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Are you getting high on information?

I recently bought my 10-year-old daughter an iPhone. It seemed like the right time and she’s pretty smart and responsible. The phone was a revelation, a right of passage, and almost immediately, I noticed a change in her behavior. It was as if she suddenly had a new BFF, a soul mate, a third arm without which she would surely never be able to function normally again. This new friend came everywhere. It enjoyed meals with us. It went to church. It even participated in the weekend soccer games. When I politely asked my daughter to put the phone away, it was as if I had discriminated in the worst kind of way. What I discovered was that sending the iPhone into exile would create a form of temporary insanity in my child, who was normally a little angel. Was my daughter getting high on information? Had I inadvertently created a little social media, texting, Face-timing monster?

This experience, undoubtedly, is not uncommon as 1 in 5 kids ages 6 through 11 now have a smart phone. As adults, we have grown not only accustomed to the adorning handset, but to the ease with which it has infiltrated every corner of our lives; and for some of us our every waking moment. Morgan Stanley recently reported that 91% of all adults keep their mobile device within reach 24 hours a day. Yes, that includes the bathroom. According to the Neilsen Company, the average teen processes 3,700 text messages a month and spends 7-11 hours of “screen” time (TV, tablet, smart phone, computer) a day. According to a recent eMarketer study, U.S. adults now average 11 hours and 52 minutes a day consuming media in all its forms. And much of that time is spent during their “work” day. This doesn’t sound like you does it?

So back to my question. Are you getting high on information? The Internet has become a data delivery system unlike anything in history. The ability to “know” instantaneously has caused humanity to radically alter its collective expectations around information, what I like to call “information entitlement.” Why just sit and play with your two-year-old when you can also check your Facebook app? Why speak with your wife face to face when you can easily text her? A new study suggests we spent 30 minutes less with our spouse each day than on our phone surfing the Internet. Why bother to go to church when it’s streamed in HD? Do we prefer the company of our screens to that of real people? And if so, why? Has something in our brains changed in the midst of the Internet revolution? As it turns out, after significant research, the brains of Internet addicts look similar to the brains of drug and alcohol addicts.

Peter Whybrow, the director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, argues that “the computer is like electronic cocaine,” fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches. The Internet “leads to behavior that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively,” says Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows, about the Web’s effect on cognition, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It “fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions,” adds Larry Rosen, a California psychologist who has researched the Net’s effect for decades. It “encourages—and even promotes—insanity.”

Let me sum this up for you. We are now so dependent on the information flow that comes through our devices, that we become angry when we don’t have it. And as a culture, we’re becoming borderline insane when we abuse it.

There are now numerous studies which link high web, mobile, text, and social-media use with full-blown depression. The American Academy of Pediatrics, is now suggesting that doctors should work digital usage questions into every annual checkup. Check the stats, there’s a high correlation between the proliferation of Internet use and the amount of prescriptions written in the US for anxiety and depression. Is that just a coincidence?

Colossians 3:2 says to, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." Imagine what could be if we exchanged some of our screen time for more God time every day?

My daughter's new BBF, while clearly part of the family, is now showing some healthier boundaries. But as a technology person, I’m a little worried by this. Maybe it’s time I detox from the screen too.

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James Lawrence
James Lawrence was the Executive Pastor of Technology and Innovation and led the Rock’s Executive Leadership Team. He is a pastor, technology entrepreneur, and product designer, living at the intersection of technology forces and Kingdom forces.
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