Do you ever think about how your use of the internet is related to your spiritual life? If you stop to think about it, there is a lot to consider.
I recently received a bookmark distributed by the Pauline Center for Media Studies (bemediamindful.org), part of a large religious publishing organization. The title on the bookmark was “Examination of Conscience for my Online Life.”
On the back were several questions. Some of them had to do with obvious opportunities for sin, such as, “Do I respect other people and their opinions?” or “Do I engage in pornography?” Every kind of evil and immorality is there for us to consume, or worse yet engage in, on the web.
We can view scenes from our darkest fantasies of sex or violence. We can fan the flames of hatred and bigotry. We can insult people we know, and even people we’ve never met, with a viciousness that we might never display face to face in real life. We can so quickly destroy reputations and lives with gossip, accusations and lies that it is almost impossible for the victim to get the truth out and repair the damage.
The fact that the whole world is at our fingertips, and we can explore it anonymously, offers opportunities for all kinds of sins. One of the questions was, “Does my online presence reflect my authentic self or do I try to hide behind a false persona?”
Even if we’re not using the internet for secret sins, we might still be deceiving others and ourselves by trying to be someone we’re not. Whether it’s a wealthier or more attractive or meaner or more aggressive imaginary self, it’s still not true and isn’t the person God created us to be and the real life we’re living.
Another question asks, “Does my online activity move toward the integral development of persons, both myself and others?” In other words, am I doing anybody any good?
We have a responsibility to use media and not to let media use us. Many sales sites and apps are deliberately designed to lure us in and try to get us addicted to them.
The bookmark asks, “How do I practice balance in my life?” If we are constantly facing a screen rather than facing others, we have a problem. We might be drifting deeper into a virtual world to avoid facing people or things in the real world.
In a life where things aren’t going well or aren’t very interesting, anyone can be a superhero in a video game. Prayer and introspection are easily avoided unless we ask, “Do I need to integrate more silence into my daily routine?”
Before this gets too depressing, we should also recognize all the good we can gain from technology. There are countless social media groups and websites with every kind of uplifting material, scripture study and spiritual support. We can choose to look at stories about people doing good; we can learn about social justice issues and organizations that need our help.
I even know a person who uses a timer app to limit her online time and to break for a prayer whenever it goes off. We can use our social media presence to get in touch with people we know who are lonely, ill, in the armed forces, in any kind of difficult situation.
We can choose to use our media time to contact them instead of reviewing the hamburger we had for lunch. One last pair of questions from the bookmark: “Is my internet use put at the service of the common good? If not, what do I need to change?”