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Turning Down the Volume of Digital Noise

Beyond disconnecting from our devices on specific occasions, what does turning down the volume of the world look like for a Christian?

When you look up descriptions of holiday destinations on travel websites, you may notice a word that pops up fairly consistently—disconnect.

Disconnecting from the digital world seems to be a popular way of marketing a stress-free vacation. In a country like India where a premium is placed on finding “inner peace,” industries thrive on silent retreats, and careers revolve around de-cluttering and simplifying one’s life.

The need to unplug is evident as Indians spent nearly five hours daily on their phones in 2021 during the pandemic. India ranks fifth globally for time spent on mobiles, after Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea and Mexico. In 2021, Instagram alone grabbed our attention for 13 hours every month, as recently reported by The Economic Times.

Even outside faith communities, there is ubiquitous agreement that we need to tone down and even tune out the pings, buzzes, and beeps of our gadgets.

But beyond disconnecting from our devices on specific occasions, what does turning down the volume of the world look like for a Christian? While we may have the privilege of doing a digital detox for a period of time, we cannot sit on a Wi-Fi-free mountain-top and shield ourselves from every notification forever.

Living in the world but not of the world perhaps means we cannot completely disconnect—but we can choose how we conduct our digital lives. What are some foundations on which we can build our digital consumption?

We Can Choose the Soundtrack of our Lives

Do you know what routinely makes it to the top 3 not-so-proud moments of my week? It is when, on a Sunday morning, my phone reports my weekly screen time. I want to curl into a ball and deny all association with the person who has squandered that many valuable hours on a device. I usually make silent promises to myself that I will do better the following week. Sometimes, I do. Most times, I do not.

Like me, you may feel a certain sense of uneasiness or insecurity when you are without your phone or when it runs out of charge. It is more than the fear of missing out. It is a dependence on one’s device. It is a sense that you need your phone to get through your day.

The apostle Paul reminds Christians that we are not to be held captive by anything. “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything'” (1 Cor. 6: 12 NIV).

We need to ask ourselves if our use of our phones has crossed over from being beneficial to becoming a booby trap that we unwittingly set off by our conditioned actions.

Our phones incessantly beckon us with one dopamine hit after another. But responding to those notifications does not have to be the default soundtrack of our lives. We have a choice.

The idea is to make the new habit small enough to make it easy, doable and repeatable.

As Christians, we are called to consider our ways (Hag. 1:7) or as The Message puts it: “Take a good, hard look at your life. Think it over.” If we carefully consider our ways, we may realise that mindless scrolling or automatically defaulting to Instagram when we are bored may not be the best use of our time, talents, and resources.

We ought to ask ourselves if we are in control of our digital lives—or if our devices control us. In their proper place, our phones are meant as tools to help us, not traps to hold us in their power.

Stillness Alone is not the End Game

This present urban culture seems to believe that we need to disconnect from our devices in order to find stillness. But Christians are not just called to be still. We are called to be still and know that he is God. We are called to meditate on his Word, not on nothingness, and discover the fullness and sufficiency of God.

When we disconnect from our devices, the intention is not to enter a low-pressure zone that will attract other winds of busyness or storm clouds of productivity; nor is it merely a retreat into silence. Instead, we de-clutter in order to create space for a wonderfully specific reason—connecting with God.

We read in the gospels of how Jesus withdrew to a quiet place—not so he could just be silent, but so he could pray (Luke 5:16).

Disconnecting from your device is not a goal on its own but a means through which we get closer to our desire for intimacy with God. Through our times of intentional digital famines, we nurture a hunger for God. We have the opportunity to meet with him and let him satisfy us so we do not crave our devices but we long for more of him.

As John Piper has said, “True freedom from the bondage of technology comes not mainly from throwing it away, but from filling the void with the glories of Jesus that you are trying to fill with the pleasures of the smartphone.”

New Habits Often Start Small

If you are reading this article, you likely believe that you need to grow in the digital discipline. The general consensus among experts on habit-building seems to be fairly simple—start small.

We cannot separate our digital consumption from the reign of God or compartmentalise our scrolling and spiritual lives.

Rather than overhauling your entire phone habit, best-selling authors like James Clear and B.J. Fogg suggest putting tiny measures in place that you can follow consistently over time.

For instance, instead of reaching for your phone the first thing every morning, get on your knees and check in with God for the day. The idea is to make the new habit small enough to make it easy, doable and repeatable.

Instead of making grand gestures of getting off social media entirely, perhaps dedicate one day a week to a digital fast. Or we can simply make it a habit to put our phones down when our kids ask for our attention rather than responding to them with a distracted, “one second.”

These are simple opportunities to practice digital decorum. The Bible says that we ought not to despise the day of small beginnings because God rejoices to see the work begin (Zech. 4: 10). Maybe one of the small beginnings is a tiny habit that can become part of our rhythms of worship.

God Reigns Over the Digital World

God is sovereign over all things, including the digital world. As writer and speaker, Tony Reinke says in his book God, Technology, and the Christian Life, “God powers all things and turns all things according to his governance and design. The whole machine of God’s providence works to a single, unified end according to God’s plan, his glory, and his people’s eternal joy.”

We cannot separate our digital consumption from the reign of God or compartmentalise our scrolling and spiritual lives. Every part of our lives is to be yielded to the Spirit’s control (Gal. 5: 16).

While the Bible may not have specific verses on our phone habits, we are to lead lives that are worthy of our calling as children of God—giving us reason to redeem and recast our digital habits so they honour God and showcase him in his rightful place.

May we use our phones in a way that reflects that whatever we do, we do it to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

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