We all know how real and pervasive technology is. But technology addiction is real, too. Can the church help? Here, Anthony Caruana—a self-confessed recovering technology addict—reflects on a recent article proposing that the church has resources for preventing technology addiction. The original article, by Armand Babakhanian, is from Christian Perspectives on Science and Technology, published by ISCAST—Christianity and Science in Conversation.
Originally published in Eternity News.
Remember the moment you started using your first smartphone? It opened a whole new world of connections, entertainment and information: social media, instant messaging and games you could carry in your pocket and access from the palm of your hand. But that newfound world has a darker side. Most of the apps developed for those devices are designed to hook and reel us in, using tools like never-ending feeds and affirming reactions, including hearts and likes, to give us a little dopamine hit, encouraging us to stay hooked to our technology.
Technology addiction is the fruit of all the apps and services we can now access. Armand Babakhanian, a Georgia State University Master’s student in philosophy, argues that two causes for the growth in technology addiction are boredom and the search for a meaningful identity.
These are key issues for church leaders.
Responding to boredom as a cause of technology addiction
Babakhanian says boredom follows when “life lacks any ultimate goal that gives one’s actions a meaningful ‘point’ and definite direction.” No unifying telos or purpose underpins all our activities and actions.
Modern society is part of the problem here because it has become very adept at compartmentalising life. Modern societies “lack stable and unifying social structures to offer an overarching point to people’s lives.” Because of this, our actions at home, work, and church can be very different. We can adopt different personas in different family, social or work groups, and even act in godly ways in one setting but differently in others.
The goal, then, is to live a life that is rooted in a strong purpose. But how can the church help? 2 Peter 1:4 says: “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desires.” As Christians, we are called to partake of the divine nature—to grow in forming a life narrative that aims for that one goal of Christlikeness. With this goal, our lives can be de-fragmented. Babakhanian says, “Suffering, work, and social life are all infused with newfound significance by being integrated into a larger story of a deeply Christian drama of struggle, humility, and joy.”
The role of identity in technology addiction
A big part of having a meaningful identity is being grounded in community, but modern society has made that grounding very difficult. “Modern people are disconnected from traditional sources of identity formation, social cohesion, and social integration,” Babakhanian writes. Technology addiction is a way of filling this lack. Instead of real community integration, technology addiction can provide a therapeutic “substitute community” that enhances the illusion of connection and relationship. This substitute community is all the more alluring because it lacks the sometimes costly investment of time and energy that goes with nurturing authentic community.
Here again, the church can help. God’s gift of our new identity in Christ is the great starting point (2 Cor 5:17). Yet how can we maintain this? Although we are redeemed and made in God’s image, we are also sinful in our nature. Of human beings, Babakhanian writes that the result of sin is to intensify an inner tension between our “good” self-conception and our personal history. Again, this makes for a harmful fragmentation of our identity. And, for the addicted Christian person, there is an incongruence between their behaviour and their new life in Christ.
The Christian response to this fracturing of personal identity lies in reconciliation—where we are forgiven of those sins through repentance and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Successful reconciliation must also enable people to integrate their past and future selves in a connected narrative that helps build a strong sense of identity. While there is strong scientific evidence on how addiction recovery works, that evidence is not counter to Christian approaches; it is complementary.
A personal reflection
As someone who has recovered from a technology-based addiction, I find the models and advice described by Babakhanian make a lot of sense. A commitment to Christian identity and counselling enabled me to understand my past and to unlock and comprehend my personal history. This enabled the critical step of reconciliation in my personal relationship with God and in reconciling my past with my future.
James 2:17 says: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Or, as one counsellor put it to me, “You can’t just pray this away.” This means that Christians dealing with technology addiction, or indeed any other form of addiction, need to be active in their recovery. Part of that is finding their true identity in Christ. They must reconcile themselves to God by asking for his divine forgiveness and to their own lives by understanding how to mend the fracture between the past, present, and future.
As Babakhanian puts it, “church communities already possess resources which may help prevent vulnerability to and addiction to technological means.” Babakhanian says those resources are the ability to be reconciled with God and encouragement to grow towards Christlikeness. By leveraging those resources and appropriate counselling expertise, church leaders can support their congregations as they face and overcome technology addiction.