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A Curriculum for Surviving the Digital Age

December 20th, 2023 | 4 min. read

By Ian Harber


There are two truths that we have to hold in tension: social media is a spiritual distortion zone and we are called to flourish in our digital Babylon. When you think about both of these realities, it can seem like a daunting task. You feel the effects that social media—and the internet in general—has on you. 

Anxiety from the constant notifications; brain rot after a day of work staring at the screen; dopamine rushes when a post does well; despair when you’re on the receiving end of a swarm; hyper-fixation on topics that are over-discussed on the internet but hardly heard of in real life; loneliness after locking your phone and not having someone to hang out with. It’s simultaneously maddening and addicting. What do you do?

Your Options in the Digital Age

Option #1 would be to throw it all away. Delete it. Maybe you should, at least for a season. Most people I know who have are noticeably leaps and bounds happier. If nothing else, a season without social media just to detox might be worth it. But in our world, how doable is it for the long haul? There are all kinds of good reasons to keep social media as well (that I’ll write about soon enough).

Option #2 is to keep calm and carry on. Pretend it’s not a distortion zone and that you’re just fine with how things are, thank you very much. Stay out of my business and stop blaming social media for all of our problems. Very well, that’s your choice. But just understand that you would be putting your head in the sand and covering your ears about all of the data we’re now starting to understand about the ways heavy and even moderate social media use causes loneliness, anxiety, depression, and more.

Option #3 would be to become the kind of person who can use the internet while resisting the distortion zone. Nobody is perfect. You’ll get it wrong from time to time. But you intentionally develop the character of a person who isn’t afraid of the internet, uses it wisely and helpfully, and can, more often than not, avoid getting sucked into the deformative habits and incentive structures that make life objectively worse for us on every level: mentally, emotionally, relationally, and most of all, spiritually.

If we were to go with Option #3, we would have some homework to do. We can’t just intuit our way to a wise use of the internet. We need help from guides who understand it and point the way. For our discipleship and formation and that of others, we need a curriculum for surviving the digital age that is deep, helpful, and accessible.

Thankfully, over the past few years, there have been three books in particular that I consider to be an unofficial trilogy for surviving, and maybe even thriving, in the digital age. I would recommend these books be read in this order. That way, we understand what the internet is doing to us, develop a better way of cultivating wisdom, and then get specific and practical on how to cultivate that wisdom.

The Curriculum


1. Digital Liturgies: Rediscovering Christian Wisdom in an Online Age

The first thing we need to do is be aware of the digital water we are swimming in. No one does finer work to help us see it than Samuel James in Digital Liturgies. “If the web is the water we live in, expressive individualism is the chlorine that permeates it.” James walks through five liturgies that the internet habituates in us just through our sheer, willing participation in it: authenticity, outrage, shame, consumption, and meaninglessness.

By viewing the internet through the lens of wisdom and spiritual formation, he helps us see that our souls are being shaped every time we unlock, scroll, click, and view. It doesn’t mean we need to get off the internet. That’s what the other two books are for. But we do need to be aware of how we are being shaped just by logging on. Only when we’re aware of the internet's malformative nature can we resist it and cultivate a life with the Spirit in contrast to the life the internet pushes us into without us even being aware.

2. The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World

If we did an audit of the sources of your wisdom, what would your wisdom diet look like? Do the information you consume, ideas you adhere to, and advice you act on primarily come from the internet? If they do, there’s a good chance the wisdom you live your life by is the equivalent of someone eating donuts for breakfast, cake for lunch, and ice cream for dinner every single day. Of course, it’s delicious. But you won’t be able to do it for long without serious consequences.

In The Wisdom Pyramid, Brett McCracken gives us a diet for our souls. At the foundation is scripture, above that is the church, then nature, books, beauty, and finally, yes, even the internet can be good for something. McCracken helps us cultivate a balanced and healthy wisdom diet so our lives can be rightly ordered around God and his commandments to love him and others. The internet does have a place in this diet. There’s no need to throw your phone in the ocean and delete your social media on a whim. But without regular input from the other, healthier sources of wisdom, we’ll be subsisting on an unhealthy diet, and it won’t be long before we bear the consequences in our lives.

“The power of being influenced by what we find online has its downsides, of course—online voices can poison our souls as quickly as they can nourish them. But this just makes it all the more important to not abandon the Internet but rather seek to redeem it—amplifying the voices of truth and showcasing the examples of wisdom.”

3. Analog Christian: Cultivating Contentment, Resilience, and Wisdom in the Digital Age  

After reading these two books, you understand how the internet is shaping us, you balance out your wisdom diet, then you pick up your phone and open your social media. Now what do you do? How can we embody virtues that allow us to stay on the internet and redeem it? What we need is to live lives of contentment, resilience, and wisdom. 

Jay Kim’s Analog Christian helps us see how to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in a digital age. He helpfully contrasts the deformative vices of the internet and shows us how we can resist their effects and cultivate virtue instead.

Love, instead of self-centric despair,

Joy, instead of comparison,

Peace, instead of contempt,

Leading to a life of contentment.


Patience, instead of impatience,

Kindness and Goodness, instead of hostility,

Leading to a life of resilience.


Faithfulness, instead of forgetfulness,

Gentleness, instead of outrage,

Self-control, instead of reckless self-indulgence,

Leading to a life of wisdom.”

A Year of Wisdom

With New Year's upon us, what better time to commit to resisting the malformation of the internet and cultivating wisdom in its place? If you haven’t started your reading list for 2024 yet, consider making these three books your first reads of the year. If you already have a running list, consider adding these to it. 

This could be the year when you opt out of the algorithmic rat race, clear your mind of the digital clutter, and dig a deep well of wisdom you can pull from for the rest of your life. The digital age might be new, but wisdom is timeless. We would all benefit from lifting our eyes from the pixels and looking toward eternity to see more clearly how we can live well in this brave new world.

Ian Harber

Ian is a marketing manager at Endeavor and is a digital marketing practitioner with 10 years of experience. He has written about faith and technology, deconstruction and reconstruction for The Gospel Coalition and Mere Orthodoxy as well as appearing on podcasts such as Reconstructing Faith, The Alisa Childers Podcast, Love Thy Neighborhood, The Living Room Disciple, Everything Just Changed, and more. Additionally, Ian has contributed to the book, Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church (TGC, 2021) and is the author of an upcoming a forthcoming book about deconstruction with InterVarsity Press (2024). Ian lives in Denton, Texas with his wife, Katie, and son, Ezra and is a member at The Village Church Denton.

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