“You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3
I have had something in front of my face a lot this year that isn’t the Lord: a screen. That’s not a problem in itself. I started a podcast, dove deep into writing, and stayed connected with loved ones during a pandemic.
But unless I’m very disciplined, I find the screen becomes a bit of a false idol–something I appeal to for a solution before I turn to the Lord or another local human for help and connection.
Maybe it sounds extreme, but I believe smartphones are to my generation what cigarettes were to my grandparents and great-grandparents: widespread, addictive, socially acceptable, and loaded with unintended consequences.
I’m not here to say that screens are evil and that we should go back to papyrus. One minister I know says, “Technology is neutral.” My phone and computer are tools, and it’s what I do with them that matters.
Aspects of my devices are addictive, though, and I notice that I can get distracted from the useful work I’m supposed to be doing, caught up in thinking about the image I project, or annoyed that I’m being interrupted. During 2020/2021 especially, I notice I start retreating to my screen if I feel lonely, when I could engage with my family or holler at the neighbor from my front yard.
The Heavenly Doctrines give us a formula that sounds a lot like a program for overcoming addiction: “Real repentance is examining oneself, recognising and acknowledging one’s sins, appealing to the Lord and beginning a new life” (True Christian Religion 528).
Here are some ways I’m trying to loosen my dependence on my screens:
- Schedule times to be on social media, and avoid it at other times of day. For me, that’s during the kids’ quiet time and while nursing the baby at night. That way, I never feel that prickle of annoyance at an interruption while I cruise Instagram.
- Put a piece of paper on top of my phone. To avoid getting sucked into the screen, I simply write down what I want to do, like order peanut butter or send a non-urgent text. That way, when I do use the device, I’m much more efficient.
- Turn the phone off. If I’m not expecting a call, sometimes shutting down the device provides a good obstacle to using it mindlessly.
- Try not to use my phone in front of my kids. I want them to have healthy relationships with screens, so I try (and often fail) to give them my presence and attention.
- When I do need to use the phone in front of my kids, I try to narrate what I’m doing. It keeps me honest, and it lets them know that I’m not playing the awesome game they wish they could play on my phone. I’m texting Dad or ordering peanut butter.
- Watch my triggers. I joke that my phone is my “loneliness box,” and the pandemic has made that more true than ever. Am I sending a text because I’m feeling isolated or bored? Am I checking social media because I’m feeling insecure or unfulfilled? The big question: could I be doing something that doesn’t involve a screen to help with those feelings?
I don’t always succeed with these strategies, but I try to approach failure with curiosity and mercy. I’d love to hear what others have done to notice screen-worshipping and head it off at the pass.