By Emily Gehman
I can still remember Joe, one of my fifth-grade classmates, trying to convince our music teacher to let him do the robot dance.
It was time for the spring musical, and one of the songs had a techno feel to it. So class clown Joe, surprising nobody, begged her to robot on stage. I don’t remember much else about the spring play, to be honest, but I remember the words to that chorus: “Input, output, your mind is a computer whose input, output daily you must choose.”
At the time, it was a preposterous thought. Computers were still big clunky things that sat on top of desks, didn’t move, and couldn’t make life decisions. They were nothing like the human mind.
But today, I see the parallel more clearly—especially now that we do most of our thinking with our cell phones either in our hands or within reach.
Computers are machines that work with information. Your laptop, your phone, the internet, and social media, they don’t create new information. They only present information they’ve already been given. Their output is only what has been previously input.
Your brain and your heart work the same way. They can only work with what has been put into them in the first place.
And guess who is in charge of that? Yep, you.
You may think the Bible has nothing to say about technology, like iPhones or social media. And you’d be right; nowhere in the Bible can you find the words internet, social media, iPhone or TikTok. But you’d be wrong if you thought God’s Word doesn’t provide wisdom for how we use technology. In fact, it’s very clear about content consumption—what we are to put in our minds and hearts. And that’s exactly what we’re doing when we engage with media. What we input is what we think about, and our output is our actions. And all of that determines our character—who we really are. But it all begins with what we think about.
Thinking About Thinking
The book of Philippians was written by Paul, who, at the time was likely under house arrest, a form of Roman discipline where he couldn’t leave his house. And if you thought indefinite quarantine was bad, he may have even been chained to a Roman guard. Either way, Paul had plenty of time to think about thinking. In Philippians 4, Paul has some clear words about what to input into our minds and hearts—and what the output will be, too.
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)
First, take a look at these descriptors Paul uses to talk about what kinds of things to think about: true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise.
Social media itself isn’t evil, nor is it sinful to engage with it. However, not all the content you may see on social media reflects those words from Philippians 4:8. Some of it does, but not all. God’s Word says if you come upon any content anywhere that doesn’t lead you to think about things that are true, honorable, just, etc., don’t input it into your mind and heart.
But here’s some good news: This list of words—true, pure, lovely, and the rest—isn’t a list of rules. It’s actually a cause-and-effect sequence. Take a look at the result Paul indicates: “the peace of God will be with you.” This peace is mentioned earlier in the chapter in verse 7: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” It’s a peace that doesn’t make sense, a deep-seated rest, a unique calm that can only come from God.
So, thinking logically, when we input content that is the opposite of those words, then the outcome will be the opposite of peace. Anxiety, fear, worry, and turmoil.
Counselors, psychologists, and mental health experts see a correlation between social media and mental health—specifically anxiety. While social media may not be the sole cause of anxiety or depression, it can definitely be a major factor. Between our natural tendency to compare our lives with others’ highlight reels, that strange fear of missing out, and the ways technology can mess with our sleep patterns, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing a rise in anxiety.Harrison and Lucassen: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/mental-health/managing-stress-and-anxiety-the-digital-age-the-dark-side-technology In fact, one of the first lines of defense that counselors advise the anxious with is an extended break from social media.
Because when your input doesn’t reflect that list of words from Philippians 4, then it’s preposterous to think you’ll reap the result of God’s peace. Which is why it’s so important to remain aware and in charge of your input to your mind and heart. Whatever you input determines your output. Essentially, you are what you think about, no matter how you’re getting that content.
Everybody Dance Now
I can’t remember whether or not Joe got to dance the robot on stage in fifth grade. But those lyrics—cheesy or confusing as they were at the time—make so much sense. It’s infinitely important what you put into your mind because that’s what eventually is going to come out.
So the next time you find your thumb making the eternal scroll, check what kind of content you’re inputting. Take control of what you’re thinking about as well as the amount of time you’re spending on social media.Patterson: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/6-ways-foster-healthy-social-media-habits/ And when the downward spiral of comparison, FOMO or anxious thoughts begin, take a break.Ortlund: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/3-ways-social-media-stealing-joy/ Be aware, be intentional—and be peaceful.
And if it helps, you could put your phone down and do the robot.