The Expulsive Power of a New Addiction: Smoking Might Save Your Life

This is for the downcast heads of people claiming to be happy. I want to speak to reflected faces in phone screens, enduring the tapping of their own fingers like Chinese water torture. This article is for those who have ever run into a telephone pole, tree, mail box, or pedestrian on foot or in their car. It is for the people who realize that their life, privileged with access to unlimited information, may be in danger of losing it. This message is for smart phone addicts.

Like leather pants or credit card debt, the life of a smart phone addict is easy to get into, but difficult to escape.  Research has shown that instead of seeking to “just stop” an addiction, it is better to replace that habit with new interests, therefore expelling the old one. With smart phone addiction being a new complication in our society, studies have been conducted to find an alternative to the lack of awareness and isolation that commits so many to therapy and the hospital. In searching for a replacement addiction, I have stumbled upon a familiar habit that might prove to be a viable alternative: cigarette smoking.

This might be a shocking suggestion since our society has had some reactions to cigarettes in the past thirty years. Lawmakers and activists have directed thousands of dollars into ad campaigns that raise awareness of its dangers. New laws have been successful in making environments like bars, casinos, and alleyways more health-conscious for citizens. We are indebted to the tobacco abolitionists. But, despite these prejudices and laws, I would like to offer a few comparative examples between smart phone and tobacco addiction that might change minds and possibly save lives.

  1. First I want to look at addiction communities. Smokers are evicted from our clean environments, but these exiled groups generate good will when a pack of cigarettes makes its way around a smoking circle. The life of a smoker is one where sharing (a concept we all learned in Sunday school) is encouraged when someone gives a smoke to a fellow addict who is “fresh out.”  Smokers often keep their habit because of the accepting groups who empathize in the weakness of nicotine addiction. The smart phone addict’s lifestyle is accepted everywhere, but not usually improved by tangible community. The concept of “sharing” something (in the carefully manicured spaces of Instagram and Facebook) is for improving the rhetoric of profiled lives—to filter out flaws. The  representation of a normal day passes through a dream catcher of digital enhancement.
  2. On the subject of smoking, safety is a topic of concern. Someone will argue that a smoker endangers lives by their habit. Please don’t misunderstand, I enjoy living in a society where safety and health are both top priorities, but the life of the smoker seems daring. It’s bold to defy the warnings of his Excellency the Surgeon General. On the other hand, smart phone addicts conform to the trends of the world and traverse the globe without any danger to their person. Riots in the Middle East can be witnessed anytime and anywhere without feeling one explosion.  A celebrities’ self destruction can be watched and gossiped over without the burden of empathy.
  3. The argument is often made that smokers smell and their habit does not produce good hygiene. It’s true that few things matter more than physical cleanliness, but smart phone addicts have a scent of their own caused from lack of social hygiene. This is sensed when a buzz or chime interrupts the flow of a good conversation and someone’s presence is ignored for texting or updating. It may be that some of us are not evolved enough to fit into this staccato rhythm of human interaction. Perhaps like a bad smell someone can learn to acclimate to it.
  4. A regular smoker will realize that there must be time in their day for one cigarette as needed. The smart phone addict is given to constant buzzing and beeping of an electronic device. There is a notification for email, twitter, hundreds of apps, social networks, and news feeds for this new habit that suffers from severe ADD, launching the addict into the poly amorous world of the temporary.
  5. The smoker’s head is vertical and sees the outside world. When the face looks down to light a cigarette it’s illuminated by the glow of real embers. Smart phone addicts continually have their heads down, with faces glowing by the light of all worlds, except the one they’re standing in.

Addiction can be deadly, no matter how you supply it. But if you’re facing the choice of feeding one in your life, then please think about the next generation in your decision. When a parent commits the unpardonable sin of smoking around their kids, the smell of burnt tobacco in crib blankets and nicotine stains will be evidence that they were present in their lives. But Lord save us from the days when the faces of healthy moms and dads are only remembered as colored rectangles, censoring full attention and affection.



Get Over Yourself Already: Living How God Wants Us to Live

‘He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.’  John 12:25-26

It’s so easy to lose focus. When I spend too much time inside my own head, thinking about me and my desires, problems, and concerns, I get depressed. I get anxious and stressed out. I get distracted and off-kilter.

I just listened to a TED talk by Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal. Among many other fascinating things, she mentions in her talk an interesting discovery about stress and compassion, noting a study that links stressful life experiences to early death (unsurprisingly). The twist is that, as she puts it, “people who spent time caring for others [helping family members, friends, community members] showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. Zero. Caring created resilience.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that caring for others instead of focusing on myself is good for me and a possible remedy for stress and anxiety. Father Evan Armatas, host of the weekly call-in show “Orthodoxy Live” on Ancient Faith Radio, once addressed anxiety during his program. He said that people who suffer with anxiety should make time to help others; he gave the example of serving in a homeless shelter, but the advice can apply to any kind of service. I’ve been trying to implement this in my life lately by focusing on what I can do to serve my husband and our marriage instead of thinking about what I should do to serve myself.

And I’m happier. When I stop thinking about me all the time and focus more on caring for other people in my life, I end up happier and more at peace than when I’m only thinking about myself.

It’s one of those things that seems counterintuitive at first (if I want to be happy, shouldn’t I focus my time and energy on me?), but, at the heart of things, makes perfect sense.

I believe our technology-driven world makes it easy to tend towards narcissism and, in turn, depression. There’s plenty of discussion out there about the possibility that social networking sites like Facebook make us depressed. I can only speak anecdotally, but I have noticed that the more time I spend online, looking in on the lives of others, the more dissatisfied I start to feel with my own life. The dissatisfaction ranges from vain concern over my appearance (I’m not as thin/tall/pretty as her) to worry over the health and progress of my relationships or personal goals (Maybe their marriage is stronger than mine; Maybe that friend from undergrad is smarter and harder working than me because she’s already got a master’s degree).

