I have been on Facebook since I was thirteen years old. Now, I am twenty-five, which means I’ve been on Facebook for over twelve years, having joined in November of 2008.
To put this in perspective for you younger folk, when I joined Facebook, then President-elect Barack Obama had not yet been sworn in as President of the United States and Apple’s revolutionary new device, the “iPhone,” was barely a year old.
I had been begging my parents to let me join for months under a false birth date because many of my friends had already joined. However, my wise parents insisted I wait till I was of age.
Back then, Facebook was viewed by most of my friends as the newest fad, superseding even the popular Xanga and MySpace at the time (do the kids nowadays even know those words!). It was where all the cool action was happening, but I think most people expected it would eventually drop off and be replaced by yet another social media fad.
Here’s my super-cool, debut status update on the ol’ Facebook: “Christopher Witmer is having a good birthday!”
What follows is a months long string of mind-numbingly uninteresting status updates about my life, cheesy movie takes, and little notices about the games we’d play (yes, Facebook had games). The eclectic flow of (now) confusing status updates is only occasionally interrupted by thoughtful diatribes against evolution or Democrats or my attempts at expounding Christian apologetics.
Thus began my fruitious career of profound Facebook posts.
I have basically grown up on Facebook. It’s all there for you to see, if you care to dig (and are friends with me), but please don’t.
I imagine most of you reading this can probably identify to some degree or another. Perhaps it has not been Facebook, specifically, but just technology or social media in general that has accompanied you into adolescence and toward adulthood, helping shape your growing-up experience. This is actually one of the primary things that defines the generation of young people born (approximately) after the year 1996 and before 2012 commonly referred to as, Gen Z (see PewResearch, Who is Generation Z?).
Gen Z is the first generation to have been totally immersed in technology from birth. Even the most luddite of our parents probably still had a simple laptop and cell-phone and most of us can be found, from a young age, either on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, or similar social media platforms. (Likely, that’s how you found this article.)
Like a childhood friend, technology has always been there. It feels normal to us. Our interactions with it feel instinctual and we probably rarely give our relationship with technology a second thought.
I love technology and I love social media and I am convinced of its potential to be used for the glory of God! But I am also increasingly becoming aware of both the dangers and the long term harm unfettered use of technology can bring to our lives.
My purpose in this article is not to persuade you to quit using technology or social media altogether, but, rather, to begin becoming acutely aware of how you use technology and establishing healthy boundaries in your relationship with it.
Your Relationship with Technology
A relationship is, simply, the way two things are connected. For example, when we talk about our relationship with our parents, we’re referring to the way we are connected to them. This doesn’t just refer to the fact that we are their child, but it also refers to how well we communicate with them, how well we talk about our struggles or feelings, and how often we spend time with them.
When we talk about our relationship with technology and social media, we’re referring to how connected we are to those things. How much time do we spend on our phones? How often do we chat with our friends online? How much TV or screen time do we ingest every day. These–among others–are the questions we ask ourselves when we evaluate “our relationship with technology.”
And like every healthy relationship, we should be setting some boundaries with technology.
The Importance of Healthy Boundaries in Any Relationship
A good relationship will establish a set of boundaries between the two people involved in order to guide them in navigating their interactions and be able to respect each other and get along. Sometimes these boundaries are communicated explicitly, but sometimes they are assumed.
For example, if you went up to someone and punched them in the face, you’d probably get in trouble in some way or another. This is because we all have an unspoken rule (a boundary) with each other–probably instilled by our parents at a young age–that we shouldn’t punch each other in the face.
Another set of boundaries we typically have is how we greet each other. How you greet a stranger is going to vary greatly from how you greet a close friend or family member. This will vary from culture to culture, of course, and even from family to family. In America, the typical default greeting is a handshake. But in other cultures, the greeting may include a hug or even a kiss. When these boundaries are unexpectedly broken or miscommunicated, it can create an awkward exchange–which is why cross-cultural relationships usually take concerted effort to understand one another’s boundaries and expectations.
There are other boundaries beyond punching, hugging, and handshaking. We typically have boundaries with how much information we share with each other. You likely share things with your close friends that you wouldn’t dare share with strangers. Or, if you have ever run into a bully, you probably have avoided–to the best of your ability–interacting with them or giving them space in your life to continue bullying you. These are all natural boundaries we have set up (whether consciously or unconsciously–in order to maintain healthy, safe relationships with the people in our lives.
It is probably not always intuitive to think of ourselves having a “relationship” with technology that needs set boundaries, but I think it is helpful.
Think of your phone (or your computer) as a friend. How would you evaluate your relationship with that “friend”? Do you let them run over you and take all your time? Do you pay attention to how they are influencing you and whether or not your interactions are helpful or toxic? Would you say that you are being edified and God is being glorified in your “friendship” with technology?
TheRebelution is currently exploring technology and how left unfettered, our relationships with it can interrupt and distract our walk with Christ. We want to be a part in helping our generation become more intentional about how we interact with technology and to start developing healthy relationships with our phones, computers, and social media.
Start Thinking About Your Relationship with Technology
As a start, I invite you to start thinking deeply about your own relationship with technology. Perhaps, you could even keep a small diary analyzing how you use your phone, social media, computers, and other technology in your life.
Ask yourself basic questions about your usage: How much time do you spend looking at your phone or a computer every day (there are apps that can help you with this)? Do you find yourself mindlessly pulling out your phone or scrolling Facebook or Instagram or TikTok? It may be helpful to write down how you feel after using your phone or watching TV or scrolling any of these apps vs how you feel after other activities.
I would love to hear from you. Just off hand right now, would you describe your relationship with technology to be healthy or unhealthy?
(I’ll go first by leaving a comment myself!)