Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in their way, over the person who carries out evil devices! Psalm 37:7
Last time we looked at silence and noise and how addicted we can be towards not just the external noise we hear but also the noisiness that occurs inside us. Technology has an uncanny way of feeding that internal noise in not so helpful ways. Erling Kagge in “Silence; in the age of noise” says this about silence, noise and technology;
Noise in the form of anticipating a screen or keyboard is addictive, and that is why we need silence. The more we are inundated, the more we wish to be distracted…You get into a dopamine loop… Dopamine does what you desire, seek and crave. We don’t know if we have received an email, message or other form of communication so we check and recheck our phones like a one-armed bandit in the attempt to achieve satisfaction. Dopamine is not programmed to release a feeling of fulfilment even if you’ve achieved what you sought and craved; so you are never satisfied. This means I continue to google, twenty minutes after I’ve found what I was initially searching for. This is a banal predicament to find myself in. Still, I often find it easier to continue than to actually stop. I check websites that I just visited, even though I already know their content. And I relinquish a measure of control over my life in the process.
Biology has a natural explanation for my lack of common sense; we are not born to be satisfied. A different chemical in the brain, opioid, is supposed to create that feeling of happiness once you’ve achieved your goals. Unfortunately, dopamine is stronger than opioid, so even if you’ve attained all you ever dreamed of you will continue to do the same thing. Hence the dopamine loop. It is more fulfilling to anticipate and seek, to wander in circles, than simply to value and appreciate the fact that you have fulfilled your desires.
This is a form of noise that engenders anxiety and negative feelings. Most apps have one thing in common; no one uses them. Even successful apps like Twitter have eventually faced resistance. The founders are devastated that their own business idea is showing cracks and growth has slowed down. This is actually a good thing. The problem with achieving success with an app is that the service not only creates addiction – it fosters isolation as well. The basic business model of Twitter and other such social media networks is to create a need for you to use the app, which the same app should then fill, but only temporarily. The owners live off your addiction. ‘Gradually, these bonds cement into a habit as users turn to your product when experiencing certain internal triggers,’ Nir Eyal wrote in his book “Hooked; How to build Habit-Forming Products.” I share therefore I am.
Some users get a good response when you post something on social media, while most sit waiting for anyone to care. And the more unpredictable this interaction is, the more the user is addicted. You don’t want to miss out on anything. You don’t gain happiness from such prolonged routines – rather, according to Eyal, you experience feelings of boredom, frustration, passivity and isolation…
The New York Review of Books has labelled the battle between producers of apps ‘the new opium wars’, and the paper claims ‘marketers have adopted addiction as an explicit commercial strategy’. The only difference is that pushers aren’t peddling a product that can be smoked in a pipe, but rather is ingested via sugar-coated apps.
In a way, silence is the opposite of all of this. It’s about getting inside what you are doing. Experiencing rather than over-thinking. Allowing each moment to be big enough. Not living through other people and other things. (Kagge: 46-51)
Have you experienced the dopamine loop of technology? Looking for one thing on Google which leads to twenty things, checking your emails too many times during the working day, pressing on that social media app more times than you know you need to or want to? How much time we and our students spend on technology is increasingly an important issue. Silence, being still, waiting patiently are all ways in which we can counterbalance the overuse of technology.
Two discussion questions for people in pairs:
Let’s pray; Spirit of love and connectivity, originator of emerging technologies, and ever evolving intelligences, you give me both a gift and challenge with technology. Help me choose wisely amid the endless tweets and plethora of knowledge that daily saturate my consciousness. Immerse me in the power of your grace, that in you I have all I need. May you always be the well of wisdom from which I can draw meaning to make sense of the madness of my life. That’s enough for me. Amen.
(adapted from Sister Cathy Campbell https://spsmw.org/prayer/technology-wisdom-prayer/)
About this site
"Meditations & Musings" is my humble attempt to share what I have found useful in ministry in an Australian Lutheran School setting. It contains chapels, devotions and other resources I have written, used and adapted in my K-12 school context. If you would like to also share your ideas, resources or start a conversation about mission and ministry in your church- school location, feel free to contact me.
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