In the movie Wall-E, the mega-corporation Buy n Large (BnL) has taken over the world.

Far from earth, on the spaceship, The Axiom, humans live in a perpetual cruise-like state. Baby humans are raised by BnL robots. The infants, still too young to speak, watch BnL’s station for babies. The show chants,

“The Axiom: home sweet home”

“Buy and Large: your very best friend.”

The propaganda ensures that these babies grow into adults tethered to their screens, floating on space-age Barca loungers, fulfilled without having to move their eyes from their personal electronic devices.

In this Age of the Smartphone, I am similarly tethered to a screen that can do most my wish-fulfillment for me. In crisis or boredom, for dinner plans or scripture reading, I go to my iPhone first.

And I love it. The convenience, the ease, the speed, all hugely helpful, actually.

You’re not going to hear me say “Turn off your Smartphone!”

Instead, I think it’s time we take back our Smartphones to serve us. So I offer four ways to customize your phone to serve a portion of peace instead of a double portion of “cray-cray”. And, what better time to start than October 2016, when the political noise is driving most of us batty?!

These four habits are not commandments. They work well for me, but they will need customization to serve you. Try them on, throw them out, consider and contemplate.

As you consider, one caveat to remember. Any change to your habits often requires spiritual muscle. There are forces at work, both material and spiritual, that do not want you to change.  The material ones are easier to spot: the BnL of today (from CNN to Fox, from People to USA Today) want you mindless clicking and sharing on your feed. Remember, BnL is your very best friend! Besides “the world”, there are spiritual forces invested in keeping you from reflecting on truth. Remember what Scripture calls the Evil One? The Father of Lies. Finally, our personal soul care may be neglected. We may be easily distracted and tired all the time. Facebook or Netflix may always lead us into 30 minute unintended detours. If you find yourself wanting to change, but needing some coaching, I can help you with that. Find out more about spiritual direction here.

BnL doesn’t have to be your best friend. Habits of reflection can become your daily rhythm. You can determine how the best apps and feeds serve you, rather than you serving them.

You can decide what you think without looking to see what the popular girls are thinking.

After all, this is YOUR soul.

Choose Your Medium

First, how do you want to receive the news?

I wasn’t raised with a TV. Perhaps that’s why images get lodged in my head and often haunt my days. This means I’m terrific at remembering movies. I can quote them like a champ. But the downside is that I cannot watch the news and hold onto my sense of self. It’s taken me years to realize and admit this. Viewing the news means my clarity of mind flies right out the window.

You may be able to hold onto your own opinions and watch the news every night. I cannot. I actually forget my own views after hours sitting at the feet of the “experts”. So, I rarely watch a network channel, even on long layovers, even when it’s on my husband’s screen. I don’t watch videos (funny, morbid, or commentaries) on any current news events. I do not enjoy listening to the news anymore, either. I used to tune into NPR, but the subjects alone are not suitable for a six-year-old, noticing more and more from the backseat.  And the longer I have classical music playing in my car, the easier it is for me to see the jarring, sensational nature of most radio news.

Refusing to watch the news doesn’t make me an ostrich. It is precisely because I’m choosing the medium of the news that I know the difference between what I think and what the media thinks about the next president. No one is permitted to overwhelm me with images or drumming advertisements.

I rely on reading the news. I rely on the least sensational, best written, and longest standing reputations I can find.  This means I never read any of my Facebook feeds.

I cannot rely on my Facebook friends to sift the news for me.

These people may have other great qualities, but I do not allow them to conduit news. When I click the app, I do not glance at that opening page, it still can suck me in. When I open my Facebook app, I move my eyes to the bottom right icon, and immediately click to the groups I lead. I also avoid clickbait headlines like a plague. The instructive one-liners (“Trump’s Daughter Avoided Kissing Him After the Debate–and It Was Painful to Watch!”) are evidence enough that my reason and intelligence will not be respected. Just click on one and see the links at the bottom. If I see celebrity gossip or weight loss secrets, I know I got suckered.

When in the grocery line, I do my best to engage with those in line or working for me. If I notice the headlines, I ask myself, “What is the cost of being her or him?” Sometimes I pray for the celebrities I see to find light, truth, and privacy. I cannot stomach MSNBC, The New York Times, People, or Time magazine. Just slipping into one article from these presses insults my own chance to sift the truth and quickly tumbles me into anxiety. These heavy-handed sources have not shown respect for my need to make up my own mind. And since I no longer need to be told what to think, I won’t open them anymore. They remind me of BnL. In fact, Apple’s newest update chooses the NYT as your default news source. Just the few hours before I altered my settings were enough to remind me of the chaotic way news headlines can invade my world. And a word to Apple, I don’t need to be told what to read by yet another organization.

