What's Happened to Our Concentration?1
by Gene Stansel
So... let me add to the controversy over the use of social media with this thought: getting “switched on” via your iPhone or other such device (i.e. using social media platforms), may actually lower your IQ...permanently. Now wait a minute. Don’t jump down my neck at the first mention of something potentially evil evolving from the world’s arsenal of dirty tricks. What’s so bad about Tweeting? Or what could be evil about using Facebook to keep up with my friends on their birthday? Or even with keeping up with news? My iPhone is definitely a lifeline to the world. It represents, after a fashion, a very useful gift of technology. What could be more helpful during this COVID-19 shut-down?
Social media indeed can be a noble use of technology, that is, if it is not filled with minutia, and if one does not stay “switched in” for large periods of time. Furthermore, doing research with the help of Siri moves that “noble” needle several pegs higher. It’s a wonderful source of information. But with almost every good advance in technology there is a downside. And the downside of social media is that it often becomes a constant source of interruptions and distractions. When someone sends a text, most folks just can’t wait to answer. When we do, it takes time to get back to the subject at hand. Screen pop-ups distract us even further. We may even be prone to follow a pop-up “rabbit track” for a long period of time.
Constant messaging may be informative, but it is most definitely distracting. I recently read (on the internet of all places) that a number of studies have shown, without a doubt, that constant interruptions due to social media cloud our thoughts to the extent that there may be a permanent loss of IQ. In fact, these studies have shown that, on average, a person’s IQ may fall as much as 10 points due to constant use of social media. Check it out! And it is strongly hinted that long periods of time on social media is just not good for us anyway, in fact, worse than smoking marijuana. I was shocked to my toenails to think that our society may be distracting itself into a very dark corner. Deep reading becomes a struggle. Focus is easily disturbed. Serious study, even for short periods of time, becomes a chore. We pick up a book and after reading three or four pages put it back down. We begin to forget little things. Our mental acuity suffers.
But, why should we Christians be concerned? After all, I tell myself I don’t stay on social media that much... or do I? To be truthful, every little beep causes me to instantly check my phone. So, whatever I was doing at the time has been interrupted in order to check the phone. At this point, I was moved to research the science on concentration, because my concentration is definitely deficient. And, of course, I needed to check the Scripture as well as my personal practices to determine where I stood on the matter. I concluded there are at least two major reasons that Christians should be concerned.
First, the Scripture directs us to use our time wisely. Consider Ephesians 5:16, which cautions us to become wise “...making the most of time, because the days are evil.” How can we develop the fruit of wisdom if we allow distractions to destroy our concentration and eventually lead to a loss of brain power? Recently on a short flight I sat obliquely across the aisle from a young man who did absolutely nothing during the entire flight but flip through his phone. He wasn’t reading e-mails or composing messages. He wasn’t reading a book on-line or anything of that sort. He was doing nothing but flipping from one app to another. Occasionally he would look at pictures, then back to apps. He was obviously conditioned to think only in short spurts of time, much like TV ads that change imagery 10-12 times during a 30 second commercial. Walk into almost any waiting room and you will find the majority of people staring at their phones.
By contrast, just a few hours before our flight, I was with a small group of visitors being escorted through a college campus when I observed a young student reading a book. He never looked up either the first or second time we walked by. He did not let circumstances around him destroy his concentration. What a contrast! One person was concentrating deeply and the other couldn’t concentrate if his life depended upon it. I remembered my father’s lesson on concentration: he told me about a bird dog that was taught to hold a point no matter what. Well, the dog happened to be on a railroad track and was hit and killed by a train. Even though the whistle blew constantly, the dog never broke point. The story fascinated me, although the consequences for the dog are not suggested in our case. I have a quote by Blaze Pascal pasted to my computer screen. It reads: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” When we sit quietly, without distractions, we are able to think deeply. Our God-given time should be spent wisely, not in distractions, and certainly not being distracted by minutia.
A second reason that Christians should be concerned about the constant use of social media is that Scripture directs us to “consider”, to “listen”, to “hear”, to “study”, to “think”, all of which require deep concentration. Growing into the likeness of Christ means we are to use our minds. If our concentration has been destroyed through the use of social media, then how can we grow in grace as God intends. The appeal of Scripture is primarily to our minds and only then to our emotions. Mental thought is the indispensable portal to our hearts, and God is in the business of capturing our hearts.
Here are just a few verses that indicate we must concentrate on His Word:
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Matt 1:20 (NIV)
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Luke 2:19 (NIV)
“He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God”
John 8:47 (NIV)
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
Phil 4:8 (NIV)
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Col 3:2 (NIV)
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
I Peter I:13 (NIV)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
II Tim 2:15 (KJV)
Please do not think that I am saying, carte blanch, that the internet, especially social media, is evil and should be avoided. Quite the contrary. However, I am strongly suggesting that Scripture directs us to check ourselves so that we do not waste time on social media nor consume our time with things that are not lovely or are not of good report. And that includes social media when it distracts and causes us to lose concentration. Being distracted has nothing to do with intellect. A man who worked for me was a walking encyclopedia when it came to keeping a record of our cattle herd. He could not read or write, but he kept excellent records in his head. He had learned to concentrate. The great composers wrote complex symphonies and operas because they thought deeply. I wonder if mankind will ever produce such wonderful music again? With only a few exceptions, it is becoming highly unlikely. I am reminded of the words of a now-classic hymn: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus (i.e. concentrate deeply), look full in his wonderful face (i.e. concentrate even more deeply); and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” Lord, help me to concentrate when I read your Word or hear a sermon.