Analysis of a Micro-Addiction, Pt. I

“The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt, until they are too strong to be broken.” — Samuel Johnson

The Hook

So I got hooked into an intriguing mystery series again last night.  The running plot thread was fascinating (a real plus considering regular viewing!), but then there was the issue of violence.  I’ve been this way before.

Some time ago, I “binge-watched” the first two seasons of this show. I had become seriously grieved that I was entertaining myself with death, when I serve a God of Life. So, after pontificating in my self-confession to my family members, I quit watching the show.  Good for me.

I was very happy with myself.[1] I had disentangled myself from the world’s allure. No longer did I feel disqualified in my prayer time before my Father.  After all, how could I pray to my God, serious about the very real horrors that so many are going through even now, when I’ve just spent an evening of my life watching actors play out violence for what? Entertainment?

I had gotten through the reasoning phase that first time. This phase should be the first RED FLAG for the headlong spiral into sin.  I had reasoned that it was the intellectual challenge that I was receiving that kept me glued to the plot. But really, it was boredom and ease.

Boredom, not because I don’t have anything to do, but because I have too much to do and this is a way of not having to make a decision.  Ease, because watching tv is easier than reading a book or washing dishes or studying or relating with one more person that day.

Watching the screen is also  “communal” whereas reading a book is solitary and subtracts one from the society of one’s household.  It doesn’t matter that at some point, I may be the only one still watching after everyone else has left the room.

I knew that.  I had figured it out.  So why did I do it again?

Where have all the “stopping rules” gone?

In his book, Irresistable: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, author Adam Alter talks about the differences in today’s world through the use of technology.  We have lost our “stopping rules”, little natural signals which tell us to stop.[2]

It used to be that when the sun went down, we stopped activity, using the natural cycles of the earth’s patterns to guide us. But artificial lighting makes that stopping rule obsolete. Not only behaviorally by not having light, our body begins making melatonin—a body-made chemical which helps put our bodies to sleep—only when it stops receiving light signals through the eye’s receptors.

Reliance on technology can break other stopping rules:

“Until recently, people left work behind when they left the office, but now, with the introduction of smartphones, tablets, remote log-ins, and emails that find us wherever we happen to be, that stopping rule is obsolete. Since the late 1960s, but especially in the past two decades, Japanese workers have whispered about “karoshi”, literally “death from overworking”…..they can’t seem to stop…As Kent Berridge, the neuroscientist first introduced in chapter 3, discovered people sometimes continue wanting a behavior long after its stops bringing them joy.” (p186-187)

I can attest to that. 

Use of wearable fitness technology, can also short-circuit the body’s natural clues to know when to quit. Instead, he says we’re focused on number of repetitions or steps or even a clock that tells us when to go to bed and when to get up. We’re losing the ability to read our body’s natural cues to switch gears, all in the name of better health!

Again, when we used cash, we had a natural stopping rule as we reached inside our pockets and discovered, in bills and coins, our true spending power (or lack of it). He quotes a report’s findings that shoppers will pay “up to twice as much for the same item when using a credit card rather than cash.  Credit cards, like slot machine cards, hide all feedback from a spender, who has to keep track of his own gains and losses instead” (p188).

Game designers are in on this, too, with Facebook leading the pack.  According to NYU Game Center director Frank Lantz, “Facebook games run twenty-four hours a day—they are persistent games.  They aren’t games where you have to start a session, and then play, and then save your results, and then come back later and begin the session again.  They’re just always going whenever you want to play them.”  The game doesn’t impose a stopping rule.

I have experienced this playing crossword puzzles online, or the ubiquitous Solitaire. In Solitaire, I’m always waiting for the bouncing, spilling cards and will play until I get that reward (and I will even continue playing to try to get a second reward!). 

Not that this lack of stopping rule is only because of technology, though! I also binge on print-book crossword puzzles to the annoyment of my family (unless I ask for help when they’re trapped in the car with me).  There is no escaping it.  There is something inside of me that has lost its GPS concerning my own stopping rules. 

The Fall

I could no longer convince myself at the time that what I was about to do was a good thing.  I knew that if I “went for it”, I would be doing something wrong.  Parental wisdom whispered in my ear, “Others may; you—may not.” The Holy Spirit was giving me stopping rules, but here’s the thing:  I turned them off. 

