Smartphones, addictions, joy, and pleasure

Here’s a clip from Academy of Ideas that’s making the case that smartphones are creating a population of addicts. That got me to thinking about the nature of addiction. But before I get to that, another point the clips makes that’s worth mentioning is that our smart technology is dumbing us down and hindering us from reaching our full potential as human beings.

There’s a misconception about gifting and talent. While someone can be naturally gifted toward a particular thing, our accomplishments are actually more dependent on focused effort, as the following from the video from psychologist, K. Anders Ericsson points out:

“We deny that these differences [between expert performers and normal adults] are immutable…Instead, we argue that the difference between expert performers and normal adults reflects a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

The first thing I find myself having to tell my young guitar students these days is that learning the guitar is nothing like playing “Guitar Hero.” You actually have to consistently practice—hours and hours—to gain any sort of proficiency on the instrument. What our wonderful technology does is create the illusion of accomplishment by means of instant gratification, which is the enemy of achieving anything significant in our lives.

Our smart technology also brings out the dark side—our addictive nature. Here’s the clip that explains why:

As the video points out, it used to be thought that you could only be addicted to substances like alcohol or drugs, but tests revealed that we can be addicted to anything that triggers our pleasure center.

“This finding was used in support of movement away from conceptualizing addiction as a disease to viewing it as a learning disorder, which arises when an individual associates certain actions with pleasurable relief from psychological discomforts they otherwise feel helpless to cope with.” (video clip @ 2:39*)

Program developers use this knowledge to manipulate our propensity for behavioral addiction with more engaging games, apps, and social media through intermittent reinforcement, conformity bias, and positive affirmation.

The end result is that we waste hours and hours on our laptops, tablets, and phones, playing games, engaging social media, (watching cat videos) in this “Matrix” instead of getting on with our real lives in a meaningful way.

From a biblical point of view, this makes total sense. Addictions result from seeking joy and pleasure from counterfeits. We were created by God to be joy-filled pleasure-seekers. This was intended to be the natural outcome of our relationship with God. Here’s what the psalmist found out:

11 You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11*)

Jesus said the same thing. God’s intent is for us to be filled with His joy and experience pleasure as we participate in His other-centered, self-giving love.

9 “I love each of you with the same love that the Father loves me. You must continually let my love nourish your hearts. 10 If you keep my commands, you will live in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands, for I continually live nourished and empowered by his love.11 My purpose for telling you these things is so that the joy that I experience will fill your hearts with overflowing gladness!

12 “So this is my command: Love each other deeply, as much as I have loved you. (John 15:9-12 TPT*)

Joy is a relational term. It’s gladness we feel when we’re with someone we love. Pleasure is to take delight in, contentment, rapture, to be fully satisfied.

Joy is not happiness. Happiness depends on circumstances; joy is a constant state of well-being, regardless of our circumstances.  We find out that God is glad to be with us and experience great joy and delight.

So, Jesus’ one commandment (and the intent of all the Law) is for us to receive His infinite love for us and love one another deeply as He loves us, which results in experiencing fullness of joy and pleasure in our relationships.

Regardless of where we look for it, one thing we can all be certain of: we will seek out joy and pleasure somewhere.

But, as C.S. Lewis famously observed, the counterfeits are but weak substitutes that actually circumvent our discovering this infinite joy and pleasure found in God:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

I want to make an important distinction here. Being religious is also a counterfeit to authentic joy when it’s not based in an intimate, ongoing relationship with Jesus. We may be finding counterfeit pleasure in religious function rather than from being in relationship with Him. We may even tell people that joy and pleasure are carnal things to be avoided, which is really quite perverse when you think about it.

I believe the antidote to addiction and purposeless distraction is found in finding joy and pleasure in the presence of the Lord. And when we find our source of love and joy in Him, we can truly be more joy-filled and loving in our relationships with each other, while living the meaningful and productive life we were intended to live.

You only live once. Seek out the real thing.

* New King James Translation unless otherwise noted. All emphasis added.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 41 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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11 Responses to Smartphones, addictions, joy, and pleasure

  1. Interesting, Mel. Here’s something that goes along with all this, those reward centers of the brain that we call “pleasure” are not necessarily pleasurable. People often become addicted to pain, to misery, to unpleasantness, to bitterness, and that is their comfort zone. We are not simple critters operating on a rewards and punishments basis. That concept works on dogs and sometimes on small children, but people are this fascinating complexity.

    Romans speaks of how, “For what I do, I do not understand. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing.” We sometimes call those things “scripts” or “strongholds.” The Passion Translations puts it like this, “I’m a mystery to myself,for I want to do what is right, but end up doing what my moral instincts condemn. And if my behavior is not in line with my desire, my conscience still confirms the excellence of the law. And now I realize that it is no longer my true self doing it, but the unwelcome intruder of sin in my humanity.”

    I’m of that generation caught somewhere between the technophobes and the smartphone addicts. Here’s what I am discovering. A good chunk of us have failed to teach a whole generation about healthy, in person relationships. There has been incredible abuse and neglect in so many people’s lives. Many are on their phones seeking that vision of intimacy, of connection, looking for something they have not seen modeled very well by their parents and elders. So rather then dismissing them as phone addicts, I’m admiring their seeking, I’m curious about what they are looking for.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Great comments, IB. I have a technical background so I’m kind of in the middle, too. I get the appeal and use the technology where appropriate. I just see people looking for something they’re never going to find there, as you point out….

      “Many are on their phones seeking that vision of intimacy, of connection, looking for something they have not seen modeled very well by their parents and elders. So rather then dismissing them as phone addicts, I’m admiring their seeking, I’m curious about what they are looking for.”

      I agree. Yay, on wanting intimacy! That’s encouraging. As you pointed out, let US be a better model for them to point them to where they can find the Source. I think all people long for intimacy and connection, which is what makes social media so powerful.

      There are many good things about our technology, we just need to be using it the right way. I find that the more people find joy and pleasure in the presence of the Lord, the less they need it from an app. It’s at that point where we can begin to use the technology in a healthy way.

  2. hawk2017 says:


  3. Pingback: Taste and See! | In My Father's House

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