How to Find Purpose in a Fast-Moving Digital Society

With many of us now attending online school or meetings and recent talk about the “metaverse” becoming our future, it’s safe to say that we are living in a digital world. We have been for quite some time now. Many of us are now completely dependent upon our tech and the internet to access our education or make a living. Heck, without it I couldn’t have researched or written this article, nor could you be reading it. We need digital technologies in order to be successful in the modern world. And while all this might be true, there is still one truth to face, whether the Zuckerbergs of the world agree or not: People were successfully finding meaning “in real life” long before anyone had phones, screens, or virtual reality.

Where does that leave us when we’re trying to discover our purpose in the midst of digital noise that is almost impossible to escape and often meaningless itself? One minute you’re trying to do your homework and the next you’ve been on TikTok for an hour, and time has lost all meaning. You try to listen to a podcast while you work, and the next thing you know, you’re scrolling through the website for some beauty product that sponsors your favorite show. You try to make plans to see friends, and it takes two weeks, thirty emails, and seven polls to figure out a time that works for 80% of the group. How in the world will you ever have the time and focus to reflect on the meaning of life, let alone your place in the world?

How to Find Purpose

Don’t Be Controlled by Your Digital Tools

First, it’s important to remember that there are actually some really incredible things about living in a digital age. When you look at all this technology as a tool that simply aids humans in the things we were already trying to accomplish, it’s a miraculous invention. In seconds, it can create access to health care, crucial education and information, friends and loved ones who are far away, global career and networking opportunities, opportunities for growth, and art that helps us learn empathy. When you step back and remember to view the digital as a means to an end, rather than what it’s become, it can play an important role in you finding your purpose in life, instead of being a source of overwhelm or distraction.

No tool, however, can be better than the people who use it. If you use digital media to distract yourself, it is a distraction. If you use it to participate in cyberbullying or cheating on your partner, it is a weapon. If you use it to tell you how and when you should sleep, eat, drink, and think, it is an idol. If you use it to create an avatar, build online worlds, and defeat online enemies, it is a toy. If you use it to consume media 24/7, it is a vending machine. Digital media is actually using you. If, though, you use it to discover what brings you joy, what matters to you, and what your talents are, it is an excellent way to find your life’s purpose.

Ways to Find Your Purpose in a Digital World

But HOW do you keep yourself from being sucked into the void and losing sight of what you want your life to look like? Check out one of our other posts on having a healthy relationship with social media. A lot of the same principles apply here. You can maintain boundaries with your tech and your “digital self” while mindfully pursuing a purposeful life:

  • Set limits and take breaks. Use the nifty tool most phones have to track your screen time data. Some research says that anything over two hours a day is too much for your eyes and brain, but since most of us have to use screens for school and work, it’s too late for us to hit that mark. Consider making an afternoon “screen free” each weekend, or simply setting a time limit on apps like Instagram so that they shut down automatically when you’ve gone over 30 minutes in a day. There’s no better way to avoid finding your true purpose than to waste hours and hours on your phone without even realizing it. You have to look up every once in a while and maybe go on a walk to make sure your mind and soul have space to reflect on your life. If you find that you aren’t capable of spending any time outside of the digital sphere, you might want to consider that you’re addicted and seek treatment.
  • Focus on intention. What if it’s not about finding your one singular purpose and more about making sure that you do everything  purposefully. Do you find yourself waking up to your alarm at the same time each morning, eating the same things over and over, and generally never trying new things? There’s nothing wrong with routine, but habits aren’t always born of intention. You have the power to choose how you spend your time. That means, even if you didn’t come out of the womb with the conviction that you were born to be a pediatric oncologist, you can still make your daily decisions with purpose. Instead of cruising through life on autopilot, take a minute to consider whether your relationships and activities reflect your core values. Adjust accordingly every so often, and you’re already living a purpose-filled life.
  • Prioritize IRL connection. Examine whether you’re defaulting to digital experiences and relationships out of convenience or using them as a means of genuine connection. This is not to say that the friends you make online aren’t “real” friends, or that you shouldn’t take time to celebrate beating the next boss in Elden Ring. Just make sure that you’re interrupting the constant stream of GIFs you send your friends with the occasional “BTW, how’re you doing” text, and try to set up in-person game nights every once in a while. For an extra challenge, order your next Starbucks drink at the register instead of doing a Mobile Order on the app. Maybe learn the name of the barista who’s always working when you happen to get your drink. Don’t forget that behind the screens, there are always people.
  • Stay grounded in actual reality. Do not confuse the “metaverse” with real life. You will not get left behind if you do not purchase an Oculus or even the latest smartphone. The world will not collapse if you don’t consistently create digital content or beat all the social media algorithms. And (unless you are a first responder or something like that) nobody will get hurt if you choose not to check your emails over the weekend!

You Exist Without the Internet

OG “influencers” like Marie Curie, Mother Teresa, or Jesus Christ didn’t have an “online presence,” yet they somehow achieved an actual influence that continues far beyond their lifetimes. You may need digital technology to mechanically carry out the tasks you want to accomplish, but you do NOT need an online presence or a “digital self” in order to live purposefully, make change, or find meaning in this life. Have fun with your digital tools, and find ways they can creatively impact what you decide to do with your life, but never confuse your identity with those tools. If the entire internet crashed today, you could still live purposefully, “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly,” so long as you are secure in who you are and why you do what you do. If you want to know more about being secure in your identity, or if you’re worried that you might be struggling with digital addiction, reach out to one of our Hope Coaches today. We’re always here to chat, no matter where you are on your journey.

Putting down the phone and living your life can be hard when things get stressful. Here are 5 tips to help you put the phone down.

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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