The Glow In Our Pockets (or, what Marie Curie didn’t know)

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What do Instagram and X-Rays have in common?

At first, they don’t seem to have much in common at all. One seems to focus on image and beauty (which everyone knows is skin deep), while the other reveals images of what’s deep beyond the skin. But recently I’ve been wondering…

I gave up social media for Lent this year. Practicing Lent—by giving up or adding something for 40 days before Easter—wasn’t something I’d really done before, despite coming from an Anglican background. But this year I felt an invitation from the Lord to try something new: to give up a habit and then pay attention to what I might learn about myself and God in that time.

Within the first week, I noticed how often my reflex was to pick up my phone “just to check if anything was happening.” I noticed my distractibility. By the following week, I began to observe some deeper things. Positively, I noticed how sometimes what drew me online was a desire to connect – to share something joyful, or concern for how someone was doing. But negatively, I noticed I the pull to social media when I was avoiding conflict, or feeling sorry for myself and wanted people’s praise, or when I wanted to vent. Pride, insecurity, and laziness were the undercurrent. It was a sobering look in the mirror.

Meanwhile, instead of scrolling on my phone, I filled evenings with a bounty of library books. I read one (brilliantly entitled Half Life) about Marie Curie and her pioneering work in radioactivity. She was not only the first woman to win the Nobel prize, but the first person ever to win it twice! During World War 1 she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals: life saving and life changing work. She was an indefatigable researcher: her 40 years of work interrupted only by long periods of a persistent worsening illness no one could identify or treat. 

You and I know now what Marie Curie couldn’t have known about what was making her so sick: those mesmerizing test tubes of glow-in-the-dark isotopes she carried in her lab coat pocket were also slowly eating away at her body. The incredible thing she was handling was also unwittingly killing her. She just didn’t know it at the time. It took years for the slow poison to reveal the damage it had done.

It didn’t quite take years—just a few weeks of Lent—to realize that our newsfeeds might be a bit like radium for us. We work with the stuff (which is mesmerizing and has changed our lives for the better in many ways), meanwhile it can be eating us away on the inside before we’re aware we’re dying from over-exposure. 

Taking breaks helped Curie recover long enough to continue. Taking breaks from our newsfeed does the same for us. And, with hindsight, we also now know that if you’re going to work with radioactivity, you need to limit exposure. With Lent over and me back in the world of media, I want to make sure I have healthy protections in place: time limits, as well as regular health “checkups” (like observing the weekly screen time summary I get on my phone), and taking time in stillness to see how those negative drivers of anger, boredom, or pride might be sending me scrolling rather than to Jesus.

Like Curie, we carry something glowing and powerful in our pockets. Let’s make sure it isn’t eating away at us from the inside. 


Image by Canadian Light Source, used with permission via  Wikimedia Creative Commons General License

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8 thoughts on “The Glow In Our Pockets (or, what Marie Curie didn’t know)”

  1. I also did a social media fast for Lent. I discovered many things about myself and how much I use it to procrastinate! I’m gradually getting back to overusing it so I might have to do another fast.

  2. I have this love hate relationship with Facebook. I love to keep in touch, I want to know what people are thinking, but most of the time it makes me mad and it is not healthy for me. A fast is in order, not least because I have to get over my FOMO!!! Thanks for helping me to do what I know I need to do–take a break from it!

  3. Thanks Bronwen – sobering and challenging. When I deleted fb from my phone I felt relief. Now sadly, I go to games to mindlessly drift instead of intentionally care. Thank you for your pointed reminder …. God works in mysterious ways and this was one!!

  4. Wow Bronwyn!
    One of the best posts I’ve read recently. What strikes me as authors, we are handling fire. The good (warmth, heat, food and light). The bad, you could burn your house down if you are less than careful. But in this world, writers need readers. And readers need writers. It is connecting the two that is the trick!

  5. My mother, who was born in 1921, told the story of getting an x-ray when she was a child. The radiation beam was so powerful it nearly knocked her off the table. Fortunately, her mother was right beside her and caught her. She lived to be 91 (and her mother to 90) so apparently neither of them was permanently damaged by it….