Films & Challenges Urge the Religious to Reflect on Their Digital Lives

Humza Deas, seen here in a 2014 Instagram post, is featured in the new documentary “Social Animals.” Photo courtesy of NoFilter Picture

For Humza Deas, Instagram was a place to share his creative work that led to collaborations with Kanye West and major brands.

For Kaylyn Slevin, it became a place to share her love of fashion and interest in modeling.

For Emma Crockett, it was a place to connect with friends at her Christian high school.

But the popular image-sharing social media platform also was a place where the three teenagers encountered rumors, stalkers and bullies, according to “Social Animals,” a 2018 documentary film from Subconscious Films.


Instagram can edit its users’ lives into something that seems picture-perfect, going from success to success. It can turn people into brands, put metrics such as “likes” and followers on their sense of worth and open their lives to comments from strangers.

“I don’t really like it, but I keep doing it,” Crockett said in the film.

Filmmaker Jonathan Ignatius Green.
Photo courtesy of NoFilter Picture

Filmmaker Jonathan Ignatius Green, who calls Instagram the “epitome of social media,” hopes his documentary will open up discussions about how not just teens but also adults engage social media.

It’s a topic to which many people of faith are bringing their beliefs.

“I think this has now been part of our culture long enough that we’re kind of catching up to the reflection that is probably due this behavior,” Green said.

This week, Christian author Andy Crouch and Barna Group, a research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture, launched The Tech-Wise Family Challenge.

The 21-day challenge, inspired by Crouch’s 2017 book “The Tech-Wise Family,” encourages participants to rethink the role of technology in their lives and homes. The challenge includes questions for discussion and recommended action steps like spending Sundays screen-free, finding a place for devices to “rest” at home and making cookies or something else “hands-on” together.

Author Andy Crouch. Courtesy photo

Time to unplug from social media and devices is important, said Crouch, because where there once was a rhythm to the day — an end to the workday and an escape from bullying — smartphones keep all those things within arm’s reach all the time.

When people complain about how obsessed teenagers are with their phones, Crouch said he asks them, “Have you seen the parents?”

“I really think I’m actually more concerned about the way this is shaping adult life,” he said.

And Christians, he argues, should think about the spiritual impact of technology and whether it is shaping them to be more like Christ — to love God and love their neighbor.

Leaders at All Beings Zen Sangha in Washington, D.C., also are thinking about that spiritual impact. The Zen Buddhist congregation has hosted a “Zen Practice and Screen Use” workshop to help members reflect on their use of digital devices such as smartphones and tablets.

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Source: Religion News Service