Social Media Noise Leaves Us Bored and Lonely — Seek God in the Silence
“The devout soul makes progress in silence and in peace,” says The Imitation of Christ — a happy Lenten dividend to remember when the internet goes down.
The error message stared back blankly at the disgruntled Spotify user on the other side of the screen.
“Login failed,” it read. “Something went wrong. Try again.”
So the listeners did. And then tried again. Finding no success, they hurried to Twitter to reckon with the sound of silence and discovered that they weren’t alone in struggling to log into streaming apps Spotify and Discord on March 8.
Reactions were a mixed bag of horror and humor as young adults and teenagers reckoned with the silence echoing through their earbuds.
“When Spotify is down and you have to actually sit in silence and listen to your thoughts for the first time since you were 12,” a user shared.
“So after 30 stressful minutes of Spotify down we conclude: [T]his is my only source of serotonin,” someone addedwryly.
Another listener summed up the situation in a faux headline: “BREAKING NEWS: SPOTIFY DOWN WORLDWIDE, FORCING MILLIONS TO BE ALONE WITH THEIR OWN THOUGHTS.”
The streaming app, including more than 82 million tracks and 3.6 million podcasts, boasts 406 million users globally, making it the world’s most popular audio-streaming subscription service. Listeners spent more than 1.7 billion hours streaming audio from Spotify in 2021.
The dramatic, albeit humorous, responses from teenagers and young adults facing a few hours without entertainment indicate a larger issue: the time-consuming threat of social media and its ability to drown out reality.
The Generation That Grew Up Online
Amanda Fronckowiak, 20 years old and a junior at Michigan State University, says she spends about an hour per day on TikTok — specifically, Catholic TikTok, where she has amassed 15,900 followers and 504,000 “likes” for her posts videos talking about Catholic doctrine.
“I honestly had maybe seen one other person posting Catholic stuff and the rest of it was very Protestant,” she told the Register of TikTok, a social video platform where content is limited between three seconds and one minute in length. “I made it a point to try and put as much Catholic-specific content out there. Instantly, I got a lot of hate because it was so different than what everyone else was posting.”
She persisted, posting regularly on topics like contraception, Marian theology and salvation.
“Clearly this is something that the devil doesn’t like,” Fronckowiak said. “But I see a lot of people defending the Church and having open discussions with other people from different denominations. I think it has been so fruitful, just to introduce our beliefs to people and clear up misconceptions that I think are so commonly held.”
She first joined social-media platforms in middle school, when she created an Instagram account. She began to notice that if one of her entertainment or social apps crashed, similarly to Spotify’s complications with login, she felt she had to quickly find another platform to fill that time.
“I could not sit without my phone and just be content. I was constantly seeking something else as a replacement or waiting until that app was fixed,” Fronckowiak explained. “I started finding my worth in what people would say to me on there and how many ‘likes’ I would get.”
It heavily affected her mental health, as she found herself increasingly anxious as she spent more time on social media. In the past year, she made an effort to set time restrictions on the different apps and observed a notable difference in happiness because of it. She found more time to spend in prayer and silence, to “listen to the Lord and not become filled with the noise of social media in the world.”
When users open their “For You” page on TikTok, the first screen they see on the app, they view content selected for them based on their interactions with it. The app counts the seconds they spent lingering on each video, which clips the users “liked” and commented on, and which ones they saved and shared. Using this data, the app curates a feed that “learns” — a feed that orients the videos presented specifically to each user.
Media companies prioritize their engagement rates, Fronckowiak said. She doubts that they take steps to fix the addictive qualities of their products and thinks that, instead, they feed off of how it brings an audience in.
She described how young people may start to find their identity in social media, forming themselves around the comments and “likes” on their posts and the validation they receive..
“Then they just continue posting or scrolling and waiting to fill that void and seek that validation,” Fronckowiak continued. “I think people just deal with a lot more loneliness and a lack of self-worth. Mental healthwise, that’s going to be really detrimental to people as they develop further in their adult years and have no time spiritually to grow in the Lord.”
While she thinks many young people who grew up in the era of rising internet use and the creation of social-media apps, nicknamed “Generation Z,” recognize the issue, she doubts many are willing to face it.
“There’s a difference between awareness and acceptance. A lot of people are aware of the fact that it is an issue, because they see how it’s affecting them and how many hours they spend on their phone,” Fronckowiak said. “But I don’t think a lot of them accept the severity of that issue.”
Parents failing to fully comprehend the problem and approach it from an outside perspective, perhaps because they simply haven’t experienced anything like it, affects a teenager or young adult’s likelihood of dealing with it, as well, according to Fronckowiak.
By encouraging screen time limits and observing how social media affects their children specifically, parents can look out for it causing larger issues, she added. Open discussions about its effects and addictive capacity can help people to handle their usage.
What Does the Church Have to Say?
Pope Francis addressed the mixed possibilities of social media in a 2019 address on World Communications Day, as well as during his 2022 Lenten address. He pointed out how the issue uniquely affects young people.
“Young people are the ones most exposed to the illusion that the social web can completely satisfy them on a relational level,” he said in 2019. “There is the dangerous phenomenon of young people becoming ‘social hermits’ who risk alienating themselves completely from society.”
He acknowledged how social networks also come with great benefits, allowing people to better discover and assist others, while still providing opportunities for the manipulation of data and acquiring economic advantages. The latter happens without the proper respect for people and their human rights.
“Lent is a propitious time to resist these temptations and to cultivate instead a more integral form of human communication, made up of authentic encounters, face-to-face and in-person,” Pope Francis said in his recent Lenten address.
In 2017, French Guinea’s Cardinal Robert Sarah wrote a book titled The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, reflecting on the significance of time spent in silence.
Christ spent 30 years in silence and still withdrew to the desert to converse with his Father, Cardinal Sarah explained. Jesus spent 40 days in prayer, the length of time a modern Lenten season is modeled after. It is vital to go off into the desert, Cardinal Sarah wrote, because God speaks in silence.
“How can anyone study in the midst of noise? How can you read in noise? How can you train your intellect in noise? How can you structure your thought and the contours of your interior being in noise?” he asked. “Sounds and emotions detach us from ourselves, whereas silence always forces man to reflect upon his own life.”
That’s why Fronckowiak advises prudence when using social media.
“Anything that the devil makes bad, obviously, you can make it good. So anything that you can bring the Lord into, in terms of social media, can bear a lot of fruit, especially for young people, because it does have the ability to impact them in very positive ways and introduce them to things they might not hear otherwise,” Fronckowiak said.
“But that being said, the devil can twist anything good and make it bad. A lot of young people are starting to find their identity in social media.”