None of this means I’m a lightweight thinker. I’m a philosopher who cares about religion, culture, and human flourishing. I don’t settle for light reading. I like to think that my heavier reading has made me more discerning to when I’m being manipulated.

I want the news events without commentary. If I’m looking specifically for commentary by a certain person from a certain position, I know where to look. I read the feeds on the Wall Street Journal app. Their search engine is very helpful. Their headlines avoid shouting. I find I can glance at a headline and keep my peace intact. And I look at the WSJ editorials and Letters to the Editor to know better what people are discussing. These sections pull from exceptional writers.

When a friend tells me I really should watch Vice President Michelle Obama’s speech or hear Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech, I make my Smartphone serve me. I look up a transcript. I don’t want my eagerness to see what Michelle is wearing to keep me from hearing the content of what she said. I don’t need my thoughts clouded by the commentary, camera angles, make-up artists, lights and audience reaction to her script. These all add value judgments that distract me from my work: to form my own thoughts. So I read speeches from conventions, events, debates. This also helps protect me from the cut-and-pasted way we hear most speeches. 

I also rely heavily on talking about the news with those who think carefully through the headlines and know the stories that don’t make the headlines.  I want to have a better knowledge of what my closest friends think than what Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, or the hottest celebrity think. I do not engage casually about my voting ideas unless I am prepared to invest serious time to listen and articulate what I think. I am attracted to people who can make up their own mind from multiple, competing voices, who know the ideology and motivation driving the issues. I value these voices that have fresh perspectives beyond “both sides.” I am not attracted to talk with people who simply parrot or “share” an article to make their point. This helps me remain faithful to my value of creative, political thought. 

If I read blogs on political events it is only with a careful eye to find what this author finds persuasive. Most blogs posts I do read come recommended by friends or acquaintances and they often serve to illuminate the “sharer”. Rarely do blog posts examine issues to the point that they change my mind. Many bloggers, unfortunately, take you on a ride and don’t offer the courtesy of disagreeing thoughtfully. Bloggers, like most politicians, run the risk of looking for fanfare and popularity, not truth. Just read the comments.

Timing

Second, when are you are best suited to receive the news?  Can you read an incriminating article and then switch off your phone and go to sleep? You can? How cool is that?!  

That is impossible for me. Reading the news always means I will have something burdensome to hold, more to sift through and bring to God, something to tempt me to feel inadequate, tired, angry, or overwhelmed. And those last four always lead me to an adrenalin boost to try to do something. I know, I’ll post a really clever comeback on my Facebook page so I can change the world! Not conducive for my REM cycle.

I can only read the news when I’m prepared to take on more burdens. This means, as a wife, mother, and Vice President of a non-profit that heals souls, days will go by when I do not read any news. I find missing daily news a very wise practice for me. I cannot help Cindy with her crumbling marriage if I’ve spent my mental energy wondering about and then articulating the spiritual abuse in Obama’s recent speech. I don’t have any bandwidth left for Cindy. Being present as a wife, mother, and pastor/speaker is prior to my responsibility to know and evaluate every world or national event. I know this means I may be asked about an event I don’t know about. I am prepared to admit my limitations in this. 

Feeds

Third, decide who is allowed to feed you. It’s incredible how scrupulous we can be about what we eat, but pay no attention to the junk ideas that we absorb every time we read our feeds. Check your feeds, from Pinterest to Twitter. Who am I following? Do I have bullies in my feed? Any BnL corporations? Do I follow people who must comment on every jot and tittle that blasts from the news networks? Unfollow, unfollow, unfollow. 

I don’t care if they follow me. I realize someone (BnL) said that I must follow everyone who follows me or I’m rude.  Scripture commands that we must seek peace. Peace doesn’t arrive gift-wrapped on our doorstep. If a bully or an impulsive, uncreative, unthinking person is in my feed, I am set back in my peace. For one incautious post, I may have hours of self care to recover. Incautious words that I invited into my life. I will also unfollow the type of person who loves to slyly brag about life, family, romance, work events. They are incautious and immodest. It doesn’t matter how popular or influential they are. I unfollow.

If I don’t have the courage to protect my peace, no one else will do it.  Anyone who doesn’t give me life is out of my feed. If you check the feed I manage on Instagram (Soulationdotorg) you’ll notice that we follow 27 people. Today, I’m knocking it down to 26. I’m always sweeping the feed to see who just tried to proselytize me. This is risky, it’s not the “social way to go”. But it’s the best soul care for growth and maturity in my life.

I will address chaotic, controversial events head on, but when I am ready. I will address news and controversy as best suits my needs, not as best suits the impulses of everyone else.

If you like reading the news through a feed, and you enjoy the unexpected nature of a “friend” giving you a new angle on a story, then by all means follow the people who will spring news on you through your feed.

