This past Lent, in an effort to foster and maintain our spiritual and emotional health, we (Michael Palmer and Danny Quanstrom) each took a break from social media. Over the next week, we will process and share with you the ways in which we were impacted by this disconnection. We will process through the lenses of science and pastoral care, and we’ll ultimately wrestle with what it means to move forward in health. You can read part 1 from the series here.
Social media has taken over the world. Facebook has grown from a small, college-dorm startup in 2004 to an international powerhouse, boasting 1.23 billion accounts. Twitter, founded two years later, has 328 million monthly users. For those more interested in sharing photos or videos, we have Instagram (600 million) and Snapchat (301 million).
Social media has been a tool that has given fuel to and facilitated the organization of social movements. It has become a source for breaking news, has influenced elections, and has unified political rallies and coalitions. It is a way for event goers to converse with one another through hashtags. And it’s a way to share intimate moments in our lives. Inviting others into our more private moments—pain, joy, and love—has created memorable heroes and villains and has been a catalyst, creating momentum for social change.
In this era of communication overload it’s easy to forget that, for the entirety of human history up until now, communication has been slow and arduous. Wars have been lost due to poor communication. Overseas missionaries went years—maybe decades—without seeing family or friends. Before social media, school reunions mattered more to people because folks could go twenty-five years without seeing, hearing from, or knowing anything about the majority of their high school classmates.
While we’re constantly connected, we also peddle carefully curated depictions of our own lives while relentlessly comparing ourselves to and judging ourselves against the manufactured lives of others.
But now, even global communication is instantaneous, and relational connections are possible no matter where we find ourselves on the earth. Yes, social media has been a beautiful and meaningful gift to society; however, it has also cast a dark shadow. While we’re constantly connected, we also peddle carefully curated depictions of our own lives while relentlessly comparing ourselves to and judging ourselves against the manufactured lives of others.
According to a study commissioned by the charity Anxiety UK, researchers at Salford University Business School found:
More than half (53%) of respondents said use of social media sites had changed their behaviour, with (51%) of those saying the impact had been negative. Those who said their lives were worsened by social media also reported feeling less confident after comparing their achievements to those of their online friends.
Two thirds of respondents said they had difficulty relaxing and sleeping after using the sites. More than 60 percent of respondents said the only way they could get a break was to switch off their gadgets: one in three said they did this several times a day.
Another study has shown that, of those polled, 50 percent of adolescent responders feel addicted to their smartphones. And a recent Harvard study explores whether children’s use of social media stunts the mind’s ability to process complex emotions like admiration or compassion.
People are finding, for all their convenience and promises of interconnectedness, social media and technology in general are also generating anxiety, feelings of isolation, and experiences of shame. That which was intended to bring humanity together has, for many, divided. That which was intended to allow people to share their lives with others has become an ever-intensifying challenge to keep up with the lifestyles of our friends and coworkers.
Though many psychologists and sociologists admit they don’t yet know the full effects of technology in general on the human mind, every year that passes provides an ever-growing mountain of data regarding the specific effects of social media on our brains. In many ways, humanity is in uncharted territory and it seems generation X and millennials will be the ones who must grapple with what a healthy life looks like in a world dominated by social media—which raises an important question. With science revealing a significant influence between social media and the human mind, what does it mean to live in a healthy way?
When we begin to wrestle with the impact of social media and the mind, we quickly come to the understanding that it’s simply not feasible for folks to demand complete removal from all social media. We are a social species, and demanding abstinence from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat would be akin to demanding someone physically remove themselves from a particular social circle in offline life (think: church, a small group, a group of college friends, a parents’ group, etc.).
However, we must begin to have serious conversations about what it means to engage social media in a way that allows us the space to remain or become emotionally and physically healthy. We must find worthwhile ways to talk about abusive behavior on social media. We must find useful ways to talk about setting and observing boundaries and what it means to rest from Facebook. We must find a way to address the fact that Christians (especially Christian leaders) are too easily drawn toward the praise and adoration of a social-media post and too easily provoked into the political and theological practice of exclusion because of Facebook or Twitter posts.
The temptation to build a personal or professional platform is ever lurking. And, indeed, it is also tempting to shut out from our lives and interactions and curated worlds all but those who agree with us. But the Christian call is a call toward reconciliation. It’s a call toward unity. It’s a call to forgiveness. It’s a call to find our identity in Christ—not in meaningless thumbs-up or heart-shaped icons on social media. Ultimately, the Christian call is a call to address the very real implications of social media. And as the church, we must have the courage to live creative and alternative lifestyles—choosing sabbath in the midst of overindulgence and being honest about the ways social media impacts us for good or ill.
We don’t have all the right answers here, but this is a conversation that will only grow in societal importance. As pastors, parents, and lay leaders, we will be forced to wrestle with what a Christian life looks like in the age of social media, and what we say will matter far less than how we choose to live.
Continue reading part 3 here.
Michael R. Palmer is a husband, father, ordained elder, and writer who serves as pastor, along with his wife, Elizabeth, of Living Vine Church of the Nazarene in Napa, California. He is an avid Cardinals fan, lover of blues and jazz, conversation instigator, and deeply passionate about issues of justice and spiritual formation. You can follow him on Twitter at @ and Facebook at @mryanpalmer85.
Danny Quanstrom, husband of Kayla, is the lead pastor of Hastings Church of the Nazarene in Hastings, Michigan, and president and co-founder of A Plain Account, a free, online, Wesleyan Lectionary commentary resource (www.aplainaccount.org). Danny is an unashamed gamer, lover of eclectic music, and extremely passionate about the local church. You can follow him on Twitter at @