According to the American Psychological Association, nearly
half of millennials worry about the negative effects of social media on
their physical and mental health. The same young adults reported feeling
disconnected from family even when they are together.
have developed strategies to deal with technology concerns. Some common
approaches include prohibiting cellphones at the dinner table or doing a
“digital detox” periodically and turning off social media
All of these strategies are commendable, but they
fail to address the more fundamental change being wrought by the digital
environment on our psyches.
When we learn to read, our brain
changes. Scientists refer to this as “neuroplasticity.” This just means
that all of our experiences have the potential to forge new connections
between the “circuits” in our brain. No matter how old we are, there is
always some capacity for “rewiring” the way we think.
tools have introduced new changes in the brain, not all of them good.
Distraction and heightened anxiety are all too common features of life
in the digital age. The strategies that restrict smartphone use in
family situations are attempts to lessen these effects, but they don’t
attend to the deeper transformation taking place.
There is a Greek
word, “metanoia,” that relates well to these modern developments.
Metanoia can be translated as “change of mind.”
In Scripture, the
term appears in the context of spiritual repentance and conversion. In
the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus launches His public
ministry, He announces that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and urges
His followers to metanoia or repentance.
To repent is to turn away
from sin and toward righteousness and virtue. In a million little
instances, every time we turn toward the screen, our brain is making
small changes to how we react to the world around us.
When feeling lonely or anxious, is our first impulse to seek God in prayer or to watch a video to soothe our aching psyche?
worried about an illness, do we place our trust in God or do we Google
symptoms and treatments until we think we know more than the doctor?
stumped by a question or bit of trivia, do we allow ourselves to wonder
at what the answer might be or do we Google it immediately?
All of these practices are indications of the metanoia taking place in the digital age.
is a corrective for distraction; trust in God is a worthy substitute
for Google and as Socrates had it, wonder is the beginning of wisdom.
When these things are hollowed out by our technological “conversion,”
then we would do well to repent and return our minds to Christ.
is director of communications and Catholic media studies at the
University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life.