Nathan W. Bingham
Connecting in a Hyper-Connected World

In an Instant-Messaging Age, Sometimes It Is Best to Sleep on It

The common seven-second delay, sometimes called the “profanity delay,” was first introduced in 1952 for the live talk show Open Mic. The need for this delay was obvious. Who in their right mind would open a microphone to a complete stranger and then broadcast it around the nation? What was obvious then is less obvious today. Five decades later, and thanks to the internet, we have essentially given everyone an open microphone. We have no filter, no seven-second delay, and we now broadcast it around the world.

When I look back, I can recall at least several significant occasions where I wish life had its own version of the “seven-second delay.” Not because of profanity, but because of hurtful words spoken in anger or out of pride. Given the nature of all our tongues, I imagine you can recall similar situations. Yet despite our propensity to put our proverbial feet in our proverbial mouths, we still enthusiastically open the microphone and tap away on our internet connected screens without giving our words a second thought.

Today’s technology may be new, but the sinfulness of our hearts isn’t. That’s why the wisdom contained in the book of Proverbs is as relevant in our day as it was in Solomon’s. Proverbs 15:38 says:

“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.”

There is something distinctly godly about taking the time to ponder. Whether that is pondering an answer to a question, what advice you should give a friend, or the right response (if any) to an internet troll. We are called as Christians to ponder, but the high-speed nature of today’s ability to communicate has overtaken the simple need to stop and think. In an instant-messaging age, sometimes it’s best to sleep on it—a “seven-hour delay” if you will.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating censorship. My encouragement to “ponder how to answer” is not about denying anyone’s freedom of speech. Rather, it is concerned with ensuring that the speech that we are so free to share is as considered and Christ-honoring as possible. And why wouldn’t we want to ensure that this is the case? As it’s been said, “When you write, your ideas become part of history.” This is true not just for published authors, but for everyone who texts, tweets, or blogs. Social media should never be dismissed as “just the internet.”

For bloggers like me, a literal seven-hour delay can be a beneficial habit. We are a unique breed with unique temptations. We might say that we write for the simple love of it. But that doesn’t mean we would love writing as much if no one were to read our posts. Pride is often crouching at the door as we hit the publish button. And it’s this desire to grow our readership that can push us to write on every scandal or trending topic, even if when we seriously consider it, we have nothing meaningful to contribute or any legitimate reason for providing our commentary. Simply sleeping on it, or sending the draft to a trusted friend for their counsel, can be enough to prevent publishing something that you will later regret. Making this your practice will provide you with the time to examine your motives, repent of any sin, and thereby grow in your walk with the Lord and ultimately the quality of your writing. Having a social media editor isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of maturity.

Just as our words can be broadcast around the world, so can the words of others. These stones are thrown from far and wide and perfectly land in our pockets (or on our wrists). When we’ve been hit, we are often tempted to defend our names, or worse, seek revenge. As Christians, we must remember that “vengeance” belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19) and that if we are truly honest, we are actually far worse than any of our accusers know.

This temptation is serious. And many pixels have been spilled because of it. In my estimation, I’ve deleted more drafts of tweets and Facebook comments than I’ve actually ever published. Not all of them because they are sinful, but it can be difficult to examine your heart while your fingers are on a keyboard. Walking away, or putting down that phone, is a simple way to gain perspective and repent if need be.

As I continue to consider our changing and turbulent technological landscape, I’m not seeking to outline a series of do’s and don’ts. There is no “seven-hour delay” rule that must be followed by all Christians who blog or use social media. Instead, I want to shine light on the biblical principal of taking the time to pause and ponder (Proverbs 15:38). Many of us spend more time considering what we’ll wear than what words we’ll publish on Facebook. My posts on wisdom, the tongue, or even selfies, have all been written with the goal of suggesting specific biblical filters for you to use as you ponder, even if only for a moment, before you share your next social media update.