Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood

The In-Box That Ate Manhattan: Setting Limits for Facebook, Twitter, and Email


No, I haven’t yet read The Shallows, the recent non-fiction book that everyone’s talking about. It claims that the more time we spend on the Internet, the more shallow and ignorant we become. I wouldn’t know. I’ve been too busy catching up with Facebook to digest the book’s central argument.

Last night our family broke its rule about “no cell phones at the table” after my husband and daughter raved about a new game called Fruit Ninja that they’d downloaded onto his iPhone. Of course they had to show me the game right that minute. Of course I got sucked into it. And of course the latter half of our mealtime was spent passing the phone around as we took turns playing the game.


That was great fun, but I don’t want to make a habit out of it. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average 8-18 year old spends 10 hours and 45 minutes in front of a computer screen, TV, or cell phone. That’s crazy!

  • 59956502_27294bf761.jpg“In 2/3 of households, TVs are on during meals.
  • In 75% of households, TVs are on when no one is watching them.
  • More than 70% of kids have TVs in their bedrooms.”

But it’s not just my daughter’s life I’m worried about; it’s mine. Over the last two years I’ve noticed digital media encroaching on my life, work, and friendships. I know I’ve blogged about this before on Flunking Sainthood, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record I’m going to make some promises to myself about digital media, and I want you to hold me accountable.


  1. 2959912279_8446aa1abd.jpg1. I’m going to be more vigilant about keeping the computer completely off from Saturday night until Monday morning. I know that’s not possible every week, but I’m going to redouble my efforts at having a computer-free digital Sabbath. (I still get to watch Masterpiece Mystery, on TV, however. There are certain standards.)
  2. I’m going to check email no more than five times a day. Email has become a tyranny with me; I want to give people a quick response, but then I find I have neglected attention to more long-term projects. According to, “a recent study
    suggested that the average user lost 8.5 hours per week transitioning
    between email and their previous task.  Email productivity experts
    suggest checking your in-box in bulk 1-3 times a day at preset times.” 1-3 times a day is not going to happen, but 5 times a day is doable and, I think, necessary.
  3. I’m going for the Kindle and not the iPad. Thanks to everybody who weighed in last week about the merits of various e-readers. A couple of people commented that the iPad, while amazing, is almost too distracting for reading purposes, because it is equipped to do so many other things. I found that a helpful critique and am leaning toward one of the newer Kindles because I want to use it for reading without getting distracted (yet again) by email, Facebook, or my 4,967th game of Scrabble. I have too many choices in life as it is.
  4. I’m going to set time limits for Facebook and Twitter. Since I use these for work as well as for keeping up with friends, they’ve mushroomed into an increasingly large part of my day. I’m going to aim for one hour a day maximum for both forms of social media….Uh, pray for me.

Hold me to this, people! And tell me: what boundaries, if any, do you set about computer and cell phone usage in your families?

  • drbexl

    A great post, as I work on a project to aid people to make more (effective) use of social media, and continue to work towards setting limits for myself with it (considering I use it for work and pleasure). I went on a 3-day retreat the other day, and enjoyed not having my phone on for that time.
    I was at Greenbelt this weekend, and John Bell was giving a talk about this (Jesus: My Facebook Friend), and I’m keen to re-listen, when it finally appears on: An interesting perspective from someone who chooses to use as little of digital tools as possible, raising SOME valid questions, but I think not really understanding the benefits that it is possible to get. I find Twitter, etc. great to for getting to know people before an event/at an event/afterwards, and also engaging with those with similar interest groups. Facebook is more for friends, but also helps maintain contacts! I enjoy it all, and it’s just learning a new set of disciplines of engagement…

  • Carolyn

    Ah, welcome to our number one family battle. We’ve been trying to figure out a way to limit computer time and increase actual family time for the past 12 years and we still haven’t come up with a solution. I wish you luck and if you come up with any great ideas, please share!

  • Christopher Bigelow

    Man, this issue is getting so much worse with each passing day. As much as I love the iPhone, part of me regrets the constant distraction and urge to check it, even when the car is stopped at stop lights. And now my wife has one, and our three boys are like sharks who must always keep moving from screen to screen, from desktop to laptop to Wii to iPhone, etc. Just this week, we instituted a new thing that says “screen time” has to be earned by “nonscreen activity,” and the nonscreen activity has to come first. In other words, one hour of reading, drawing, soccer practice, etc. earns one hour of screen time. We’ll see how it goes.