Of course, I know that most peopleincluding meput a brave face on their online personas. Most people aren’t going to air their dirty laundry in a Facebook status or confess their deep insecurities via Twitter. Yet even though I know that, I still find it so easy to fall into the belief that everyone else is doing better than I am, in one way or another. And this certainly makes sense: the more time we spend comparing ourselves to others, the more we’re going to focus on what we lack rather than what we have.

Interestingly, I never worry about whether someone’s prayer life or relationship with God is better than mine. The more I think about myself and compare myself to others, the more trivial my concerns become. Perhaps this is one of the devil’s tactics for tripping us up; if he can distract us with thoughts about things that are less important, we’ll have less time and energy to focus on what truly matters.

The reality is that twenty or fifty or a hundred years from now, no one’s going to remember (or care) exactly what we said, but they’ll remember if we spoke with kindness and love. No one’s going to remember if we looked perfect in every Facebook photo, but they’ll remember if we acted gracefully and selflessly. In the end, no one’s really going to remember whether or not we ever got published, or became a CEO, or traveled the world. We are less likely to be remembered for everything we do, and more likely to be remembered for how we live and what we use our lives to accomplish. And it’s not just about how we’re going to be remembered; it’s also about what we’ll have to show for this gift of life we’ve been given when we someday stand before God. Above all, in the end, it’s about becoming the person God wants us to be, rather than the person we think we should be.

And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?’  Mark 8:34-36

Image via Flickr.

On Facebook and Narcissism: When Crafting Your Own Self-Image Goes Too Far

I’ve always had an odd relationship with Facebook. I joined as a freshman in college, fresh out of the MySpace era, more concerned with who was in my Top 8 than whether or not I should “like” someone’s status. Back then, you had to have a .edu e-mail address just to join the mighty ‘like’ machine, but eventually everybody and their mother (and, in my case, grandmother) was on Facebook, talking about their lives.

Early on, I discovered the joy of self-referential experimentation in the form of ‘witty’ status updates. I wanted to play with the form of a status update, the way that we often used them, and how they may end up being perceived by others. My magnum opus, if I may be so narcissistic to refer to any status update of mine as such in a post about Facebook, was quite early on in my public online career:

[James Arnold is] off to breakfast. Then off to calculus. Then off to work. Then probably cashing his check and going to lunch. Then preparing for Don Rags, feeling stalkerish?

-James Arnold, Facebook status update, 2006.

Perhaps outdated now–note the bracketed language at the beginning, which Facebook automatically included at the front of each ‘status update’ in that era–the post is indicative of the sort of involvement many in my generation have with social media: we deconstruct, to some degree, but mostly we just play. Facebook had introduced a news feed, and many felt as though it was encouraging people to develop stalker-like tendencies. Similarly, when my brother joined Twitter, we had a conversation entirely built on hashtags. What was once meant to be searchable became a language all on its own.

A few friends recently shared a rather scathing article about Facebook usage. The article, which you can read here, fills out seven ways “to be insufferable” as you fill out that little “What’s on your mind?” box that Facebook really wants you to answer. The examples range from understandably frustrating (“Ugggggghhhhhh”) to the mild (“Finally finished my paper”) all the way to the stuff that keeps me coming back to Facebook (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. ~Proverbs 3:5-6″; or, in the author’s words, “An unsolicited nugget of wisdom”).

While the article is filled with cynicism (“99% of the people on your Facebook friends list don’t love you”), it makes some good points. We could learn to moderate what we feel the need to put onto our social networks. If we are motivated by how others view us, entirely, then we can end up crafting our own self-image with a lack of authenticity; we’d become disingenuous.

But here’s the deal: everything you do changes the way people view you. You can live every moment consumed by your self image, or you can honestly express yourself. Just like some people are quick to speak and others take their time, so might some people simply have a personality that prefers to share, rather than prefer to reserve.

If you only post those status updates that will definitely endear you to your 800 friends, then you’ve fallen into the exact same trap: you’re catering to an audience, rather than being ‘genuine.’

I don’t think writing with an audience in mind is a bad thing. Neither do I think that writing to no one in particular is necessarily harmful or frustrating or annoying. You aren’t insufferable if the only things you post on Facebook have to do with what you ate that day; you just might be publicly boring.

If we value people, and I really hope we do, then what we find interesting should be broader than just personal intellectual stimulation. Much like we can learn to appreciate ‘pop’ culture in ways that are bigger than mindless consumption (and still entertaining), so should we remember that the people around us are intrinsically valuable; people are made in the image of God, and we should treat them that way. What my friends ate for breakfast might not be interesting–I’m not saying that the article above wasn’t without merit–but their thoughts on what is happening around the world ought to be. If this means I need to have a smaller friends list, just so that it can be digestible, so be it. But the point is simple: Facebook is just one medium where we interact with one another, and we ought to be showing each other grace.

My Facebook status updates may be about me, but I hope yours aren’t.

Which walls do you prefer?

This past week or two I’ve had the fun of playing with my new Google Nexus 7 tablet. I can now read all of my books and news feeds without having to either remain in bed or drag my laptop to the deck. What impressed me even more was how simple the setup process was, and the environment that was established for me. I’m a pretty heavy Google user already, so I went ahead and linked up my Google account when I placed my order. When my tablet arrived, I started it up, verified my account, and instantly all of my apps, e-mail, music, and books were synchronized to my device. There was a handy widget on the home screen directing me to what I have, and where I could go to get more (that is, the Google Play Store). All of this gave me a few moments of pause and reminded me that as much as we say we hate them, we still love walled gardens. Continue reading Which walls do you prefer?