In early December I shared that I was leaving social media. Giving reasons largely inspired by a TED-talk from Cal Newport, I de-activated Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
It was wonderful!
I didn’t miss the minutes and hours wasted while scrolling through content that made my heart rate speed up and chipped away at my faith in humanity.
But something happened. I began to notice the same type of content in other places around me. While it might be present on social media in concentrated doses, the same problematic postures of communication exist all around us.
I had to grapple with the question, “Is social media really the problem, or is it the user?” I’m not sure the answer is either-or since both the platform and the user are human products. But in a general sense, social media are tools, instruments, products. Like a hot stove, a sharp knife, a tuned guitar, or a running laptop, social media are means by which one can create content for distribution. The decision on whether that content will be enriching or destructive is entirely up to the one wielding the tool. Is the distributor exercising responsibility alongside their freedom to create and share?
In addition to the distributor, there is the role of the consumer. The consumer can choose to filter what’s being distributed. This requires discipline, discretion, prudence, and patience. Is the consumer practicing responsible discernment in what they take in, and in how they respond?
Now I still agree with and appreciate Cal Newport’s insights. I read his blog and can’t wait to read his next book on digital minimalism. However, I was placing too much of the blame on the tool, when the real problem was me. I’ve been guilty of posting articles and comments that may have reflected what I believe to be right but were shared from a selfish and thoughtless posture. I’ve also let myself react to things others have posted when the wise decision would have been to just keep scrolling, or if I really thought I needed to respond, to send a private message and facetime with them.
I needed to step away in order to do some work on my own attitude. In the process, I found some things I really did miss. Recipes … especially ones for the grill. Pictures of pets. My wife’s friends in Texas have a pot-bellied pig that likes to give a genuine piggy-back ride to their cat … while a goat with nail-polished hooves looks on. Oh, and pictures of cats … lots and lots of them … I need to see these things!
I missed stuff from people for whom I can pray. I missed encouraging posts from people I know are going through rough times. Stories of real-life stuff that made me laugh and cry.
So, I’ve decided that there are good reasons to stay connected, but I need to do so in a healthier way. I’m adopting some different practices that I suggest might be better ways of using this powerful platform of social media.
First, use the tool, don’t allow it to use you. Set boundaries on when you engage. You can waste a lot of time, so disable notifications or don’t make social media as easily accessible (remove the app from your phone or from your desktop).
Pay attention to your mood when you engage. Have you had a bad day or are you in a place where angry posts incite you, or happy posts annoy you? There is a direct link between social media engagement and depression, so know yourself and be mindful. Ask yourself the question, “What does this post, this comment, or this reaction reveal about what’s happening in me?”
Second, when you’re feeling that urge to really make a point or make a statement, step back and log off. As I wrote in my previous blog post, you don’t change minds in the comment thread. In fact, the desire to make a point comes from a very selfish place. You don’t have to really consider the repercussions of your rhetoric. Making a difference, on the other hand, requires consideration for the other. It takes more time and engagement … often in the context of a relationship, but it keeps the focus on working WITH the other person ON the issues. One of the best statements I’ve heard on this comes from Ed Stetzer in a recent podcast. Ed says, “You can’t ‘war’ at people and reach them at the same time.” Here’s that podcast: https://careynieuwhof.com/episode237/
Third, the comment section is simply not the best place to respond. In fact, it’s usually not worth going in there. I’ve made it a practice not to read comments. It’s like the scene in Lion King when Simba asks Mufasa about the shadowy place. Mufasa says, “That is beyond our borders. You must never go there.” Most often, the comments are out of bounds, over the top, and out of line. Just stay out of there.
Finally, connections matter. There’s a message I received from a wise person after I wrote about leaving social media. She asked about the message such a decision sent to others who were trying to be a positive presence on social media. There was a genuine understanding about my need to get my mind and heart in a better place, but there was also the accountability present in her asking if a permanent departure signaled a posture of giving up on those who like her, were seeking to be a faithful presence of love in “digital Babylon.” Staying connected to social media keeps me connected to her and others like her. Those connections provide encouragement, enrichment, and accountability.
Thanks for reading! I hope this has been helpful to you and yours.
Until next time!