Another obstacle to deeper listening that is particular to our times is the constant blitz of media messages that is almost impossible to avoid. Cell phones that are always on mean that anyone with our number (such as our boss) always has a way to reach us; having a smart phone or computer means that we can check our email not just twice but twenty or thirty times a day; engaging with social media like twitter or instagram means that constant interruptions in our day, our lives, and even our conversations, has become the norm; advertisements, which serve not our needs but the greed of unbridled capitalism, continue to deceive, invade, and intrude into our every day life. Media are widely misused in ways that undercut the dignity of its viewers and listeners, presenting people as commodities to be used, rather than as sacred persons created in the image of God. Many media messages today promote revenge, violence, hatred, lust, materialism, prejudice, error, illusions about happiness, and sensationalism. The constant availability of entertainment online, and the growth of tablets, wi-fi, and internet access, means we can constantly gratify our desire to be entertained because we are not limited to reading the books on our bookshelf. Even music on our cell phones can limit our connection to self by filling our walking silence or daily drives with music. Digital media “fill the cracks” or spaces in our lives that used to be free for reflection, silence, or just being present to one’s self.
As a Daughter of Saint Paul who is blogging a book about discernment and occasionally tweets about it, I don’t just enjoy digital technology and the possibilities that the internet offer for connection. I value the media in general and digital media in particular for the ways they help us to connect with one another, build up the solidarity of the human community, and for their potential for evangelization. The media are awesome avenues where God’s grace can reach people in ways both new and old! But for me personally, the key to how I choose to use the media is being mindful about it—in a way that assists my prayer life, discernment, and relationships, rather than becoming obstacles to them.
Especially as an introvert, I easily become scattered or distracted if I have constant “noise” in my life. I couldn’t possibly make the time to use every form of media available to me. Every form of media, and each social network I join, is for a specific purpose that I have prayed about. In using media, I seek to practice the principles of discernment. The use of media is an integrated part of my day and often part of my relationships. I’m also not afraid to disconnect: I turn off my cell phone when I enter the chapel for adoration or Mass, and keep it off during my retreats, whether they’re monthly one-day retreats or annual eight-day retreats.
Here are a few questions that I ask myself about daily priorities that are helpful in thinking about my use of media from within the context of daily life:
- Am I always “online” or “connected” all day long, every day? Every evening? Seven days a week? How often do I give myself breaks from the frequent interruption or stimulation provided by the smartphone?
- How much silence do I need or want every day or every week to be able to pray, to remain aware of my own thoughts and feelings, to be “at my best”? (This answer varies widely according to individuals.)
- Do I feel my life is in balance, that I give the most attention to the most important people and parts of my life?
- Where (and with whom) do I want to spend more time?
- Where (or with whom) do I want to spend less time?
- How do I choose to spend my time: with God, with family and loved ones, with work, with myself (including silent time taken to nurture myself and to relax).
- How do I use various media at home, at work, in my relationships and throughout my day? What purpose does each form of media serve in my life? What purpose do I want each form to serve?
- Smart phone
- Retrieving information
- Social media (go through each platform I use, whether on my computer and/or smartphone)
- TV/internet streaming/movies
- Video games
- Any other computer use: surfing, chat, research, etc.
- How can I see using each form of media to help me grow in my relationship with God, with myself, and with others? Do I need to make changes, set limits, or add media to my life in order to live God’s invitations? (e.g. How often do I check my Twitter feed? Two of my favorite podcasts help me to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or reflect on or pray with Sunday’s Scripture readings. Two of my most-used apps is the Catholic News Agency and the Pope App, which keep me informed about religious issues, and also give me endless prayer intentions. Or, in my love for film, do I balance what I watch: occasionally a popcorn flick, often an independent film that is spiritually enriching or helps me understand certain issues. Some people give up Facebook or movies for Lent. Others don’t check their email over the weekend or in the evenings.)
How do you use media to assist you in your discernment journey? I’d love to hear your thoughts about how using the media and technology in your daily life affects your spiritual life, and how your relationship with God affects your use of media.