s Word. By doing so, we can avoid becoming “conformed to this world,” and instead “be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” able to discern “what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

One way to start your day in a world full of media, is by joining us on Facebook Live at 8:30 a.m. every weekday for The Daily – our church wide bible study!

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