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Finding your Digital Media Balance

Social media, texting and email are tools that can help improve our lives. Unfortunately, digital communication also can start to feel like a burden. The Internet and social media are increasingly a part of ministry and can be helpful for communication and evangelization, especially with younger Catholics who are “digital natives,” growing up with technology as a part of daily life.

“The Church, in virtue of the mandate received from Christ, looks confidently at the possibilities offered by the digital world for evangelization. There are new ‘places’ through which many are moving daily, ‘digital peripheries’ which should not be deprived of the possibility of an authentic culture of encounter in the name of Jesus, to build up one People of God….” (Ratio Fundamentalis, 98)

The challenge in such an increasingly connected and “plugged-in” world is maintaining healthy boundaries. This includes the amount of time we spend engaging in digital media as well as how we represent ourselves when we communicate via email, text, blogs and apps.

It is important to consider both your needs and preferences for digital communication and establish personal guidelines for using digital and social media.

Digital May Not Be Best

Emailing – and even communicating via social media – often is essential for work productivity and staying socially connected, but relying exclusively on digital communication can be isolating and even hinder effective communication.

Digital communication tends to work best when dealing with more basic, easily understood factual information. When dealing with a potential conflict, one-on-one direct interaction often is better because it tends to reduce miscommunication, according to Dr. Emily Cash, Psy.D., director of Saint Luke Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Before sending a text or email on a sensitive topic, slow down. Consider the impact of a written versus verbal response. Check your message’s “tone of voice” before sending. Clarify messages sent to you if the tone or intention is not clear: “My understanding is this….Is that correct?” (Tartakovsky, 2016)

Don’t react too quickly when you see a tweet, Facebook post or other social media that is provocative. Reflect on whether you really need to weigh in with a comment and, if you do, make sure the tone of your response reflects your public role in Church ministry. These can be evangelizing moments, also, if handled correctly.

For ministry or work topics of a controversial or sensitive nature, pick up the phone or schedule a meeting to address the issue. In-person, pastoral engagement with parishioners, staff, colleagues and community members, while initially more time-consuming, can lead to better outcomes and relationships over time.

Daily Technology Use

Excessive use of digital media can negatively impact relationships and have detrimental health effects. Neurological research indicates that extended amounts of “screen time” have a measurable negative impact on the brain (Dunckley, 2014). The behavioral effects of technology overuse are all too familiar: sensory overload, sleep deprivation and generalized stress. Being intentional about when and how much you use smartphones, tablets and computers can increase overall wellness.

Good, consistent sleep is critical for physical and mental health, and technology use certainly disrupts sleep patterns. Many experts recommend turning off phones or tablets an hour before bed. The light – not to mention the unrelenting flow of information – can make it difficult for our bodies to quiet themselves.

Establish guidelines for when, where and how often to use digital media – avoid using a smartphone at meal times and social gatherings, for example. Or consider a social media fast during Lent. Set aside specific times each day or week to refrain from using technology.

Setting boundaries like these can also increase work productivity: answering emails during specific times of the day can leave time for focused work on other projects, encourage creative thinking or just create a much-needed break from the typical barrage of requests and information.

Technology is part of our world and can help us connect with parishioners and seekers, but only if we learn to control it instead of allowing it to control us.