Do you remember when social media was fun? Yeah, it’s getting harder for me to remember too. I want to share a recent epiphany for me regarding social media.
Coming out of our toxic election season, I found myself more jaded, more negative, more angry than I’ve ever been. That’s actually saying something. I’ve been know to throw a pile of negativity disguised as sarcasm myself. At any rate, I found myself longing for pictures of someone’s lunch plate, or a funny dog compilation video, or a picture of Aunt Sally’s 60th birthday party. Anything that didn’t seem like it was life and death serious! Ironically, those were the same things that use to annoy me because I thought they were so trivial. Now, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of trivial.
Instead of trivial–my Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with negative news stories, angry opinions, political pokes in the eye, and people scrambling to take the moral high ground on everything from bathrooms to ISIS. It was like watching a societal train wreck and not being able to look away. I hated how I felt after being on social media, but then I felt compelled to keep looking–just to be informed. (Watch out for that “just to be informed” concept. It can be used to take you into the depths of human depravity.)
At any rate, on the way to church one Sunday morning, a thought came to mind: “I wonder how I would feel after detoxing from social media for several weeks?” It was kind of a fleeting thought, but then I shared it “off the cuff” in a Sunday morning message. Now, I felt like a hypocrite if I didn’t follow through. (There’s a learning lesson here for all pastors. Be careful about the “off the cuff” remarks. God might call your bluff.)
So now I was committed to go unplugged for several weeks. I naively thought, “It’s not going to be that hard. Eight years ago, I didn’t have any social media accounts and I still seemed to function just fine. Besides, it’s only several weeks. No worries.” That was not the case. It was an eye opening and somewhat frustrating experience.
Here were the reasons I listed for detoxing from social media:
- I don’t like being controlled by anything other than the Holy Spirit. When it comes to social media, I found myself gravitating to it constantly to fill void moments, to fill curiosity, and because I felt like I had to stay connected.
- I don’t like filling my mind with negative thoughts (especially negative political thoughts).
- I feel that my attention is constantly divided and social media is another distraction that divides.
- I noticed that a certain amount of personal worth and identity were based on the number of likes, the number of followers, the number of retweets, etc. My true identity is in Christ–not social media.
- I found myself annoyed that people can’t just have a normal conversation without feeling the need to respond to texts, Facebook Live the meal, or check in at every location on God’s green earth.
Here’s what I learned from the experience:
- Negative: It was harder than I imagined to completely stop social media. I had developed the habits of reading social media with breakfast, checking social media at breaks in message prep, using social media to fill waiting times at airports, and trying to multi-task social media and watching TV. To better understand my context, I would spend about a hour a day on social media prior to this experiment. In the broad sense of users–that’s not an extreme amount of time. But it was still incredibly difficult to stop. My mind NEVER–pay attention to that word “NEVER”–stopped thinking about what I was missing.
- Negative: I felt incomplete without social media. Again, what a scary concept. The absence of social media felt like someone cut off a body part. In eight short years, I trained my brain to feel incomplete without apps that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Scary!
- Negative: It took 2 weeks for my mind to stop running 100 mph. While there was never a time when I stopped thinking about what I was missing, there was a time when my mind began to slow down. Social media had become a mental stimulate that kept my mind racing.
- Positive: I was able to focus more on reading complete articles, new stories, and books without feeling compelled to skim them and rush back to see what I missed on social media.
- Positive: The world did not implode due to my disconnection. People still lived lives, went to work, shared every thought in their mind (much of which should be in a private journal or only shared with Jesus), but I was not negatively impacted by all the crazy. That alone could have been worth the hassle.
- Negative/Positive: I became incredibly aware of how rude/disconnected our society has become through social media. When you’re not using social media and you’re actually trying to engage with people–it’s amazing to see how many parents ignore their kids because they’re starring at their phones, how many meals are scarfed down between tweets, texts, and selfies, and how many conversations are left on the surface because people can’t stop impressing “followers” long enough to engage with “friends.” When I was a kid, my mom use to say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to go into “mom” mode and drop that same piece of sage wisdom in a conversation.
Conclusion: Apart from what I just shared, what other conclusions/reflections/actions came to me based on this experiment? I described #6 as “Negative/Positive” because the awareness was negative, but it led me to a positive thought. After my social media detox, I simply want to be with people in the moment. I want to consciously leave my phone in a pocket or upside down on a table when I’m spending time with people. I don’t want to miss life while trying to impress people of a fake existence on social media.
Believe it or not–I still don’t think all social media is bad. There are some solid “kitten compilation” videos out there to brighten your day. Birthdays are fun when people write encouraging warm wishes. There’s value in staying connected to friends and family members who live far away. I think my concern now is one of control and context. When anything seems to take control of your life (apart from God)–that’s not a good thing. To enjoy a little social media in the right context (maybe alone or to unwind when the day is done)–is not bad. But how much life, how many memories, how much actual connection are we missing when social media dominates our lives?
Finally, I know there are real issues that need to be shared and discussed. That’s not a bad thing either. But in the context of sharing important information, I’d like to personally request that we share more trivial lunch plates, funny cartoons, and things that actually bring joy into the world. I’ve never seen people actually change sides on serious issues because someone yelled a more impressive insult. However, it’s amazing how civil life can be when people find some positive commonalities to share.