  • Memy

    I call this cyber-detox. I deleted my facebook App from my iphone and every other app that is not work related as well. Im single with no kids, so this should be easier on me. But im doing this bit by bit. I limited my TV time to 4 hours a week (down from 21!!) So i choose carefully what will make the dvr week list. Started the TV time thing 6 months ago, deleted the facebook App a month ago and soon enough will limit my internet time to an hour a day for non-work related stuff. The good news is that since cyber-detoxing myself, I found my yoga mat, my sketchbooks and my way to the nearest bookshop. It’s 1999 all over again, well more like 2003, LOL. My goal is 1994 when cellphone minutes where so expensive I only used it for emergencies and staying more than 45 min. in front of a computer meant you didn’t had a life!

  • James Fix

    I only have one comment about Face Book and that is this : no matter what some think it can be a very useful tool in spreading Our Heavenly Fathers Word there are so many lost souls there I have a chance every day to tell them about My Saviour Jesus Christ and in the end if I can just get one person to open their heart and accept Jesus as I have then I see that facebook can not be all that bad.

  • C

    I have a FB and My Space – One thing I noticed is everyone asks to be your friend – but it all seems so distant and empty. And, even distructive. In one situation a young person related to me was posting negative posts, and then one very alarming post. I couldn’t reach this 16 yr old and finally called his mother, my sister. She at first was appreciative. The next day I got a vindictive ( actually 2 ) e-mails from her attacking me because her child had told her they were song lyrics.And, how could I be so cruel to him emotionally as to question his posts and I was now responsible for him not wanting to go camping with her up to where I live and I was now responsible for all his “drama”.
    Well this child had a history of some behavior , and the words were destructive. If anyone else ( teacher, coach, anyone else) were to see them. And, none of them had been identified as “song lyrics”.
    My concern had been a) safety b) that this teen get it down before anyone saw it. Since, the teen has dropped me as a friend.
    My sister pulled in other family telling her side of my “overreaction” trying to paint her child the victim when the other family doesn’t know the back history what caused my alarm – because “that’s all a secret”. I was told the “young people” resent when I comment on any negative posting or photo and I am not appreciated…so there you go.
    I’m a FB outcast because I sought to be protective. sigh….
    I also feel that since FB and My Space that I am more disconnected from people as instead of a call or a vist – they post :>/
    And yet I have not deleted my acct. As for another reason I stay linked to friends of my deseased son through this means…
    What I really wish is I could add Jesus, Our Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit as “Friend” and have postings back and for the with them.

  • Regina

    Just gave up facebook for 40 days. I feel like I use it as a false sense of having control over knowing what is going to happen in the world instead of trusting in my Heavenly father.

  • Jenny Andrawis

    Great post! :) I am a Social Media Marketing Specialist, and spend many hours in the course of my day on twitter and facebook. The last thing I want to do when I go home is to have anything to do with any social networking. I feel like as much as social media is meant to facilitate human interactions (like chatting with that high school friend in Denmark), it does make other ways of communicating obsolete, like picking up the phone to call your friend. As much as facebook is meant to build personal relationships, as much as it makes connecting with others impersonal.
    I believe that facebook and twitter are a great means of communication but too much of this good thing can turn into an obsession. Kids are little monkeys; they see and they do. I try really hard to set a good example by not watching too much TV, or spending endless hours on my home pc, or cell phone. The best way to lead is by example.

  • Tasika

    I would have to say that facebook, for some, is all about popularity, which to me is a little high schoolish. For some it has become addictive. There are some who posts msgs. every couple of mins. My thing is do these people have a life. I have too many important things to do day-to-day to spend my time on such a site. I do spend a lot of time on my cpu, which is for one reason, I am earning my degree online. Now I have to admit, when I first hooked up with facebook about a year and a half ago, I was on there all the time b/c of the excitement of catching up with people I hadn’t seen in years. My husband is military and we have been traveling for years now. So my main reason for using such a network is because of the fact that my family and I are able to keep up with family and friends back home. Once I caught up with my family and friends I diciplined myself. I mean its not like I was spending every second of the day on the site. It had reached the point to where I would be on there maybe 2-3 times a wk. Now at the most I am on there at least twice a wk. It is so easy for me to catch a member of my family or a close friend on facebook versus calling every single person. For me, as I said, we travel a lot, and majority of the time it has been overseas, and calling back to the states at times could become very expensive. So I guess you can say that in a way I am grateful for networking sites such as facebook, as long as it is kept clean and kept as it is supposed to be; to meet, to keep in touch, and everything else that comes with it. I also agree with James Fix; it can be a very useful tool. There are some lost souls out there and if I can wake on certain mornings and quote a scripture from the bible or just offer enouragement and inspiration to others with a wall post you can best believe that I would be very happy to do that. Believe it or not, most people appreciate things like that.