A note for those of us who believe our feeds are going to help us build a platform: for that book we want to write someday, for that photography business we are just starting, for the consulting we plan to do. So we follow people thinking we are doing necessary, savvy networking. I am not saying this networking never works. It can. But the best way to develop followers is to focus on the one thing you do best. If it’s fashion, exclusively post fashion pictures. You only need to follow people who add value to your work and platform.

Don’t be tempted to think that telling the world your every opinion is being courageous.

More likely, it’s your anxiety spilling over from reading someone else’s feed and feeling powerless. Too often, we use our feeds, our walls, our posts to talk about something publicly that we need to work on in a private conversation, in prayer, or in our journal. You can succeed brilliantly at your work without following incendiary political commentators.  And a little hint: you can post every single day and not feel obligated to read a single feed.

You decide where you best receive and sift through the news.

Refreshment Zones

I often reach for my phone when I’m: bored, tired, angry, hungry, stuck, really almost any negative emotion. I’ve gazed longingly for a new ANYthing to distract me from what I’m facing at the moment.  I’ve looked for the powers in my phone to bring me things a phone should never have to deliver. And when we’re that depleted, it’s easy to think a feed will help. Most of the time, unless it’s a safe feed, it will not. It will spiral me, maybe it often does the same for you. You can know by noticing how you feel after you read your feed.

A good practice for me is asking ahead of time, “What am I looking for?” I answer before I let myself click “on”. Sometimes, I’ll already be knee deep in Instagram and think “Wait a second, I don’t need this, I need rest, nourishment, beauty, etc.”

I’ve set up refreshment zones on my phone to serve me when I need a break. These let me escape into my phone but ensure I emerge refreshed and stronger. These are quite personal. Candy Crush might do it for you.

What’s key is how easily can you “pull out” and how you feel afterwards. Re-energized or sort of numb?

My refreshment zones are Columbo re-runs on Netflix, scrolling Pinterest, opening my Kindle app, searching for a passage in my YouVersion Bible app. In this season, I have a Columbo re-run going at all times. So when I’m feeling a headache coming on, I know I need to catch up on emails but I’m feeling stuck trying to nurse my baby. That’s when I realize I don’t have the mental energy to do any work. I tap my Netflix app and go to the Columbo world where goodness always wins. This gentle, brilliant detective always exposes evil with creatively and dignity. Even five minutes with Columbo leaves me refreshed. Keep in mind that Netflix always pushes their new shows at the top now. It takes new habits of discipline to only look for the show you wanted. This list of Netflix codes may unlock just what you’re looking for.

Pinterest works for me as I only pin things about watercolor painting, fashion, and cooking. I refuse to click on those sensational things (10 things you should fix about your hair, skin, house, right NOW). When I accidentally pin one, I find I’m left feeling jumpy, like I need to clean the washing machine immediately.  

If I’m not battling a headache or fatigue, I can use that mental energy to click into Kindle. I’m always working on interesting books on self-help, biography, theological/spiritual formation or a novel. These are bookmarked and downloaded for when I want mental stimulation but know I don’t want to face the unpredictable world of email or a news story. It helps to have a book because books require endurance and the work I need to do to think carefully. Book reading always prepares me to write better, to think intentionally, and to grow spiritually. And who doesn’t want to be reading more books?!  I want to note that I cannot read political books this way. I have another routine for political reading. Ask me about that if you’re interested.

There are also a few writers who consistently restore me.  If I find myself sucked into a BnL news story I often need one of these guys to pull me out: Henry Nouwen (The Genessee Diary is my favorite), Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy), Wendell Berry (his poetry or novels), and the Gospels or Psalms (I have to go straight to the “read” button to keep from being distracted. It can take me just a page or even a paragraph from one of these spiritual guides to get me back in my own skin.

~

There is one human in Wall-E who accidentally turns off her video. Mary is startled at first to see the real world. She sees Wall-E and Eve dancing. She notices that The Axiom has a pool. She meets John. Together they save a group of babies tumbling to injury. She takes the tools she has and she lives a better life, even in the midst of chaos.

In every era, we need humans who know how to look around them instead of just absorbing what other people tell them. Men and women who know how to hold the chaos back long enough to contemplate what God wants them to do for such a time as this.

We live in more distraction because we invite it.

Next time you reach for your phone ask yourself, “What am I looking for?” to keep you on target. That way you can be sure your Smartphone is serving the one who owns it.

~

Summary

1 – What medium works best for you to receive the news and keep your peace and sanity intact? Written, spoken, or filmed.

2 – When are you best suited to face the news? Change your phone’s settings so that you are not bombarded at all hours of the day and night.

3 – Who is in charge of feeding you news? Check your feeds, unfriend, unfollow, or (easier yet) start a new profile.

3 – Find your Refreshment Zones. Pick your refreshment authors.

Image credit: http://www.creativedigest.co.uk/social-media-in-2015-the-rapid-growth-continues/