That’s an ironic title for a blog post, no?
Bear with me, friends. I did something drastic today, at least for me. I deactivated my Facebook account. I know. My cool friends are like, “I never go on Facebook anymore…I don’t even know what’s on there.” I so wish I could be that way. I have such a dysfunctional relationship with Facebook, and social media in general. I’ve only been on FB since 2015, and in lots of ways I’m still in the honeymoon phase. Except it’s the honeymoon from hell. You know those couples in movies who argue back and forth in public and make everyone uncomfortable, then somehow channel all that passion into making out, and then they leave and everyone watching is left with a “wtf just happened here” feeling? That’s me with Facebook. I hate it; I shouldn’t be in a relationship with it at all, and yet somehow, I find myself drawn to it all day, every day. I know. I am sick.
I did a social media detox for Lent this year, and it was an extraordinarily enlightening exercise for me. I don’t think at that point I realized how toxic social media had become for me. Example: husband sends me article about how to eliminate a sinus infection in 24 hours. His article features advertisements for online graduate school/certificate programs and vitamin supplements. My article (the same article, mind you, just open on my phone through my internet browser) features advertisements about breast augmentations for $299 a month and ways to eliminate under-eye circles and other signs of aging- fast! Every login for me very quickly became a reminder that: I’m getting older, I’ve had kids and my body looks like I’ve had kids (and I’m getting older), I’m not earning money as a stay-at-home-parent… so I must find some way to add to our family’s earnings, I’m not enrolled in any programs to better my life or expand my skills, and I’m not engaged enough in social reforms or taking a strong enough stance as an agent of social change. Also in the list of things I’m doing wrong: parenting, educating my children, voting, watching (or not watching) tv, eating (pick the diet), and religion. You seriously cannot win. And y’all, that is exhausting.
In my Lenten media-fast, what I found was this: I didn’t miss it the way I thought I would. I missed seeing what my friends were up to- some had babies and others were newly expectant, some got new jobs or moved away, and some went through hard times, and I didn’t know and wasn’t able to be there for him like I would have wanted to. But if I’m honest, my social media consumption is not about those things. Total transparency? It’s about me, and how I see myself, and how I see other people. In my time back on the social media scene, I’ve had some opportunities to honestly assess how I use it, and here’s what I’ve found:
- Social media changes the lens through which I view others.
Before I could see all my friends’ stances on various political issues, parenting issues, socioeconomic issues, whatever, I saw them as people. I related to them based on things we shared with one another in organic conversation, or based on our experiences together. With social media, where we share our views often out of context and without backstory, I find myself approaching others based on what I already perceive about them, based on their posts and shares. I unfollowed and unfriended people who I genuinely like and care about, and I created an echo chamber where the posts I saw only validated what I already believed. Not. Good.
- It has taught me to fish for likes. It’s funny. In the same way that FB’s expert data-mining knows exactly which ads to send me, I know exactly which things I post will get the most likes. Selfies with a new haircut: goldmine. Ironic, snarky comments from my children: excellent. Posts about homeschool or home birth: meh. And not that I don’t totally love sharing my children’s commentary- I love hearing how I’ve got the next Tina Fey or Steve Carrell in my house (maybe then we can retire), but my real joy, the things I actually want to remember, are the homeschool moments. How they pray for each other or cheer each other on when the work is hard and they do it anyway. How I faced my fear of leaving the house and took them on a field trip- that wasn’t that impressive but was a huge step for me. My quest for likes has me pushing those posts to the back burner in favor of crowd-pleasers. And my super-confident, dare-to-be-different self is totally giving me an eyeroll right now.
- It has me thinking in absolutes.This isn’t just social media, but social media makes it possible. Example: I really hate pickles. I hate them. If a sandwich I ordered at Panera came with a pickle in the box (not on the sandwich, in the box), I would throw the sandwich away. I hate them that much. But if you were eating a pickle in front of me, I would not insist that they are disgusting and how could you possibly like them, nor would I think that you eating that pickle was a statement about whether or not I should like pickles. That seems logical, right? But you guys. Every. Single. Thing. about motherhood, school choice, how old you are when (or if) you get married, big wedding, small wedding, how you celebrate whatever it is you’re celebrating… I could go on and on, but ultimately, our culture is telling us that it’s not about us doing what suits us, it’s about us being right. And everyone who is doing something differently isn’t doing it right. I found myself typing a comment on a particularly inflammatory article about motherhood, “what if I told you the way I parent my children actually has nothing to do with you whatsoever???” And then I realized it would accomplish nothing. But seriously, you guys. This is nuts. And we don’t have to participate in it.
- It creates a constant obstacle in my attempt to live life differently. This is the biggest one for me, and the reason I know I need to leave social media behind. I am so happy with the little life we’ve built. It’s small, but it’s right for us. We genuinely have everything we need and are fortunate in that we want for absolutely nothing. Except…somehow looking at things on Facebook and Instagram, I feel like…”Ooh! Maybe I do need that. But just one. Only this time.” Whether it’s things my friends are selling or vacations my friends are taking, I watch social media and find myself tempted toward consumption that I know to be unfulfilling for me. I don’t have wanderlust. I don’t love experimenting with lip color. I don’t need to lose 25 pounds. I genuinely do not need to embark on a career or school right now. But somehow seeing other people partaking in those activities gets my brain thinking…maybe I do. Maybe we should plan a trip. Maybe I should buy that $18 lipstick (which will get lost and never worn because it’s not my pomegranate Burt’s Bees). Maybe I should start looking at gym memberships or ways to track how much water I’m drinking. Maybe I should sign up for classes or launch my small business again… It’s maddening.
Whew. Now that I’ve made a pretty clear case for why I see a therapist on the regular…let me come full circle. There are lots of amazing things about social media. I’ve been able to keep up with friends who I’ve come to love even after moving hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. I’ve held virtual hands with other moms who are facing autism diagnoses, and been comforted and later been the comforter in the midst of heartache and loss. I’ve watched friends have babies after years of praying and hoping, seen families grow through fostering and adoption, and seen friends find love after heartbreak. There is much beauty in the midst of the chaos. I just have to be honest with myself in the fact that my consumption of social media is mostly chaos, with glimpses of beauty, and often times I miss out on beauty right in front of me, because I’m so plugged in to the chaos.
So where do we go from here? My goal during my Lenten fast was this: that in every instance where I found myself feeling broken or less than significant, I would seek gratification in my faith, and not in the world. That when I found trouble in my life, or heartbreak, or discouragement, I would seek the lover of my soul, the one who created me in His image, that I would turn from the things that don’t last to the things that do. Interestingly enough, do you know what I found? Without social media, I wasn’t nearly as discouraged, heartbroken, troubled, or hurt. Truthfully, I wasn’t even aware of how other people felt about what I was doing. And if I needed to vent or needed to share something funny the kids said or wanted to remember something touching I saw, I did those things, with people, individually. I called my mom. I texted my kids’ grandparents. I sent a card to a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. I wrote in my journal. I cried to my husband. I had more time for reflection, for studying my Bible, for prayer, and self-care, because I wasn’t constantly answering the digital pull for my attention. My life became more mine, and less anybody else’s.
I’ll keep writing here, friends, because I love it, and because I love sharing with you. (And I promise I’ll get back to “how we get chores done without tears” and “favorite natural remedies from pinkeye to ingrown toenails.”) And I challenge you, friends- not to quit social media altogether (unless you want to, because that’s totally possible), but to remember as you consume it from whence your value comes. You are more than likes and shares. Every post has a story behind it, even yours, and therein lies the value in us all.