Rationalizations kept knocking at the door of my mind, regardless of my previous achievements, degrading the high standard I had previously set:

Did God really say that this is bad?  Or was that just a flush of emotion?”  (Gen. 3)

Everyone else does it; no one else has a problem with it—do they?”  (James 4:4)

Remember what ______________ said when their rationalizations matched yours, that it was stimulating and ‘just a show’ and to not worry about it so much?”  (Luke 6:26)

Remember when ________ made you think that you were ‘overanalyzing’ and being ‘holier-than-thou’ when you told them that it seemed wrong to you and wrong to God to watch violence?”  (John 15:18-19; Matthew 7:13-14)

But that was countered by other messages (stopping cues) whispering into my ear:

If you believe it to be wrong, then it’s okay if you don’t watch. I won’t be bothered if you want to watch something else.”  (courtesy of a godly family member)

“Others may, you may not.”  (courtesy of The Holy Spirit)

I had already been “hooked” by that previous viewing.  Something of that earlier “high” remained with me.  I remembered. It beckoned. I’m sure many reading this will nod.  Adam Alter reports:

“In one study, 60 percent of respondents reported binge-watching dozens of television episodes in a row despite planning to stop much sooner.” (p28) 

The True Problem

It is not surprising to hear Alter discuss the root of the problem by another name:

“Addiction originally meant a different kind of strong connection:  in ancient Rome, being addicted meant you had just been sentenced to slavery.  If you owed someone money and couldn’t repay the debt, a judge would sentence you to addiction.  You’d be forced to work as a slave until you’d repaid your debt.  This was the first use of the word addiction, but it evolved to describe any bond that was difficult to break.” (p29, emphasis mine)

The etymology of the word addiction agrees.  It is a Latin word of two parts:  ad (“toward”) and dicere (“assign”; “to deliver, award; devote, consecrate, sacrifice”; “give one’s self up to a habit or occupation”; “solemnly declare, allot”). 

The Bible calls this idolatry.  Rather than offer myself up to the Lord for the night, I offered myself up to pleasing myself.  Really. 

I’ve heard it said (and have nodded my head in experiential agreement): “I have no ‘shut-off valve’!”  That is usually said in a kind of helpless, victimized manner. And I get it. The show just r-o-l-l-s right into the next episode and I let it.  I feel robbed of my good judgment just as though I’d become inebriated or “high”.  

Yet I am no victim: I let it happen

Consequences

What is the cost to me?

  1. For one, I don’t go to bed on time, because I’m hooked into a passive state that is almost like sleeping but isn’t. My body is stone, but my brain is racing.  The LED screens keep my body from making melatonin, which is why my body’s natural “shut off” valve malfunctions. I’m not getting the physical rest I need. (Ps 3:5)
  2. I could have been doing other, more productive things. Anything that needed to be done has now been pushed forward into the next day and I find myself off schedule.   (Ephesians 5:16-17; Prov 6:9-11)
  1. Since I nibble when I binge-watch, I’m “double-bingeing” and that’s not good for my body.  (Prov 25:28)
  2. My brain has been HI-JACKED to think in ways that are against the Lord’s own.  I really do analyze “Christianly” when I watch this show.  I evaluate the morals, ethics,  problems, and questions this show is raising.  It is very enlightening in many ways.  However! It is not relevant to my actual life.  It sets me up in a false reality and wastes hours of irreplaceable time.  (2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:4-8)
  3. My spirit is hijacked, and this is the most serious consequence of all. I can find ways to ameliorate the damage done in consequences #1-4, but I can not make up for the fact that I set my Lord aside to pursue something I know hurts His heart. (Ephesians 4:30; Romans 8:26-27)

When my spirit is hijacked, I take pleasure in what God calls horrendous.  I am disqualified from making an appeal in prayer, or counseling in spirit and in truth when another needs me.  I’m a hypocrite and an idolater.  If one is a parent, there is an even higher call. 

Here’s a thought:  What is the cost to others?

