I love the Internet. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest are fun and enjoyable. I appreciate blogging and reading other blogs. I also enjoy email. Often, I receive emails from my favorite website, The Rebelution. So when this email came, I thought nothing of it. In fact, I always feel excited when I receive a new email, especially from The Rebelution. But I could never have imagined what that email contained and how it would change my life. Inside was a link to a podcast from well-known preacher John Piper. I did not really know what to expect, but when I listened to the podcast, I was dumbfounded by the concept presented in just five minutes. Pastor John preached from Hebrews 12:1, a familiar verse about “putting off” sin. But the pastor did not emphasize just the sin. He preached on the last part of the verse- the part about putting off every encumbrance. Passionately, Pastor John proclaimed that as Christians, not only should we put off every sin, we should get rid of anything that gets in the way of us serving God. He said:
[…] What question should I ask if it is not, ‘Is it a sin?’ And the answer is, ‘Does it help me run?’ That is the answer. ‘Does it get in my way when I am trying to become more patient, more kind, more gentle, more loving, more holy, more pure, more self-controlled? Does it get in my way or does it help me run?’ That is the question to ask. (Piper)
Immediately, like a sharp knife piercing through my body, I was convicted with the thought: “The Internet is an encumbrance. Social media does not help me ‘run’.” However, separating oneself from social media is easier said than done. As I studied it more, I found how harmful such addiction can be. When misused or overused, the once harmless resource of the Internet morphs into an ugly villain, seizing the heart and mind of the individual and the culture as a whole.
Over-use of the Internet alarmingly affects the mental health of the addict. A survey performed by a group of researchers at Swansea University in the United Kingdom proves this fact. Sixty college students between the ages of 24 and 25 volunteered to participate in the survey. The results were shocking. After 15 minutes of Internet exposure, there showed a significant increase in depression and anxiety levels. At the same time, the results revealed an astonishing decrease in mood. According to the researchers, this mood drop often leads to the Internet addict feeling that they need further Internet exposure to boost their mood. Further, the researchers suggest that previous studies indicate that over-use of the Internet may result in impulsive nonconformity, damaged family function, attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder, social isolation, low self-esteem, sensation craze, aggression, or even an increase in autism traits (Romano et al). Clearly, the psychological effects resulting from Internet addiction are disquieting.
In addition to the dreadful psychological effects, improper use of the Internet results in impaired relationships. Author Alex Lickerman explains it this way:
From pornography to merely surfing the web, the Internet is clearly the television of the 21st century, an electronic drug that often yanks us away from the physical world. Like any addiction, the real cost, for those of us who are truly addicted, is the number and quality of our relationships with others. (Lickerman)
Virtual relationships can damage one’s reputation because, unfortunately, it is much easier to hurt people over the Internet. The absence of a physical person with visible emotions causes people to carelessly spew harsh words, destroying relationships and causing later regret. Lickerman states: “It’s as if the part of our nervous system that registers the feelings of others has been paralyzed or removed when we’re communicating electronically, as if we’re drunk and don’t realize or don’t care that our words are hurting others.” Likewise, babbling rudely is much easier when chatting through instant message on a phone or computer than when a person is present in the room (Lickerman). If one is not careful, he can unconsciously substitute his physical relationships for virtual ones. Not only is this unhealthy, but it mars family relationships and can even injure one’s relationship with God. Merging the actual with the virtual is extremely dangerous, especially when it comes to relationships (Furedi). Arguably, virtual relationships risk one’s reputation while simultaneously destroying his or her physical relationships.
Besides its negative impact on relationships and mental health, overuse of the Internet harms the culture as a whole. The primary way that this occurs is by destroying family structure. Family life has become increasingly privatized, individualized, and even isolated. Additionally, the Internet destroys family structure by providing young people a social outlet that is detached from adults and the watchful eye of parents (Furedi). In fact, young adolescents and adults suffer the most from Internet addiction. The Internet completely overtakes their lives. Reaching out its menacing hands, it has captured young people and lured them into their isolated bedrooms to partake of harmful, mind-numbing entertainment (Furedi). Their identity is wrapped up in Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Their friendships prove to be hypocritical and unsteady. Their reputations are easily stigmatized. They worship social trends like a god, for what they see on the Internet is what defines their lifestyle (Furedi). Their intelligence is destroyed by tainted language and mindless conversation. Author Frank Furedi explains it this way: “Consequently what happens to people through their online interactions really matters to the way that people perceive themselves offline.” Although these problems are most prevalent in the younger generation, they agitate nearly all other age groups as well. Further, the Internet provides an avenue for radicals and protestors. Furedi says, “The Internet serves as metaphor through which wider social and cultural anxieties are communicated.” Potential Muslim or other radicals find outlets and encouragement for protest and violence (Furedi). Obviously, Internet addiction is frighteningly detrimental to the culture.
Have I overcome my love of the encumbering Internet? Blatantly, the answer is “no.” Although I am certainly not addicted to the extent of mental and health issues, social media still slows me down in my desire to “run” for Christ. Clearly, I do not stand alone in this struggle. Internet addiction destroys relationships, causes mental illness, and damages the culture as a whole. Do not get pulled under by the sea of addiction. Use everything in moderation. Set yourself limits. Do not compromise your values. Practice self-control. In the end, you and your loved ones will be thankful for your persistence and your desire to honor the Lord in everything–even your use of the Internet.