Know Peace Online: Know Your Limits

Six guideposts to a better world online. This week’s guidepost: #KnowYourLimits

Today’s guidepost, #knowyourlimits, is the fourth in our series and it is critical to the others. In the third guidepost #knowyourfacts, we learned that stopping disinformation often requires slowing down our online reactions. And the fifth guidepost, #knowyourresponsibility, highlights how social media is geared toward keeping you engaged at all costs — including relying on false or negative content to keep you online. To follow each of these guideposts, it is important to #knowyourself, as our sixth guidepost will explain.

This fourth guidepost #knowyourlimits will give you resources to develop habits and intentions that will help you when it comes time to slow down your reactions and honor your limits online.

It is easy to say take a break from technology, but much harder to do it. What can we do to help put #KnowYourLimits into practice?

Faith traditions offer significant resources in carving out limits in support of healthier, happier — and most important — more meaningful living. Many faith and spiritual traditions use routine practices to strengthen our “muscle” of behavior and thought.

For example Reboot — which aims to bring Jewish traditions to millennials — promotes a #techsabbath and the national day of unplugging. In the Jewish tradition, setting time apart is a way to emphasize meaningful activities.

Thought leaders rooted in the Buddhist tradition suggest to set your intention before you engage with screens or with social media. For example, before you open your Facebook app, set your intention as follows: I plan to use Facebook for 30 minutes to connect with my friends about my wonderful weekend.

When using social media, decide how much time you want to spend and why you are there. Jot down your goals. Set a timer. Stay present and notice when you’ve moved away from your intention to other, less fulfilling, activities.

Secular advocates also emphasize the importance of taking a break. During the pandemic, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s Screen Time Action Network suggests screen free Saturdays as a way to get away from 5-days-a-week zoom. And the Center for Humane Technology, founded by leading Silicon Valley engineers, lists a variety of tools to limit the power technology has over users. Among Humane Tech’s recommendations, something that is familiar among Christian adherents: Be Compassionate. “Remember there is a real person behind the screen. … Try a private message asking why they feel that way with genuine curiosity and a desire to understand.”

And on a more practical level, Humane Technology recommends buying an alarm clock and putting devices away at dinner.

A leading article by Andrew Sullivan, an early adopter leading online blogger as well as a Roman Catholic, wrote compellingly about his recognition that his Internet use was an addiction causing him mental and physical damage. He found regular practices helped. “The key to gaining sustainable composure from meditation was rigorous discipline and practice, every day, whether you felt like it or not, whether it felt as if it were working or not. Like weekly Mass, it is the routine that gradually creates a space that lets your life breathe.” Sullivan went on to speculate, “If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation.”

Often our mistakes online occur when we are rushing, reacting instead of acting. Taking space regularly will enable you to stop in the moment and think, helping to prevent you from: forwarding something untrue without checking it, responding sharply to a friend, fueling polarization, or inadvertently spreading stereotypes.

Whether you find calm in a faith-based practice, Buddhist-inspired meditation, or just setting aside a regular time apart from technology, a regular routine will enable you to set boundaries and focus on using technology in a meaningful way. And these practices will help you to know — and honor — your limits.

Share your thoughts using the hashtag #knowpeaceonline and to sign up to learn more visit our campaign website at knowpeace.online.

Cheryl A. Leanza is the policy advisor for the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, Office of Communication Inc.

The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry founded in 1959. Faithful advocacy for communication rights.