technology and faith (part two): our happiness

in part one of technology and faith, i highlighted the negative influences of internet marketing manipulation and its effects that subtly change our behaviors. in part two, i would like to muse on technological screen time and its affect on happiness.

adam alter, a psychologist, gave the following info in a ted talk in 2017. i include the talk at the end of this post. it seems to me that in the past three years, we as a society even more screen time with the things that make us less happy.

alter names the following as “happiness apps”: exercise, weather, reading, health, education, relaxation. technology as a tool gives us access to wonderful information that can enhance and enrich our lives. when we use the internet in these ways we can become better people.

alter names the “unhappiness apps” as: gaming, social networking, entertainment, news, web browsing, dating. we spend three times more time on these apps than the “happiness apps.” three years later, my guess is that we spend even more time now on these “unhappiness apps” is it any wonder why our society has become more anxious and less happy these past years?

alter mentions the lack of stopping cues as the reason why we spend more time on our screens. coupled with marketing strategies that cultivate staying on our screens longer so we can click their ads, our minds change and our online behavior can become addictive. alter gives some examples on how to overcome screen time. for example, in order to avoid temptation, he does not use a phone at dinner. the change was difficult at first but THEN it expanded into other areas of life. alter mentions the importance of “breathing in real experiences”


for me, the faith implications are many. one classic faith concept is free will. we make choices and the choices have consequences. our choices shape us to become the people that we are. when we choose to spend three times more time on the unhappiness apps, what kind of persons and societies do we become? if we assume that marketing companies try to manipulate us to spend more time with these apps, how free are we really?

another way that faith is affected is the blurred lines between what real experiences are as opposed to virtual experiences. life is lived in the created world that has been given as a gift from God. do our minds and spirit become more numb as we sit before our screens? do our imaginations diminish because we have less desire to have real world experiences that engage all our senses and emotions?

in ministry, we can be tempted to use technology in ways that feed into MORE screen time. leaders can follow the world’s trends unreflectively and jump on the tech bandwagon. to grow in faith is to share stories and cultivate real, face to face experiences and relationships; we walk with one another in our faith journeys. this is community. the most effective and heartfelt service is done face to face.

the power of the sacraments depend being there in first hand experience. virtual masses are the best we can do with the covid pandemic but they certainly are not as good as real communion. real presence needs real presence.

some of my questions are: how does leadership not feed into the world’s tech temptations? how do we offer our faith’s strengths and gifts in order for people to be fully human and authentically live in love? how do we build face to face community in our increasingly isolated world? how is the Spirit moving among us given the gifts and challenges that technology brings? how strong is our will to change behaviors that cultivate real face to face relationships in the choices we make with our screen time? do we really believe that God’s will is our real joy and peace? how do we bring God’s healing to those affected by tech addiction?

Holy Spirit, give us your wisdom and courage to be the people you desire– the people that we rally want to be.

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