For years my parents have always had one particular squabble; mom would say she’s going into the store for a few minutes to pick up one item, but she usually emerged twenty minutes with several grocery bags. Dad always responded, “I thought you were going in for one item?”

I’m sure many people can relate to this. But this problem isn’t unique to shopping. Many digital missionaries are at risk of what we’ll call SMTYI Syndrome: Spend More Than You Intend Syndrome. This occurs when you plan to spend a few minutes on social media but actually spend way more time than you intended. You aim to spend 5 minutes on Facebook or Instagram but 30 minutes pass by before you realize it.

  • Why does this happen?
  • Why is it so difficult to stick to our “time budget”?
  • What impact does SMTYI Syndrome have on Online Evangelism?
  • More importantly, how can we curb the problem?

There’s a science behind why you keep scrolling.

There is a science behind why we are so addicted to our social media pages and why we keep scrolling even though we know there are more important things to do. Social media and websites designers intentionally create their pages in a way to keep you scrolling

For example, your notifications are red because red grabs our attention in a way that other colors can’t. Stop signs, danger signs, and stop lights command us to pay attention. Likewise, when we see a red notification indicating that there’s a new message or comment, it’s hard to ignore it.

Another reason why digital missionaries are at risk in the online mission field is The Infinite Scroll: the endless page that keeps showing posts, photos, videos, trailers, and so forth.

The designer of the infinite scroll, Aza Raskin makes millions creating tricks to keep us scrolling. Raskins designed the feature based on the famous soup bowl experiment where researchers found that subjects ate 73% more if they were unknowingly eating from a self-refilling bowl. Interestingly enough, even though the subjects consumed more, they didn’t believe that they ate more than those who ate from normal bowls. Raskins admitted that the feature is powerful enough to become addictive, something that he now feels guilty about.

If social media sites gave you an option to go to another page, you would spend less time scrolling. The infinite scroll tactic keeps us in a trance, and it’s only one feature among dozens that makes it almost impossible to stick to your allotted “time budget.”

Your friend’s wedding photos, your co-worker’s video while at the water park, a movie trailer, someone’s live video, an ad for an item you googled yesterday: all of these have a price tag. It may not have the dollar sign on it, but the currency is in minutes and seconds. Eventually, it all adds up.

The infinite scroll has a direct impact on evangelism.

Undeniably, the infinite scroll takes its toll on individuals, relationships, and productivity. The most unfortunate consequence is its effect on spirituality and the mission Christ gave His church. Many of us who would like to do more online for Christ find ourselves engrossed in things that have no eternal value.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be good stewards of our finances, resources, and time by considering things that have an eternal value. While social media, YouTube, and other platforms are not inherently evil or wrong, if we are not careful of distractions on the infinite scroll, we end up losing precious moments that could be used to introduce others to the Savior.

Imagine you are given a mission to feed a village of starving people. You have the resources to accomplish your task, and you only have a few days before you have to move on. But as you get closer to the village, you find yourself intrigued by the countryside: its landscape, wildlife, and the sightseeing tours. You ask your driver to stop for a moment to take a few pictures. That leads to another activity, then another. Before long, the day is spent.

In this analogy, nothing is wrong with taking pictures and sightseeing, but losing sight of the mission and forgetting the priority can have devastating effects. This is the same as getting distracted online because so many digital disciples may forget what’s important. This causes a setback in our overall online mission to show Christ’s love to a hurting world.

Evangelistic work, opening the Scriptures to others, warning men and women of what is coming upon the world, is to occupy more and still more of the time of God’s servants. – Review and Herald, Aug. 2, 1906.

How to escape the infinite scroll

All hope is not lost. The God of grace grants us the power to overcome hurdles that hinder the Gospel work. If you spend more idle time on social media than you intend, try putting these tips into practice.

1. Create a schedule.

On average, throughout the day, people check Facebook 14 times on their mobile devices. That doesn’t include other social media accounts like Instagram, Twitter, or WhatsApp. Kick this habit by setting scheduled times when you do check your account. If you check your social media accounts constantly, at first it might be difficult to stick to a schedule. But setting a schedule will give you more time to dedicate to evangelistic purposes. Try limiting yourself to time checks. For example, check for personal updates at 12 pm, 3 pm, and 8 pm for 10 minutes at a time. The rest of the time can be reserved strictly for evangelism or something else.

2. Deactivate social media apps on your phone.

Not having instant access to the app on your phone might help you save time. Instead, you can choose to check your notifications on a computer. Whether your content is directly related to the Gospel or life events, using your computer might help save time. Our mobile device keeps everything handy. While this definitely has its perks, it can also be a hindrance to a productive ministry life.

3. Replace scrolling with productive activities.

Another way to beat the infinite scroll is to allocate your social media time to self-improvement activities. Explore the Bible, develop a skill, or meditate on scripture. Social media is a digital rest place for a lot of people. While waiting in line, taking a lunch break, or sitting in a terminal, we go to social media to pass the time. Choose another rest place like an inspirational blog, a devotional site, or an e-book. You can also use that time to work on mission-driven content that you can use on social media.

Time is like currency…

Remember, time is like currency; you can either spend it on things that are worthwhile or waste it on what you don’t need. If you attempt to save money without a plan, you’ll end up spending it frivolously. The same concept can be applied to social media. Plan to use your time for what will matter in the long run. By taking small steps, we can begin to use our time more effectively to build our faith and help others find Jesus.

What tips did we miss? What has helped you manage your time on social media? Share on our Facebook page — when you have the time!