Don’t Be Fooled [about Social Media]

Author: Kaleb Johnson | Student, Living Education – Charlotte, 2022-23

Estimated reading time: 6 min.

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For this forum, Mr. DeSimone—the head of the TV and Media department—brought a dose of reality about social media. 

It is no shock or surprise that social media addiction is growing to be a serious problem, especially in the United States. This forum summary will briefly cover the three topics addressed by Mr. DeSimone: the addictiveness of social media and smartphones, the traps of social media and smartphones, and the steps we can take to have a healthy relationship with the digital world that is the palm of our hands. 

It’s highly addictive—and it’s not by accident!

Mr. DeSimone began with a fascinating principle found in Proverbs 7. This passage specifically refers to a “crafty harlot” convincing a “young man devoid of understanding” to commit adultery, but the principle applies in many other situations, including the smartphone world today. The creators of social media, “freemium” games, and other apps know all the tricks in the book to get us to spend so much of our waking time on their product—to make addicts out of us, because addicts are good customers! If we don’t recognize this, then we become that “young man devoid of understanding” passing by the “crafty harlot.” We simply cannot afford to be ignorant on this subject. Proverbs 7 says this of the harlot: “She has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men.” And we can certainly apply this here; many intelligent, strong, and capable people have become addicts to smartphones and social media today!

Addictive features of the handheld universe

We simply must understand the methods these apps use to seize people’s attention and never let go. Mr. DeSimone listed a few, but the list is likely much longer. 

Endless scrolling is not unintentional or mindless. This is a deliberate effort to keep people on an app by always shoving new content in front of their eyes. Even video content does this with “related videos” or “next episodes” that play automatically. Another way phones can be addictive is the endowment effect. Essentially, the more time we invest in our phone world, the more invested we feel. Another huge factor is a creative use of social pressure. For instance, many apps have a “read” indicator that shows when a message has been viewed, creating a pressure to respond immediately.

These are not the only addictive features designed into apps! It is very common for social media and video content apps to show users what they like to keep them on their site. Yet, this is not as simple as just showing related content. Studies indicate that showing unappealing content too increases the satisfaction when the desired content is found, which encourages users to spend more time on that site. Another feature many apps use is social reward. Features such as the “like” button give a chance for users to be rewarded for posting content. 

Another tactic used to increase the addictive nature of social media and games on our phones is a shrewd use of the Zeigarnik Effect. This effect is the desire to complete unfinished tasks. Some apps and games force people to stop and either come back later or bypass the waiting by buying something. And lastly, we have the refresh button. This seemingly harmless feature of many social media apps is actually quite well-designed to keep users continuously thinking that there is new content waiting to be seen. 

The Treacherous Traps

All of these addictive features lead to a number of traps we can fall victim to if we are not aware. First, there is the ubiquitous pitfall of overusing our phones: wasting time. Companies have spent years and a lot of money figuring out how to make us waste our time on our phones. But it is a trap, a trap that takes away our most fundamental possession—our time. The second trap is scams. They are universal, and these scams must get some people, otherwise no one would attempt them. The third is predators. They typically look for younger people, but anyone can fall victim (think back to the Proverbs 7 passage). A fourth issue is pornography—a huge trap in our world today, and social media and excessive phone use is directly associated with this problem. A fifth trap is thinking people’s posts are reality. This can twist our perception of ourselves, leading to issues like body dysmorphia and covetousness. 

Sixthly (if that’s a word), we can even develop behavior mocking “ticks.” People today are unintentionally developing twitches from watching people with Tourettes and other conditions. Spending too much time on our phones can truly affect even our physical behavior! The seventh and final trap is following trends. Being exposed constantly to these trends can lead to us participating in them. And many of these trends are just downright dumb. 

Here’s What We Can Do

The handheld universe is addictive and riddled with traps. Here is how we navigate it successfully based on the Bible. Proverbs 25:16 shows us that even something good should be enjoyed in moderation, so we must moderate our phone time. Also, we must not be “brought under the power” of anything (1 Corinthians 6:12), so we cannot let ourselves be addicted to anything on our phones. Furthermore, we must walk wisely, redeeming the time in these evil days (Ephesians 5:15). 

One thing we must not do is think, “Oh, this can’t happen to me.” In reality, if we have a phone, it affects us. We may very well have fallen for the trap! Mr. DeSimone recommended Mr. Weston’s practical article Tame the Social Media Monster. Here are some steps we can take today.

  • Set a time limit. This can be on phone use and individual apps. 
  • Identify our triggers. Do we use it when bored? Stressed? Be aware! 
  • Remove apps from our phones. Sometimes, this is the best action to take.
  • Use website blockers. This is a great step to avoid specific sites. 
  • Find a replacement activity. Do something that is fun and in the real world!
  • Set boundaries on phone use. Only check our phones at set times.
  • Turn off notifications. This can be done for specific apps that are distracting.
  • Stick to one device at a time. Don’t use our phones and computer, or TV, at the same time. 

Grow Healthy Behaviors for the Online World

Mr. DeSimone concluded his fitting forum with a final thought: don’t cut off social media and smartphones—unless it is the best idea for you—but grow and improve your relationship with them over time. We must learn to avoid the addictive features and traps that are everywhere by taking the necessary steps so that we will not be manipulated by anyone or have our time and attention turned away from God. 

Dr. Douglas Winnail gave a forum recently that also explored the challenges of modern times, though Dr. Winnail focused on the comparisons between our time and the days of Noah right before the flood. Read about that here: Ark Builders

Kaleb Johnson is a student in the Living Education-Charlotte Program. He graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in the spring of 2022. In addition, Kaleb enjoys writing, video-making, trying new activities (anything and everything), playing chess, and debating (it’s not arguing!) with people. He currently works in the Living Education department producing written content & videos and helping with a variety of other projects.