“More and more studies are coming out every day documenting the cognitive and social impacts of social networking – all the texting, Tweeting, and Facebooking we do during the day," says Beck. "To date, however, no one has taken a close look at the spiritual impact of all this electronic interaction. That’s what my team set out to do.”Some of this is particularly relevant, the fasting from online or mobile connectivity, given that Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent is tomorrow.
Beck, along with two psychology graduate students, Anne Briggs and Mary Tomkins, surveyed 313 undergraduate students at ACU about their social networking habits and how those habits affect their perceived spirituality, their relationship with God, and their faith overall.
The research also surveyed various ways students have attempted to limit or moderate their use of social networking to mitigate its impact on their spiritual lives. For example, 53% of the students in the survey report having undertaken a “Facebook fast,” where they stopped checking or logging onto Facebook for a specified period of time.
“Fasting,” Beck observes, “is the practice of refraining from something pleasurable in which we tend to overindulge. It's an ancient spiritual practice used in Christianity and other faith traditions. It’s interesting to see college students applying this discipline to the modern world of social computing. It seems that more and more people are exploring things like this in order to maintain their spiritual equilibrium in our hyper-connected age.”
Why is unplugging for spiritual purposes on the rise? According to Beck’s survey, 49% of his students agree with the statement that “the time I spend on things like texting, Facebook or Twitter has drawn me away from God."
Beck also assessed a phenomenon researchers have dubbed “phantom phone vibration,” the experience of thinking your iPhone is buzzing in your pocket, only to find out it isn’t.
“Eight-nine percent of our students reported having experienced phantom phone vibrations," says Beck. "Of these, 38% of our students have this experience every day or every week.” According to Beck, the experience suggests we have become hyper-vigilant in monitoring our cell phones.
“Even when we aren’t on our phones, we are still on the edges of awareness paying attention to them,” Beck observes. “This might be one reason we feel our social connectivity is making it more difficult for us to be fully present in the moment.”
For example, according to the ACU survey, 55% of the students reported texting other people while talking with their friends. This might be why 28% of the survey respondents agree that “the time I spend on things like texting, Facebook or Twitter is interfering with me having deep, meaningful relationships with others.”
the ACU press release: