It causes me to think. I’m sitting in a café and can see dozens of people. Almost every one is “connected.” On his smart phone, checking her status; texting or tweeting, posting or connecting on line. It has the appearance of busy-ness. But I wonder if it’s time well spent or merely a distraction we’ve grown accustomed to.
Perhaps you’ve felt it—that mild anxiousness about starting the day without first checking your smart phone for the latest updates. Maybe it’s the sense of being disconnected if you haven’t been able to get on line for the better part of the day. Or it could be that you come to the end of the day only to realize that you didn’t actually get much done—but you were posting and clicking and checking and browsing for hours. If you’ve felt such things, you might be a victim of “the network effect.”
Digital life keeps us hooked with an infinite entertainment stream as its default setting. Tech companies often set it up that way.
There’s Facebook beckoning with its bottomless news feed. There’s Netflix autoplaying the next episode in a TV series 10 seconds after the previous one ends. And then there are the constant notices and reminders—a friend liked your photo or tweet; a colleague wants to connect with you on LinkedIn; an Evite awaits your response—which automatically induce feelings of social obligation. You damn yourself to distraction if you respond, and to fear of missing out if you don’t.
The same design qualities that make an app enthralling . . . may also make it difficult for people to put it down. And the more popular such services become, the more appeal they hold for users—a phenomenon known as the network effect.
The truth is that software developers and code writers work to create this very effect. They design systems that entice, invite, ensnare, and draw us into the network effect. It’s intentional. And it could be that we are having our time subtly hijacked.
Although his epistles are ancient, I think Paul might have something to tell us about this—from his letter to the Ephesians. Having shared some of the truth that forms the foundation for our life with Christ, Paul proceeded to offer a bit of practical advice. He wrote:
Be careful how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of your time . . . (Ephesians 5:15-16)
He’s writing to believers. Apparently it’s possible for followers of Jesus to “walk” (that is, carry on their daily lives) in less than wise ways. And what is included in not “walking wise”? Not making the most of your time—not using one’s time to one’s best advantage.
I don’t think Paul is a kill-joy, opposed to all rest and relaxation. But I do think he wants to encourage his readers (and us) to be thoughtful about how we spend our limited amount of time each day.
That’s what causes me to think. Is all the busy-ness that I can see everywhere in this café really the best use of the time? If these people were being wise and a bit more circumspect, might they thoughtfully decide to do something else with the minutes they have today?
Are there things that we could give ourselves to that could prove to be of greater value to others, of more lasting impact for our souls, and of greater benefit to our life with Jesus?