In his book The Cultural Intelligence Difference, David Livermore writes, “The ‘always connected’ capability afforded us through our smart phones is wearing us out and may actually be making us dumber. One University of London study found that individuals who are constantly connected via e-mail, texting, and social networking sites experienced a ten-point drop in their IQ. In fact, researchers found that constantly being ‘on’ via technology has a similar effect to regularly giving up one night of sleep” (60).
I have often wondered about the effects of various media on mental processing, but I must admit that I was surprised to find that it’s this extreme. Of course, Livermore is addressing the overuse of media and not its use, but I think we’re safe to assume that any level of regular use has some effect on our minds. And given what he noted at the end of the quote, I assume that the main problem is that our minds are over-stimulated. They’re running at such a high level of RPMs for so long that they simply wear out. They cannot rest and thus they behave like minds that have not rested. Go figure.
We were designed to intake, process, and apply information, and each phase of this process takes time. In our information saturated, high-speed, non-stop world, our minds—even the brightest of minds—simply cannot keep up. We were designed to process a certain amount of information, to be sure, but not to be information processing machines. We are primarily relational beings for whom information plays a part, but more and more media requires that information play a central part. Too central a part.
So what are we to do? Media is part and parcel of our lives, and there’s no going back. Forsaking media is not an option for those who want to engage with, rather than withdraw from, the world. So again, what are we to do? I suggest a regular media fast, no less than once per month, that has as its aim reflection and recalibration. Here are a few steps toward a successful media fast.
(1) Decide how long your fast will be, and precisely when you will do it. Will you abstain for 1, 3, or 7 days? What will be your start and stop dates? What will you do about e-mail and other crucial media sources during your fast? Gaining clarity on these questions before the fact will greatly enhance the effect of your fast.
(2) Decide what you will do with your time during the fast. I suggest Bible reading, journaling, and meditation. Connect with the Lord and process with him your use of e-mail, texting, social media, web-surfing, and TV and movie watching. Articulate any adjustments you need to make.
(3) Give some thought to your patterns of intake, processing, and rest. Although sleep scientists still don’t understand precisely why we need sleep (and other forms of rest), it’s clear that we do. We can help our minds get the rest they need by managing the input they must process. So think not only about the amount of media you consume, but the times of day in which you do so and how that relates to rest or lack thereof.
It seems to me that if we would integrate this habit of fasting and reflection into our lives, our IQs would increase, and more importantly, our fruitfulness in life and joy in the Lord would increase. Why? Our identity and importance has little or nothing to do with being connected to the media outlets of our day, rather, it has to do with being found in Christ. Our union with Christ is the heart of our identity, and when we set aside secondary things for a time in order to focus on Christ, this truth rings true.