We live in a digital world. Except, we don’t really, we live in a perfectly ordinary analogue world, but we visit and intersect with an ephemeral digital one all of the time.
So, what does discipleship look like in a digital world? This is an important question if we want to follow Jesus as well as we can in the world as we find it, but it’s not a straightforward question. It never is, following Jesus requires the development of wisdom over time, which is passed down from ‘parent’ to ‘child’ with the intent that the next generation always surpasses the one before in its wisdom.
Whether that’s always happened or not (it hasn’t), it isn’t obvious how to best behave towards the devices that worm their way into our lives. One option is to completely abstain. We shouldn’t scoff at that, it’s vitally important that some of us do so.
But if we’re not going to do that, what can we do? Here are six ideas that I think will help you as you explore wise use of the digital world.
1. Put your phone to bed
Mine and Helen’s phones don’t come to our bedroom. They’re left downstairs. They go to bed before we do (sometimes immediately before, but still, before). You’ll sleep better. It’s better for your marriage if you’re married. I don’t pick up my phone on again in the morning until after I’ve prayed, read the Bible, and spent some time with Jesus. On the occasions I do pick it up, all of that goes sideways—phones are too addictive to do otherwise. Tony Reinke recommends a weekly phone Sabbath, I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m tempted.
2. Let the sun go down
In the exact opposite of the Bible’s pattern for flesh and blood arguments (Ephesians 4), do not post in anger. If you actually need to respond to that issue, you’ll do it better after your blood has cooled. Just because they messaged you doesn’t mean you have to reply, sleep on it. I know they can see that you read it (though you can turn off that feature) but that doesn’t matter. If it’s actually urgent they would call you (I think this goes for email too, but sadly my employer disagrees).
There is an opposite danger here, I know people who take forever to reply to messages. If people want responses from you, then do them the honour of replying in good time. Listen to the advice that you find harder.
3. Flesh and blood matters
Real things are realer than virtual things. Real relationships are realer than virtual ones. We are not brains in vats, we are being of matter and spirit. Our bodies matter in our relationships. Do more with people you know in real life than people you don’t. If you need to change the balance between embodied and virtual connection to preference people who are stood in front of you, do so.
4. Get a Filter
This could be your spouse, a trusted friend, your pastor, a parent, but you need a filter. Someone who will actually correct you needs to have access to everything you post online. You may at times find it helpful to run things past your filter before you send or post it, at other times they just have the ability to tell you that a particular post or message was a bad idea and you need to apologise.
5. Notifications are evil
Seriously, they are evil. Turn off push notifications. You’ll neutralise much of the pull your phone has on you. I have them on for one messaging app, which is the one most of my friends use, because my wife wants me to reply to her (understandably!). I’m tempted to switch us to another app so I can turn them off on that app too.
6. They are image-bearers
Everyone else on the internet is also a bearer of the image of God. They are, as Lewis put it, either an immortal horror or an everlasting splendour. Treat them like it, everyone deserves dignity, even that awful Troll hiding behind an anonymous account, they too bear the image of God. I appreciate that this is problematic in an era that has bots all over the socials, sometimes it isn’t a person at all. It’s prudent to assume it is a person, even when they are horrifically wrong about whatever they’re talking about, assume it’s a person worthy of dignity, even if their views are abhorrent.
These are my initial thoughts in the direction of ‘digital discipleship,’ what else should I have included?
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