So, I’m giving up Facebook for Lent. It’s been a week and a half now, and I thought it might be worth doing to reflect publicly on why I am doing it, and note my experiences so far. I will save for later the observations on how it’s gone, as I’ve finished drafting this monstrously long post, and my child is waking up. But here is the long version on why I am giving up Facebook for Lent.
Here is the immediate reason: I have a rather addictive personality, and for quite a while I had been growing concerned about my attachment to Facebook. Not the thing itself, but the activity of scrolling down my wall, had become not just a time suck but a life-suck. My friends are interesting people, and post stuff I find really interesting and edifying, but I was just losing myself in it to the point that it was no longer fun. I needed some distance.
Here is the more complicated reason: I also wanted a chance to reflect on my use of Facebook as a thing, on a few different levels. I really have no animosity toward Facebook as a medium. It has its drawbacks and dangers, like any medium of communication, but that just invites reflective engagement. (Live conversation, for example, is a social medium.)
An excellent video called “The Innovation of Loneliness” sparked a good deal of reflection for me, about seven months ago. That was when I realized that I was using Facebook, texting, and other text-based social media, not to build relationships, but actually to avoid relationships. Let me explain.
I am a writer, and I find it easy to express myself in text – where I can quickly and almost subconsciously edit myself. Let me be clear: this is not because I am not being genuine. This is because I am less comfortable with the art of live conversation. Normal but annoying social anxiety makes it more difficult for me to be myself in person or on the phone. I smile too much, or say stupid things, or I become reactive; all things I can control when I am writing. This means I am more myself when I am writing.
Now, this is something God has been really working on in me over the last six months, and I have made a LOT of progress. The message of grace has been deepening its work in my heart, so that I have more security in Christ to accept myself in all situations, and make mistakes without hating myself and falling apart. This is life-long firmly-held gospel belief actually doing something in me, and it is so exciting! I am so grateful for the growth this season has brought.
But old habits persist. And bless Facebook – I do make real human connections there, and read a lot of helpful, informative, inspiring stuff there – but I tend to use it as a cheat.
There is a thing called “social currency,” and it has a hierarchy. All social media has a place on this hierarchy. One-on-one in-person conversations have the top rank, as do other kinds of in-person interactions. Phone conversations are also high on the list. Texting and email are lower down, being edited and instantaneous, but they still carry some weight as individual, intentional connection. Online chatting is still lower, with public interactions (like FB comments) at the bottom.
Now, this is no blast on FB. It is the very “cheapness” of FB and other digital social media that makes it so powerful! It means, for example, that:
- someone like Jenna Wogenrich can pursue her dreams, which involve her living alone in the country, with the support of an online community around her blog.
- Without email or text, I would not have the level of friendship I have with my friend who is deaf.
- According to Google Analytics, most of my blog readers are my Facebook friends. (*waves* Hi! Thanks for clicking!)
- Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with several ladies who were only acquaintances in college or high school, but because we are now at a similar place in life, we have a lot of support to give each other.
- And I would love, one day, to be on the long list of published authors who gained notice with publishers not by rubbing elbows, but by public presence.
The list goes on. There are other, more personal advantages to the use of this incredibly cheap social currency. It means, for example, that FB is a way to make a connection with someone you have lost touch with, or are incredibly distant from, in a non-threatening way. I can make a one-on-one connection with a brand-new acquaintance or a really old friend by FB message, and it’s perfectly normal and acceptable, while a phone call would be a little awkward. Not a faux-pas, but difficult, and requiring more courage than I have on a normal day.
Because (and here it gets even more personal), here’s the thing – I have a bit of a phone phobia. I don’t know why, but I get a little sweaty and weird about calling people on the phone. I love receiving phone calls, but making them always goes to the bottom of my to-do list. I am trying very hard to get over this, or at least discipline myself to do it more often. But it may never be natural for me, and that’s something I have to face and deal with if I am going to be in ministry. Or even properly love my family. From the few people I have chatted to about this, I don’t think this is terribly unusual.
