Facebook Obsession and the Anguish of Boredom
Facebook has never been more addictive.
In 2013, it was 63% of Facebook users who checked in daily. In 2014, that number shot up to 70%. If you check Facebook day after day, you join over 864 million others with the same compulsive routine.
For many of us, Facebook is a kind of addiction, a default habit that is now rewiring our brains.
Ofir Turel, a psychologist at Cal State Fullerton, has the research to prove it. To make his point, he says Facebook addicts driving a car are more likely to respond faster to a push notification alert on their phone than to street signs. “That’s the power of Facebook,” he said.
Turel co-authored a study showing Facebook addiction engages the same impulsive regions of the mind as drug addicts, but with one significant difference. Facebook addicts, unlike compulsive drug abusers, “have the ability to control their behavior, but they don’t have the motivation to control this behavior because they don’t see the consequences to be that severe,” he wrote.
Many of you use Facebook and Twitter for noble ends, and this is to be applauded. Many of you are reading this post because of Facebook. But the self-evident reality is that Facebook addiction, like many addictions, is boredom-induced. Facebook is a place to turn when life gets drab, a digital slot machine we pull to win tokens of interesting news or funny videos. It’s designed to be this.
For many users, Facebook is the object we turn to, to satisfy our Boredom-Induced Distraction-Addiction (BIDA). This is when it becomes problematic.
Unhealthy Facebook addiction flourishes because we fail to see the cost on our lives. So what are the consequences of boredom-induced compulsive behaviors? Here are three to consider.
1. Facebook addiction stifles prayer.
There seems to be no study comparing the amount of time spent in social media to the satisfaction of one’s prayer life, but all indications are that there’s a problem brewing.
I recently asked Tim Keller, pastor and author of the new bestselling book on prayer, how widespread prayerlessness is. “This is anecdotal, but everybody I talk to seems so busy, and is communicating so incessantly around the clock, that I do think there is more and more prayerlessness, less and less time where people go into a solitary time or place to pray. I am sure we are more prayerless than we have been in the past.” So what does that say about our spiritual health? “Our spiritual health,” he responded candidly, “is in freefall.”
When life gets boring, we increasingly turn to the surprises (and diversions) of our newsfeeds, not to prayer.
2. Facebook addiction clouds our self-perception.
Second, BIDAs like Facebook cloud our self-perception. This was the insight of seventeenth-century mathematician Blaise Pascal. When observing the youth in his day, he noticed if you “take away their diversion, you will see them dried up with weariness” because “it is indeed to be unhappy . . . as soon as we are reduced to thinking of self, and have no diversion.”
Undistractedness and silence come with a heaviness we try to alleviate with frivolity, Pascal said. And so we are lured to distractions like Facebook, to be entertained, to fit in, to self-express — anything to break the weight of the silence.
Later, Pascal writes, “Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair.”
Without disconnected solitude, we cannot feel the weight of our need; we cannot taste our desperation for God. The weight of boredom is intended to open us to our insufficiency and to awaken us to our hunger for grace.
3. Facebook addiction blinds us to beauty.
As Facebook strategists know well, human beings cannot make peace with monotony. Try it. Your heart won’t allow it.
We were not created to live in boredom. Our boredom follows from our sin, and our unalleviated boredom will eventually make us tremendously vulnerable to the lure of trivial distractions and corrupting allurements.
Sam Storms writes, “Boredom is contrary to the natural, God-given impulse for fascination, excitement, pleasure, and exhilaration.” He warns, when faced with a life of boredom, you either die emotionally or “madly rush to whatever extreme and extravagant thrill you can find to replace your misery with pleasure, whether it be pornography, adultery, drugs, or fantasies of fame and power.” Or in your boredom, you will turn to distractions that seem so innocuous as entertainment and the digital slot machine called Facebook.
How we respond to boredom says a lot about our hearts, and explains why we are so prone to addictive lifestyles and habits, Storms writes.
Many people who fall into sinful addictions are people who were once terminally bored. The reason why addictions are so powerful is that they tap into that place in our hearts that was made for transcendent communion and spiritual romance. These addictive habits either dull and deaden our yearnings for a satisfaction we fear we’ll never find, or they provide an alternative counterfeit fulfillment that we think will bring long-term happiness — counterfeits like cocaine, overeating, illicit affairs, busyness, efficiency, image, or obsession with physical beauty. They all find their power in the inescapable yearning of the human heart to be fascinated and pleased and enthralled. Our hearts will invariably lead us either to the fleeting pleasures of addiction or to God.
This same allurement is behind the “big” addictions, the “little” addictions, and every addiction in between. In the words of an old axiom, idle hands do the devil’s work. But more fundamentally, the bored are quick to make peace with sin. Whatever distraction temporarily alleviates our boredom becomes our ethical blindspot. There’s the problem.
The Cure for Our Boredom
For creatures like us, created to adore glory, we must find an object worthy of our worship. The cure for boredom is not diversion or distraction, but substantive enthrallment, says John Piper. We must encounter God, “to be intellectually and emotionally staggered by the infinite, everlasting, unchanging supremacy of Christ in all things.”
Which means that trying to silence our boredom with the compulsive habit of pulling the lever on the slot machine called Facebook is a habit that can be broken. But that will only happen if our compelling vision of God is grand enough to see him as beautiful and “infinitely creative,” so creative, that for those who worship him, Piper says, “there will be no boredom for the next trillion ages of millenniums.”
For more on this topic, see “Six Ways Your iPhone Is Changing You.”
Sources for this article:
- Rebecca Strong, “Brain Scans Show How Facebook and Cocaine Addictions Are the Same,” BostInno (February 3, 2015)
- Drake Baer, “The Science Behind Why Facebook Is So Addictive,” Business Insider (November 13, 2014)
- Tony Reinke, “10 Questions on Prayer with Tim Keller,” desiringGod.org (October 31, 2014)
- Blaise Pascal, Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works (New York; 1910), 51, 63
- Sam Storms, Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Enjoying God (NavPress; 2011)
- John Piper, “God’s Design for History: The Glory of His Mercy,” desiringGod.org (March 14, 2004)
- John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Multnomah; 2000), 188