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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

Never miss a thing!

 

How to defy our addiction to distraction

Recently, I went to watch a friend sing Bach’s Mass in B minor in a beautiful school chapel. As voices soared towards the vaulted ceiling, I recalled the composer’s words, ‘The aim… of all music should be…the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.’ I wondered what Bach would make of music and cultural life today. 

The focus of contemporary creative arts has perhaps shifted from a search for truth, to that of entertainment. Our insatiable desire to be amused (or horrified) dominates our cultural choices – look at the themes of best-selling books and Netflix ‘most watched’. Yet traditional entertainment providers are struggling: moviemakers losing money; TV companies commissioning fewer writers; the music industry threatened by social media platforms like TikTok. 

In a post-entertainment era, the fastest growing sector is the ‘culture of distraction’. Big business, it relies on our desire for ceaseless activity: scrolling, clicking, swiping. It uses the stimulus response cycle, dopamine release, and habit formation as to lead us towards addiction. 

Apparently, Silicon Valley doesn’t care. Its aim is to lock us into activities most likely to optimise addictive behaviour, with things like virtual reality headsets. These ensure 360-degree passivity, with stimuli designed to keep us hooked. In Dopamine Nation, psychiatrist Dr Anna Lembke shows how the distraction/addiction culture is causing mental illness. 

Followers of Jesus commit to a journey and a lifestyle: to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, not conforming to the world’s patterns. In return, we are promised wisdom to test and approve God’s will for the actual, rather than the virtual, realities of life (Romans 12:1–2). 

We need to push back: practise focusing on who or what is in front of us instead of constantly checking our phones, invite our friends and family to join us in tech-free meals, evenings, or weekends. We can join campaigns to make tech companies more accountable for children’s physical and mental health; sign a petition to protect vulnerable adults from in-app gambling. Creatives can focus on the search for truth and integrity in their work. As an author, using social media to advertise my books, I must be careful not to mislead, to imply something that isn’t quite true. 

We live in unsettling times. God calls us to stand at the crossroads and look, to ask for the good way and walk in it. Then we will find rest – and refreshment – for our souls. 

I’m sure Bach would approve. 

 

Deborah Jenkins

Deborah is a freelance writer and author. Her novel Braver explores what happens when a group of unlikely friends become involved with their local church community. Deborah also blogs and teaches part-time.

Comments

  1. A vital message for us, especially as the next generation – our children and grandchildren – will take their lead from us. We can’t nag them to put their devices down while scrolling mindlessly on our own!

    By Fran Hill  -  16 Apr 2024
  2. It’s so important to intentionally turn away from the screens and resist the ‘entertainment all the time’ mentality. I love the idea of tech-free meals and focusing on what’s in front of us. I always leave my phone at home when I go for a walk – I find it a refreshing break!

    By Jo Acharya  -  19 Apr 2024
  3. Thank you. This is a message that is resonating with what I’m hearing from other output.
    As a Christian podcast host, I’ve been searching for someone to be a guest on Turning Little Stones show to reflect on this. Young children model their behaviour on adults and so, as child carers and parents we need to consider how can we place boundaries around our own use of tech ahead of needing to impose restrictions as they grow up. Does anyone come to mind? Thanks again. Caroline

    By Caroline Allen  -  19 Apr 2024
  4. Thank you, Deborah. I have refused a smart-phone, as I don’t want to be sucked down the same path. But I have a laptop and here I can also spend too long. But I do see the addiction to distraction and the inability to focus on real life matters, especially in the youngsters, who have never known a life different to that. We have to be aware of the choices we set before our young people and model healthy alternatives in this as in all areas of life.

    By Dawn Fanshawe  -  21 Apr 2024

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