Be Online for Good or Unplug to Be Good?
When I was a student at BYU, I took a “Following the Prophets” religion class and fell in love with the words of modern prophets. As a result, I trusted their counsel and teachings. Even so, some of what I read or heard posed a conflict within me.
Counsel like, “Don’t wait to start your family,” and “Don’t go into debt,” seemed like they could not fit into the same young married life at the same time. I can’t really source any of those references because it was just my interpretation of things I read more than 20 years ago that were said even longer ago than that.
However, this conflict within repeats itself even today, albeit on other topics, of what appears to be two different opposing applications of principles from the same amplified Spirit of truth in my heart.
I’m in one of those quandary’s now with these two opposing ideas: Stay engaged online to share truth and insightful content. Unplug from digital distractions to receive more peace and understanding from the Spirit.
Maybe you can help me fit together these two pieces that do not seem to create a completed puzzle. Here’s more about each:
Be online for good: On one side is the need, desire and even encouragement in my life to be engaged online. My church responsibility is in public affairs, which entails regularly working with online media sources. My work as a blogger, writer and book author necessitates producing work and marketing myself online. And in my desire to help Hasten the Work of Salvation, I’ve chosen to share the gospel online. With a teenage son who allows me to play online games with him or a daughter who tweets to me, I’ve found new ways to be where they are. These are all worthy endeavors that carry the real me into a virtual world to interact and contribute not just with strangers but to also connect with coworkers, family and friends.
Go offline for your good: On the other side, I’ve read a few things lately that have pulled at me, knowing that when I spend too much time online, I am not my best self afterward. I become more anxious. I tire easily when I spend large portions of my day on the Internet. My focus is lessened. I can relate to Kasey Tross who wrote about technology addiction at Mormon Mommy Writers. After a broken cable forced her off her computer, she said:
“There is this clarity that has emerged for me, something that is so hard to explain other than to say that by turning off the screens, that person that I always wanted to be just kind of showed up. And I realized that now I am enough.”
A loud and clear message from Sheri Dew’s new book, Women and the Priesthood, is the power that comes from developing our ability to receive personal revelation. She adds:
If you don’t have enough time for any of this, consider cutting back on the time you’re plugged in–to blogs, websites, IPads, smart phones, and social media. We live in a wired world, and technology provides fantastic advantages. But Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram don’t have the power to exalt anyone. Unplug from the world long enough to allow the Spirit to take over.
Do you see my conflict?
I love the emphasis by LDS church leaders today on learning to access the Spirit so that wherever we are we can identify habits, answers, cues and boundaries that help us apply true principles.
Navigating both a physical and virtual world today isn’t a matter of living in one or the other. Here are some of the practical helps I’ve identified for myself:
Set work hours and keep to them. Set a timer to limit time online, especially in non-work hours.
Don’t leave my email open and all the tabs open on my browser to distract me while I work.
Allow myself undistracted time to focus by not jumping from one project to another.
Make personal time in the morning and at night to be study, ponder and pray.
Don’t use social media to relax. It’s a tool to engage; it won’t relax me.
Leave it behind. A laptop or mobile device may be more portable, but it doesn’t need to go everywhere.
Please don’t take my list as a list of commandments for you. I don’t even see them as that for me. Likewise, they aren’t intended to induce guilt, just provide some practical guides to answer the conflict within. So if you see me online at midnight, you don’t need to call me on it. Even as I wrote this, I commented on some posts over on Facebook a couple of times.
Sometimes our finger of judgement that we’re pointing at someone else is really just that very conflict I talked about—the rub of opposition within ourselves that’s alerting us to a better way.
A couple of Sundays ago our church ended after Sacrament meeting due to a plumbing issue in the building. We came home and had an extra long day of rest. I noticed at the end of the day each of us had spent a lot of time on the computer in our own virtual worlds.
While I had been on the computer doing church work for my calling, not necessarily participating in a questionable activity, I wondered if we’d missed a good opportunity to develop ourselves and relationships.
I suggested we play a game together. After the game, I didn’t want to run right back to the computer, fearing that I was modeling little media control, so I picked up a physical book to read. The next night, my son gave a lesson for our family night. The topic he chose was prompted by how he had spent that Sabbath day: 10 Ways We Can Serve the Lord Online.
What this tells me is that first of all, my son is learning at his age and in his circumstances how to incorporate the Internet as a tool, not a destination.
Secondly, when I feel what appears to be conflicting messages—when it begins to sound like two amplified noises coming at me from different directions—it really may be an indicator to me of something I need to think on, pray about, study out and resolve inside myself. Every time I’ve done this, I’ve found one of two things happens:
1. One or the other of those messages becomes louder while the other fades away
2. Or the two parts meld together in a unique answer
David A. Bednar delivered one of the most powerful messages on this topic in Things As They Really Are.
Here’s a video clip from it:
As he said:
I offer two questions for consideration in your personal pondering and prayerful studying:
1. Does the use of various technologies and media invite or impede the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in your life?
2. Does the time you spend using various technologies and media enlarge or restrict your capacity to live, to love, and to serve in meaningful ways?
And, he promises something that I’ve found, too:
You will receive answers, inspiration, and instruction from the Holy Ghost suited to your individual circumstances and needs.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you feel this conflict? How do you resolve it?