An viral essay by historian Ted Giola says we need to act now if we want to save art and culture from the dopamine rush that is enslaving us all. Is it time for Christians to give up social media before it unleashes devastation on society?


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A recent blog post by music historian, Ted Gioia, entitled ’The State of Culture, 2024’, has recently gone viral.

In it, Gioia presents a terrifying, dystopian vision of the consequences of mass addiction to the “distraction” offered by fast-moving social media content. This is transforming our behaviour and causing widespread unhappiness, he argues, as well as threatening to destroy the more traditional, long-form art and entertainment most of us take for granted.

He blames this development on “dopamine cartels” – large technology companies that deliberately produce addictive content that they know is harmful to its users.

Christians should have particular concerns about this. Many social media accounts strongly criticise other believers and provoke outrage and anger, often resharing material that is misleading or that has been digitally altered. For example, recent criticism of the Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury’s stance on racial justice went viral, accompanied by a fake photo.

Mainstream culture is “changing at warp speed,” warns Gioia in his essay. As a result, the ex-Stanford University lecturer and author believes that the art and entertainment we have accepted as the background to modern life over the past 50 years - pop music, movies and TV programmes – will soon be obsolete.

Some Christians might celebrate this development, due to sex, violence and negativity contained in much of it. But the historian says that what is replacing it is much, much worse. “The fastest growing sector of the culture economy is distraction”, he writes. “Call it scrolling or swiping or wasting time or whatever you want. But it’s not art or entertainment, just ceaseless activity.”

Addicted to content

He’s referring, of course, to the endless, fast-moving videos, memes, reels, images and tweets that roll across our screens via social media. Users can consume this content at a break-neck pace, firing our neurons in a way that quickly becomes addictive. He claims that tech platforms are aiming to create “a world of junkies - because they will be the dealers. Addiction is the goal”. He points to allegations that tech giants know their products are causing harm, such as leaked documents showing how Instagram use leads to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Tech giants offer their services for ‘free’ but the business model relies on getting you hooked and monetising your data

And it could get even worse. As virtual reality goes mainstream, and as it gets easier to digitally enhance or create false videos, viewers could potentially be easily manipulated and deceived. Then, like any drug, tech will eventually no longer gives the ‘high’ it once did, leading to depression and the search for more stimulation.

It’s a frightening vision. So how can Christians dodge the dopamine cartels?

1. Take a break

Gioia cites a recommendation from Dr Anna Lembke, author of Dopamine Nation, to do a “dopamine fast” for a whole month so that the brain can start to rewire itself and heal. He concludes: “Do yourself a favour. Unplug yourself from time to time, and start noticing the trees or your goofy pets. They actually look better in real life than in the headset.”

2. Monitor how much time you spend using technology and observe how it makes you feel

Record the results. Try to become aware of the “dopamine hit” you receive from scrolling and what kind of content triggers it. Pray and ask God for guidance and discernment.

3. Deliberately spend more time doing “slow, traditional culture” activities such as playing sport, writing handwritten letters, reading newspapers and listening to albums

Gioia argues that the way we used to do courtship, sports and personal communication is dramatically being replaced by compulsive activity on our phones such as gambling, dating apps, clickbait and messaging. Try limiting the fast, dopamine-driven activities and prioritising the slower-paced actions instead. If this is difficult – ask yourself why!

Mass addiction to “distraction” is causing widespread unhappiness

4. Choose where you get your information and support it financially

Tech giants offer their services for ‘free’ but the business model relies on getting you hooked and monetising your data. Its algorithms distort the news stories and subjects that you are presented with in a way that is often not in your best interest. This can amplify extreme content and normalise harmful ideologies.

Resolve to consume at least some of your news and information in a more traditional way from a media source that you trust. Subscribe to newspapers, magazines or blogs that you want to support. Look for quality, well-balanced information rather than clicking on shocking headlines or video shorts.

5. Talk about the effects of technology with your friends

Include the subject in sermons. Start a debate. Encourage each other to seek out good quality entertainment. Raise awareness. Together, we might just beat this thing.

There is a risk that society’s fast pace of change and the potential dangers of technology will frighten us into inertia. We can choose to seek solutions instead.