  1.  I am unavailable to intercede for others when I am separated from the holiness of God by my willing sin. 
  2. There are other costs depending on the kind of addiction, but the first is the most important.  There is an obstruction, either in my spiritual witness through prayer and intercession or in my visible witness by causing someone else to stumble.  When I watched my show, I degraded my witness to those in my family of the high standards God sets for holiness in my home.  I degraded my ability to help another overcome temptation and to hold the standard high in their own life, maybe to the point of causing them to fall into harm.  There will always be collateral damage when I sin, whether that sin is huge and obvious, or “micro” level and hidden:  

“For nothing is concealed that won’t be revealed, and nothing hidden that won’t be made known, and brought to light.” — Luke 8:17 CEV

I made confession and repented, but that always feels so hollow when I KNEW what I was getting into and did it anyway.  One dictionary definition I ran across years ago for the word “stupid” is “having known better, you did it anyway.”  I think that’s a valid definition.

  Are you caught in the snare of habitual sin?  Part II continues with “What To Do?” and some help from Dr. Edward Welch’s helpful booklet ‘Just one More’: When Desires Don’t Take No for an Answer (2002; P&R Publishing), www.ccef.org.  

Pray with me as we confess our weakness together, especially during this time of LENT, when we strip ourselves clean and grieve over our sin.  There is a beautiful day coming when we will rejoice at His Resurrection commemoration, and it will be all the sweeter for having realized anew what price was paid for our release from slavery!  

          Heavenly Father, I don’t want to make excuses for my sin.  I see that I am responsible for at least my heart. You have offered Yourself in sacrifice to pay the debt I could not owe because of my nature of sin, and every individual sin after that.  You continue to offer Yourself to me by giving me your forgiveness and mercy and love, your power and authority to say no to sin, and by giving me the fellowship of other believers who will help me, even though they also struggle in sin as well.  We walk this life together, Lord.  Thank you for revealing my heart to me so I am no longer fooled like the little child who denies getting into the peanut butter but has it all over her face.  I’m undone, but I stand forgiven.  Thank you, Lord.  Keep me as I continue to learn how to walk in holiness and purity before You, regardless of the approval of others.  Keep me aware of my priorities, give me grace to confess, grace to forgive others, and to keep in the race to the finish line.  You will keep me in perfect peace because my mind is “stayed on Thee” (Isaiah 26:3-4).  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

© March 2019 by ReadPsalm119.com. 

See Analysis of a Micro-Addiction, Pt. II in the next post.   

FOOTNOTES:

[1]My family has been network-free for over 30 years (Yeah, us!), relying on select videos and dvd’s on a “monitor”.  During my husband’s convalescence from cancer care, however, I gifted him with a larger screen “monitor” that has bells and whistles that we don’t use, except for a gift subscription to Netflix and the YouTube channel.  **It is just as easy to have a “screen addiction” without network tv**; the only two differences are the lack of commercials, which is a good thing, and the option of selecting your own viewing rather than relying on a network schedule.  

[2] Ch. 7 “Escalation”.

Note:  Lent is a 40-day time set aside by the Christian Church in commemoration of the 40 days of Jesus’ trial in the wilderness, and leading up to the commemoration of Passover and the Resurrection (i.e., traditional “Easter”).  If you would like to learn more and worship with a Lenten theme, visit the Anglican Church in North America’s website:  www.GiftofLent.org  

Note:  Micro-Addiction” is a new buzz word to describe those nagging daily addictions that keep us from effective and efficient life (the Bible calls this “abundant” life).  No addiction is minor, however.  Addiction can be a serious problem with many degrees of stronghold, depending on its type.  All addiction is or begins as a moral weakness. God says that all are sinners, and we are born into a sin nature. The very nature of addiction suggests that we need outside help if we’re going to be fully honest. If you’re struggling through addiction to substances or an addiction to the extent that destroys your body, mind and family structure (including finances), you need to seek outside professional counsel.  Even “small” addictions may signal depression or some other compulsion which may have any number of medical causes.  Talk first with your medical doctor and a Bible-believing pastor or biblical counselor; and, if needed, seek a qualified professional counselor. 

_________________________

FURTHER RESOURCES:

Come Thou Found of Every Blessing

 Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I'm fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I've come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

Oh, that day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely face
Clothed then in the blood washed linen
How I'll sing Thy wondrous grace
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry
Take my ransomed soul away
Send Thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it 
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

_________________
Listen:  "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (Lyrics and Chord) -- Chris Rice"[YouTube; 3:42 min.]

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