Most of us are tied to technology — incessantly connected through at least one device. Our phone is always on us or close at hand. We use a laptop to work remotely or conduct meetings. Our calendar links across our devices to keep us, and maybe our whole family, organized. Digital technology plays a central role in our lives. But is this dependency simply benign?

Could our attachment to devices be eating away at our attachment to those we love, especially to our families? Is it possible that our habitual over-consumption of digital media is eroding our relationship with God?

Technology is shaping our souls.

Life completely "off the grid" seems impossible, and for most of us, it would require a career change. However, it is important to remember that it is wise to keep our technology use in check. We need to create healthy boundaries that protect our minds and our relationships from its damaging effects, especially as it relates to our spiritual health. To that end, here are five reasons we need to take a digital sabbath.

1. Media Use Has Increased Exponentially

Fifty years ago, people watched only 20 hours per week of media (mainly television). Today, it's over 80 hours a week on average! Sixty-one percent of people turn to their cell phones within five minutes of waking up, and that's not to press snooze on the alarm. This means that millions of people check their phones each morning before they even speak one word to the loved ones they live with or share a bed with.

Close to the same percentage binge-watch their most loved series on Netflix. If you add all that up, it's more than 24 days spent consuming video each year.

John Piper strikes to the heart of the matter when he said, “One of the great uses of [social media] will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”

2. It is Ever-Present

Unless we shut our devices off or put them out of reach, there really is no escape. A barrage of notifications follow us around day and night: emails to answer, texts demanding our immediate attention, enticing news of new likes and comments on our latest posts. There is a pressure, and for many of us, even a compulsion, to respond as soon as possible.

Media easily becomes a counterfeit solution to our troubles, a distraction from our real struggles and fears. Like a painkiller, the relief is only temporary and heals nothing. "Doomscrolling" is a more common practice than many of us even realize, and yet it has significant adverse effects on our mental health. There is a growing danger in allowing our social media feeds, gaming avatars, and other media to define our sense of identity and meaning in life.

3. It is Highly Addictive

A lot of research has been done on how the mind gets addicted. When it comes to digital addiction, dopamine gets released when a social media notification boosts our self-esteem or an exciting plot unfolds before our eyes in a video. Understanding this, major tech companies intended to build media platforms that would get people hooked, similar to the effects of drugs. It looks like they succeeded. Why do you think Netflix releases a whole series at once and now automatically plays the next episode?

China has caught on to the harmful effects. In 2008 they declared Internet addiction a national disorder/disease. In South Korea, one in 10 teenagers struggles with Internet addiction.

Adam Graber from FaithTech writes, "Our smartphones sometimes offer snacks instead of a good meal. And in doing so, they can re-form our bodies, and in turn shape our spirits. For that reason, we must recognize the ways that our technology is forming our habits. Because, through them, technology is shaping our souls."

4. God Tells Us to Rest

"By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work" (Genesis 2:2).

"There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience" (Hebrews 4:9-11).

God, the master of time itself, took time to rest after creating the world. He built the need for rest into our DNA and even commanded us to follow his example. In our frenetic culture of digital connectivity, we've forgotten how to rest. It is essential that we re-learn how to take regular and intentional breaks from work and the bombardment of digital stimulus. Our spiritual growth is on the line.

"We need times of sabbath and prayer, including embodied practices. We need stretches of silence long enough to hear God whisper, or call to us from far away. If we don’t take them ourselves, they may be thrust upon us." Adam Graber, FaithTech

5. There are Many Benefits

When we take time to truly rest, we regain control. Technology no longer ensnares and controls us. There's a quietness of spirit that returns to our hearts. The constant need to interact with a device as a means to feel alive (or simply not bored) decreases. We are able to re-engage in meaningful relationships and activities that we previously neglected or ignored. Most importantly, we discover that God was speaking to us all along. We were just too distracted to listen.

Whether we call it an addiction, overuse, a poor habit, a disease, an idol, or just 21st-century reality, it’s becoming increasingly impossible to ignore the negative effects that unevaluated consumption of digital technology is having on us. Conversely, it’s becoming more and more apparent that there are huge benefits to obeying God’s call for us to rest.

Taking a break at least once a week puts technology back into its proper place, where we control it to our benefit and that of society, and it does not control us.

updated October 2023

Photo Credit: Javier Canada