So I am happy for a legitimate reason to use a cheaper social currency to make a connection. It costs less courage, less of myself. With it, I can make way more connections with the energy I have.
But. Using only cheap currency has drawbacks too. Here is where the common criticism of online social media comes in, which is explained much more eloquently in the video linked above than I can give you. The short version of my opinion: We are social creatures, and we need relationships. When we only use cheap social currency, we satisfy the urge to connect without developing deep relationships. Because deep relationships are built on heftier social currency. So I am lonely or bored, and I satisfy my need for connection by sharing an article or posting a status. So I no longer feel lonely, but I am still just as alone as I was. It gives me the illusion of connection instead of the reality of real, messy, difficult, iron-sharpening-iron relationships.
Here’s the other drawback that I have noticed in myself (and I speak for no one but myself): online social media is training me to see life as a performance art, not a cooperative sport. There is a whole lot of collaboration and cooperation online, but my primary use of Facebook is sharing my own thoughts and opinions, to get positive feedback in the forms of “likes” and “shares” and comments and clicks. I engage in this popularity game as innocently and well-meaningly as it is possible to do, but that’s still what it is.
This is also why I am going to back off a bit on posting so many pictures of Naomi. Just for fun, because Naomi has an absolutely impossible amount of hand-me-down clothes, in late January I decided to see how many sequential days I could dress her in a completely different outfit. I took a few pictures or a video of her in this outfit every day, and posted it. This means, among other things, that the sheer quantity of visual information available online about my daughter is enormous given her age.
There are a lot of issues with this. First, of course, is her own right to privacy, which I exercise (or don’t) on her behalf. Second, my generation has experienced massive lifestyle changes with the advent of social media, but we can only guess what impact it will have on the next generation to be on social media, published and public, from birth. But thirdly, what I really wonder is, what am I teaching her by putting all these pictures of her online? But taking all these pictures of her? Am I teaching her that life is a performance sport, to be recorded and shared? That what really matters is that you are looking presentable and doing something interesting? That what gives life meaning is the mass approval of others online? I think this is a real risk – not because of the actual posting on Facebook, but because of how I am being shaped as her mother by doing these things, and because my character is her biggest educator by example. It’s a subtle distinction, but I am just trying to show that it’s my use of the medium, and not the medium itself, that is the problem.
[I should make this note, while I am here: When it comes to the issue of life as performance art rather than mutual engagement, blogging is potentially even worse than using Facebook. This blog is my space, and I have as much space as I want to fill it with exactly the content I want. But I’m not giving up blogging, and here’s why: I don’t think of this as “image crafting,” as I am compulsively honest, and don’t really care if anyone ever reads this blog. If I am crafting an image, it’s for myself – I am creating an image of my life as I wish it to be. I collect the prettiest bits of it and present them in such a way as to say to myself, “hey, my life is pretty!” Usually this is a survival skill, as I need that filter to see all I have to be thankful for. Sometimes it is an attempt to convince myself that I am someone I am not. More often it is a way to remind myself that I am who I want to be, if I do what I love! Somehow I feel that my efforts here are honest enough that I don’t need to take a break from them. I make no apology for what I share here, and so far, none of my few but lovely readers have made me think I should! Writing, in my opinion, is as much about creating something worthy in itself as communicating between people. And in general, it seems a good thing for me to do.]
So I am giving up Facebook for Lent, not because I am a super-righteous person, but because I am not. I am weak, socially inept, and lazy, and I need to take a break in order to make space for myself to use costlier social currency. I need to go out to coffee more, invite people over, and pick up the dang phone. It’s a muscle that needs exercise, a skill set that needs practice. I hope to get as good at attentive live conversation as I am at clicking my needles, but that will take time, patience, emotional space… and a lot of metaphorical dropped stitches.