The Daily Struggle
Every generation has faced its own set of distractions, but the rise of the internet has made everyday distractions more pervasive and persistent than they have ever been.
While reading a textbook or writing a blog post, you come across something that you would like to learn about, so you look it up on Wikipedia. One interesting article leads to the next, until you’re three articles removed, reading about something that is marginally interesting and vaguely related to your original inquiry.
You decide to refocus, but notice a new email in your Gmail tab and resolve to get back to work after checking it. The email is an inconsequential advertisement, and you jump to Facebook for a brief look to see if anything interesting has come up. A YouTube video that your high school friend recently posted catches your eye and you click on it, which leads to another video, and so on. Then, you realize that it’s been long enough that you may have a new email or a Facebook update to feast your wandering mind and darting eyes upon…
Psychology of Idle Surfing
Why do we scroll through an endless stream of Instagram pictures, Facebook posts, and Tweets? Expanding on Leon Festinger’s social comparison theory, psychologists Myungsuh Lim and Yoon Yang have conducted a research that asserts that people use social media to engage in “upward” (those who seem to have more exciting pastimes, more attractive significant others or families, more followers and likes, and/or more engaging quips) and “downward” (those who seem to have less exciting pastimes, less attractive significant others or families, less followers and likes, and/or less engaging posts) comparison. We, then, assimilate this data and use it to evaluate ourselves and our own social standing. Of course, some of us turn to social media for other, good reasons, but nevertheless we may engage in this social comparison process subconsciously.
For some of us, it may be all-too-frequent visits to ESPN, Wikipedia, or the Huffington Post, indulging our curiosities and reading articles and opinions that range from ponderous to frivolous, but mostly in the middling category of interesting but insignificant. In one way or another, these stimuli activate neurons in our brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter which, among other things, rewards certain tasks with a feeling of pleasure. So we keep coming back for more.
Theology of Idle Surfing
In 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, Apostle Paul admonishes those who “walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.” The word play between “busy at work” (ἐργαζομένους) and “busybodies” (περιεργαζομένους) makes explicit the connection between neglecting one’s own affairs and meddling in others’ affairs. 1 Timothy 5:13 similarly teaches that “idlers” are prone to become “gossips and busybodies.”
When surfing idly on the internet, we neglect our God-given vocation to meddle in the affairs of others; we lose our vertical mooring and drift horizontally in the waves of others, tossed to and fro by every whim and trend.
Getting Off the Surfboard
So how do we stop mindlessly surfing the web? It is certainly helpful to install extensions like StayFocusd or LeechBlock on your web browser, programs like SelfControl on your computer, and apps like Weblock on your smartphone to block out distractions, but it is even more important to address the false beliefs that underlie our distractions.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Do we have an appropriately high view of our God-given vocation? Do we live with the awareness that our every waking moment affects eternity? Ultimately, our love for God must constrain us. An all-consuming desire to “do all [things] to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31) is the only thing that can restrain our idle surfing.
What is God calling you to do at this present moment? Stop scrolling through your Twitter feed and work on the project that you’ve been assigned at your job! Stop staring agape at every food post on Instagram, prepare yourself a meal and invite a good friend to join you! Stop replaying that highlight reel on ESPN and go exercise! Stop sleepily scrolling through Your Facebook newsfeed in bed, go to sleep! Stop perking up to check every notification on your smartphone over dinner, be attentive to your wife, husband, or child! Stop reading this blog post even, go pore over the Word of God!
The way to stop being idle is to start applying ourselves to God’s work. We stop being a busybody by being busy at work. Remember that an idle surf is an idol’s turf. Tread with care and intention on the internet.