SALT LAKE CITY — For Kathryn Skaggs the word "media" is a buzzword any time she is listening to a talk in church. That's doubly true on days like Saturday and Sunday this week, during the 183rd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Skaggs, of Murrieta, Calif., will join with more than 20,000 other Mormons seated in the church's Conference Center to listen to talks on gospel topics, family unity and financial responsibility while millions of others watch and listen.
"I'm extremely sensitive to the counsel that is given by church leaders when it comes to the use of social media, in particular, as I realize that above all, for me, it is likely where I am most vulnerable to losing sight of needed boundaries," Skaggs said.
"With technology today, staying connected via social networking requires little to no effort," she added. "So the question often is not so much about difficulty, but rather distraction."
During the last general conference in October, Skaggs caught a reference to this very kind of distraction — letting time with technology get in the way of face-to-face time with people — in President Dieter F. Uchtdorf's talk titled "Of Regrets and Resolutions."
"In our day it is easy to merely pretend to spend time with others. With the click of a mouse, we can 'connect' with thousands of 'friends' without ever having to face a single one of them," said President Uchtdorf, a member of the LDS Church’s First Presidency, in his talk. "Technology can be a wonderful thing, and it is very useful when we cannot be near our loved ones."
"However, I believe that we are not headed in the right direction, individually and as a society, when we connect with family or friends mostly by reposting humorous pictures, forwarding trivial things, or linking our loved ones to sites on the Internet.
"I suppose there is a place for this kind of activity," President Uchtdorf continued, "but how much time are we willing to spend on it? If we fail to give our best personal self and undivided time to those who are truly important to us, one day we will regret it."
For Skaggs, any regrets about who and what she spent her time with is something she works to avert as she uses all kinds of social media, and spends time with those she loves.
"I want my family and friends to always know that when I am with them, they are the priority, so I try my best to focus my attention and conversations on them when I am with them," Skaggs said.
For Andrew Davis, President Uchtdorf's talk sent a similar message, and further inspired him to manage his time with his technology and media as best he could. Davis, who lives in Logan, Utah, owns SmallDot Design, and uses all kinds of technology for his daily work.
"This (talk) affected me because I have been trying to balance my time — my business is online and on the computer — and I asked myself, 'Should I devote my time to that?'" Davis said. "It's my life — design and the Internet with the stuff that I do. But what I took from what he was saying is that it's good to allow us a break, but that break shouldn't be our day, it should be a small portion of it."
"We need to focus on the things that are becoming less popular, like time with family, parents and siblings. And not just sitting in the living room playing video games, but actually spending time with people," he said.
Which is similar to the advice President Uchtdorf gave in the same talk, to help balance time between devices and people: "Let us resolve to cherish those we love by spending meaningful time with them, doing things together, and cultivating treasured memories."
To Davis, the overall tone of the messages about media in conference in recent years has trended toward the positive and toward possibilities. Instead of leaders in the church only teaching about what to avoid, they are advising on ways to still incorporate media and technology positively in everyday life.
"They are saying to choose your technology and then use it for good. Use your blog, use your Twitter, user your Facebook to promote and be a light of Jesus Christ ... we should use our technologies to make sure that people know that we believe in Christ," Davis said.
"They're saying to use this for good," he added, "and I think that's one of the most important things as Latter-day Saints in this world, in all of the evil facilitated by these devices, we have the ability and duty to promote good and truth and light in a world that is so dark."
For Latter-day Saints, a landmark conference talk promoting the positive use and intake of media was given by Elder M. Russell Ballard, in October 2003 in "Let Our Voices Be Heard."
"Because of its sheer size, media today presents vast and sharply contrasting options," said Elder Ballard, a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. "Opposite from its harmful and permissive side, media offers much that is positive and productive.
"Television offers history channels, discovery channels, education channels. One can still find movies and TV comedies and dramas that entertain and uplift and accurately depict the consequences of right and wrong. The Internet can be a fabulous tool of information and communication, and there is an unlimited supply of good music in the world. Thus our biggest challenge is to choose wisely what we listen to and what we watch."
"Of course," he continued, "the most basic way to protest negative-impact media is simply not to watch it, see it, read it, or play it."
Leaders of the LDS church have always been adamant as they have issued warnings about media, however. Adults, families and teens have all been counseled about media usage and consumption.
In his 1986 conference talk "To the 'Youth of the Noble Birthright,'" the late church President Ezra Taft Benson advised young men and women about the media to which they expose their spirits.
"Consider carefully the words of the prophet Alma to his errant son, Corianton, 'Forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes,'" President Benson said.
"'The lusts of your eyes.' In our day, what does that expression mean? Movies, television programs, and video recordings that are both suggestive and lewd. Magazines and books that are obscene and pornographic.
"We counsel you, young men, not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. Don’t listen to music that is degrading."
Similar counsel was shared at last October's conference in a talk titled "Can Ye Feel So Now?" by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
"Today, moral deterioration has escalated," Elder Cook said. "One prominent writer recently said, 'Everyone knows the culture is poisonous, and nobody expects that to change.' The constant portrayal of violence and immorality in music, entertainment, art and other media in our day-to-day culture is unprecedented."
"Movies, TV and the Internet often convey degrading messages and images," Elder Cook added. "President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and I were recently in an Amazon jungle village and observed satellite dishes even on some of the small, simply built huts. We rejoiced at the wonderful information available in this remote area. We also recognized there is virtually no place on earth that cannot be impacted by salacious, immoral, and titillating images. This is one reason why pornography has become such a plague in our day."Comment on this story
Though there is much good to be found in media and the use of the Internet, keeping oneself in check is a constant battle in today's world but is absolutely necessary, Skaggs said.
"There's no question that we must be mindful of the quality of media that we consume if we desire to have the Spirit in our lives," she said.
"It must maintain the very same moral standards in its content that we covenant to keep personally if it is to meet the required bar of acceptability. If it does not, then we are compromising our standards and creating for ourselves a distraction or disability in our ability to 'feel so now.'"
Mandy Morgan is an intern for the Deseret News, reporting on issues surrounding both family and values in the media. She is a true-blue Aggie, studying journalism and political science at Utah State University, and hails from Highland, Utah.