  • Johnny

    Just read your article on I check my e-mail once in the morning and once a night. I small group of friends. We communicate the old fashion way–face to face or over the telephone. My cell phone is strickly a cell phone. It has no other gadgets on it. I can’t even text message on it. I am not on twitter, and I only recently, at my wife’s and daughter insistence, got a fecebook account. I still don';t know what I would use it for. I am just old fashion, and I love it that way.

  • Melody

    There are no forms of media during meal times. Even if someone finishes before others, we sit and talk until everyone is done. My 13 year old son can’t even brush his teeth in the morning before turning on his cell phone to check his text messages! I had to put a stop to that no calls/texting on weekends before 11:oo am and on weekdays after homework is done. As far as Facebook, I check it once daily but quite a few friends are obsessed with it. I’m praying for them!

  • Mark

    I don’t agree that more time spent on the internet means doom for us. It is because of the internet that we can meet countless other Christians that we would have previously never met. We have control over what the internet effects and how it effects us. We need to remember that.

  • Tricia

    I agree that Facebook and the other social media out there can be addictive, but I am currently deployed to Iraq and I must say that it is an awesome way to keep in touch in a real time way with everyone back home. The ability to contact my daughter and husband almost immediately is a great comfort for me. I have set up my facebook page(which I didn’t have until I was preparing for deployment) to message my email whenever someone posts anything on my page, so I don’t have to go check my page but once a day. That keeps me from camping at the computer.

  • Stephen Henderson

    I think the internet is definitely different things to different people. For some it’s work, for some it’s entertainment, for many it becomes an obsession, for some it’s a way to reach out to a world that often seems fearful. I believe in old-fashioned, face to face communication. Unfortunately in this world we live in, many are afraid to get close enough to people to have those old-fashioned, face to face relationships. There are plenty of people we may should be afraid of getting too close to. Sometimes we don’t always know how to differentiate a real friend from someone who is really very shallow, or someone who is out to use us. So many so-called friends can be back-stabbers.
    Though I believe that people should exercise faith and step out into a sometimes (for many, often) fearful world and meet others. Still I can understand that it is not so easy for many. Still, the internet serves its purpose. It’s the individuals who need to learn to control themselves and not let technology rule their lives. Remember, too, that though it’s not always easy to trust people face-to-face, we can’t always be too trusting of the people on social media sites. It used to be that if you shared a secret with a ‘friend’, you may run the risk that the secret would be shared with a whole community in one city. Now, if you share a secret with a ‘friend’, that risk could put the secret around the world.

  • Ad Majorem

    Great post about a real-life family situation.
    I did just finish reading The Shallows and saw that Carr’s point is that we need balance between electronic media and more contemplative time. Thus, I posted a book review that had no clickable links whatsoever….have a look:

  • GinaR

    I read this blog a few days ago, then ran out to get the book “The Shallows” because this has been one of my pet peeves for a little while now and I’ve long suspected our use of the internet is having all too often a negative impact especially on the younger generation. I should have finished the book by now, but I keep finding myself back on this computer and hours go by before I realize it. FB….good for finding old friends, staying in touch but let’s get a grip already! It’s not that people don’t have lives, they’re just neglecting them like I am, every time I let these forms of media pull me in. My 22-year old college student son cannot get out of bed without checking his texts. He gets them 18 hours a day. I recently read an article about kids spending 3 years to earn a 2-year degree, 6 years for a four-year degree. Think they’re spending too much time on devices and not completing coursework. Also, their attention span had diminished just the way “The Shallows” indicates. Scary. We have to curtail this trend. However I must agree that social media is a great way to share God’s message!

  • James

    You are right TV interferes with the family and Facebook has strained an almost broken relationship. When grown adults spends hours a day playing games and neglecting their family and home duties to the point where ants can eat off your kitchen and dining room floors…. Then Yes its a problem. The kids suffer becausr they see the strain and are powerless to cahnge anything. A real shame…

  • Clark

    Our family takes a month off from all “screens” from two weeks before school lets out until two weeks after.
    No screens on Saturday morning until chores are all done. No screens before church nor for at least one hour of quiet time after. We may expand that no screens on Sunday to the whole day (leaning that way).
    No screens until after homework is done.
    We hope it helps.

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