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Facebook Obsession and the Anguish of Boredom

Facebook has never been more addictive.

In 2013, it was 63 percent of Facebook users who checked in daily. In 2014, that number shot up to 70 percent. 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 in order 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 on 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 17th-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.