Stop Scrolling, Start Creating: A Wake-up Call for Catholics

The latest warning comes from a 60-year-old social psychologist whose book reached No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.

Smartphone use threatens a child’s mental well-being, Jonathan Haidt believes, and he demonstrates this in his book The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Driving an Epidemic of Mental Illness “. His advice: no smartphone before high school, no social networks before 16.

Because social media platforms design “a suite of addictive content” that tempts children to forgo the social for solitude, Haidt writes, they have “reprogrammed childhood and altered human development on an almost unimaginable scale.”

Adults are addicts too, which means we too need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

I speak from experience. I dropped my iPhone on Thanksgiving and it landed with an ominous thud. The flashing neon in the upper right corner looked like blood at a crime scene.

My phone was almost dead. Periodically I could bring it back to life with a series of irreplaceable taps and a certain angle on the charger, but it never lasted. I limped around in this state for over a month making sure it was properly backed up to iCloud.

During this time, I learned to live without a smartphone.

Being exempt from receiving text messages brought a surprising relief. I missed other functions of my phone: the flashlight, the alarm, the navigation. (I borrowed my parents’ GPS several times. What a dandy!)

But the biggest void was the lack of aimless scrolling online. When I went to bed at night, I looked at the ceiling. My mind went blank. And even though the quiet was disguised as boredom, I quickly recognized it for what it was: a safe space.

I learned to accept the void, trusting it to renew me, to lead me down interesting new paths. This is what it looks like to clear your mind! This is how you evaluate your day, talk to God and get ideas!

Empty space contained infinite potential.

I had been freed from an onslaught of videos, images and texts, and I was returning to the driver’s seat. Shouldn’t I be the one who decides what I think about? Am I ready to let their algorithm become my agenda?

I was mainly thinking about imagination. Do I want to create or consume? Very often we choose one. Although I am a writer by trade with many creative interests, I have turned to consuming day in and day out, chained to a small, glowing screen.

Now I write fiction, which feels like swinging a bat with my left hand. I’m experimenting with rhyme. I scribble with a pencil. And I created a folder on my desktop called “Imagination File” for new ideas unrelated to paychecks or deadlines.

If Christians are called to imitate the Creator, then we are called to create. This means we must maintain our sense of wonder, filling ourselves with beauty like bouquets of lilacs. We need to open our eyes and use our hands, create something from nothing – with words, with a paintbrush, with a half-empty fridge.

Saint John Paul II made this call in his 1999 letter to artists, writing: “You are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man. »

This is as epic as it gets. But that can’t happen if you’re busy watching TikTok.

Earlier this spring, I spotted the perfect bench in Lower Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. It was under a cherry tree in full bloom. I sat up and looked up, absorbing the taut pink. Then I noticed the woman next to me, around 60, holding a Danielle Steel paperback and beaming. We smiled at each other and congratulated ourselves on our luck in finding first place in the house and our good sense in accepting it.

Capecchi is a freelance writer in Inver Grove Heights.