No, it’s not a New Year’s Resolution and I don’t believe that social media is evil. But I am taking a break from Facebook and Twitter (my only social networks) starting January 1.
Facebook has been a gift for my family. Before my wife Erin and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary, we moved across the country. Arizona to Pennsylvania. And when we moved, we left quite a bit of family behind.
But thanks to social media, our families have been able to watch our girls grow up and we have been able to see what is happening in their lives. Every picture, video clip, and status update has connected us in important ways even though we live on opposite sides of the country. This, of course, is the beauty of social networks like Facebook and Twitter. They make the sting of distance hurt just a little less.
So I won’t be off forever. There are too many positives. But I hope to use some time away to build personal disciplines and routines into my life so that I can use social media in a more healthy way. Because as I’ve used social media over the last few years, I’ve found that there is a downside to the constant stream of statuses and photographs. Actually, for me, there are three downsides.
News from Actual News Sources
It wasn’t intentional, but I slowly drifted away from reading the news from actual news outlets. I wasn’t going out and finding the news for myself. Instead, I was being fed a stream of headlines and quick quotes that was curated by my friends on my social media timelines.
When the only news I get comes from my friends, I am in danger of finding myself in an echo chamber. I have friends all over the political and theological spectrums, but when I see the same people posting the same kinds of stories, I tend to stop clicking and reading. I note the headline and move on. I read what is posted by my closest friends or those friends I agree with and ignore what is posted by others. Worse yet, like most social media users, I don’t read other articles on the websites I visit. As soon as I’ve read what I want to read, I’m out. It’s like trying to look at a complex mosaic through a straw
Over time, this has stifled my reading. I search for sound bites or quotes rather than reading an article and allowing the news to actually inform me. When I run across an article that is too long, more often than not I invest my time and learn. I skip it. Which means I’m not following careful argumentation or thoughtfully developed theses and that leads to shallow thinking.
My greatest fear in leaving social media is that I won’t be aware of what’s going on in the world. So I’ve carefully selected a handful of reliable news and journalism sources from thoughtful conservatives, moderates, and liberals. I’m going to read more longform articles and follow the lines of argumentation and concept development. I’m going to compare and contrast. I’m going to do the work that it takes to be informed without the crutch of social media in order to sharpen my thinking and ground my opinions.
Moving Beyond Social Media Activism
Hashtag activism is powerful. It helped spread the #blacklivesmatter movement around the country after the death of Trayvon. People were able to express solidarity and mourning with every new name that interrupted our timelines. And without hashtag activism, it would be fair to wonder if an oil pipeline would be currently under construction through sacred native lands in North Dakota.
I’m not adding my voice to those who would denigrate social media activism. It works.
But hashtag activism doesn’t work in a vacuum. It works alongside protesters in the streets. It furthers conversation as men and women camp out in the cold alongside tribal leaders. Hashtag activism is a tool used most effectively when coupled with the work being done by community leaders and organizations working on the ground to make a difference.
I need to add this “on the ground” component. It’s passed time for me to find out how I can put some of the things I’ve written about, hash-tagged, and tweeted into action with people. I believe that Black Lives Matter as much as any other lives. What does that look like in the way I live my life? I believe we need stronger and more organic relationships between the police and the communities they serve. How do I pursue that without a computer keyboard? And can I transfer my concern for Native Americans in North Dakota to the Native communities in my little section of Pennsylvania?
One day I might go back to tweeting and hash-tagging about these things, but I want to make sure that my social media activism is informed by love, service, and solidarity with flesh and blood people who have names and stories and dreams.
Disarming a Distraction
I’m tired of my phone going off. There are some things, of course, that I can’t avoid. I need to use email and messenger systems for work. Some news reports do need to beep their way into my life, although not as many as some news outlets think.
But it seems like every time I have a spare moment, I’m staring at my phone wondering what I’ve missed (nothing; I’ve missed nothing). That has to stop.
Because my brain isn’t getting a chance to rest. It’s cluttered with pointless tidbits and noisy memes. It’s polluted with random videos and pictures that are amusing, but not valuable. My life isn’t enriched by the majority of what I encounter on social media.
I need to step away in order to think on those things that are true and noble and right (Philippians 4:8). I need to focus without the constant threat of distraction, enjoy moments of silence and stillness without the pull of a tiny screen. When the distraction has been disarmed, I hope to develop healthier patterns of productivity and devotion. My time in Scripture won’t be interrupted by a Facebook comment or a trending topic. My prayers won’t be accompanied by the staccato of a buzzing phone and chirping tablet.
So I’m stepping away from social media for awhile. And now that I’ve told the internet, I have a world of accountability partners to help me stick to it.
I’m sure I’ll be back some day. I have no timeline in place. When I’ve built these and other disciplines into my life, then I may consider coming back. But until then, I leave the cute videos and catchy memes to others who are better at filtering out the noise than I am.