Forty days ago when faced with the arduous task of choosing something to abstain from during Lent, I chose Facebook. My family was completely dismayed wondering why on earth I would choose this and asked routinely “but how will you know what is going on?”
Friends and coworkers seemed to understand it a bit better. I was just plain overwhelmed. Every time I logged on, I felt bombarded, whether it was being beset with envy over nominal friends’ photos of engagements, weddings, or newly-hatched progeny, or feeling exhausted as I watched friends all over the political spectrum acting in ways that made me cringe.
I needed a break. I needed some quiet.
When I resolved to do this, I knew it would be hard, but I did not realize just how addicted I had become to “trivial information regarding the lives of my several hundred acquaintances.”
I found myself on the website an embarrassing number of times without even realizing that I had gone there. Was I really subjecting myself to this without even thinking about it? Yes; yes I was. So, I had to log out of Facebook on every device I owned.
It still amazed me how often I found myself there on that dang log-in page, but thankfully, it started to decline with time.
What I found over these last few weeks was that I had time, an abundance of time that I was wasting overwhelming myself with the roar of thousands of memes and opinions. I found that I eventually really did not need to be “in the know” as I thought I did.
Most importantly, I found that in some ways, I was using Facebook as a means of deferring my responsibilities as a friend, family member, and Christ-follower.
A status update is not the same thing as activism. “Liking” a friend’s photo isn’t the same thing as calling them up. “Liking” an organization’s page does not mean that somehow, you magically espouse all of the qualities of that company or non-profit. Posting a verse of scripture is all well and good, but it isn’t the same as processing with real humans what God is saying through that passage (and let’s not get started with the passive-aggressive use of scriptural status updates).
I also did not realize how badly my soul and mind were languishing under a pile of “thumbs up” and oh-so-profound-status-updates. I was stunned to see what great portion of my social skills and relationships were based on web-to-web contact as opposed to face-to-face. It was sobering.
Some Things To Ponder
As I sit down to finish this reflection at 6:00pm on Easter Sunday and try to figure out what to make of all of this, a few practical ideas come to mind:
Firstly, web-based humanity needs to learn how to be present both in our environment and with one another. We were made as incarnate beings; we have flesh and we have a need to be in face-to-face relationship with one another. Social media just cannot do that in a way that real conversation can. A group text among friends in Texas is not the same as going out to dinner with them. Even the seemingly insignificant, slow moments such as perusing menus, sipping wine, and just being in the presence of one another are sacred and sacramental. God was made incarnate in Christ in order to physically be with humanity; therefore, it is no wonder that we have this same innate desire to be with one another.
Secondly, it is wise to be mindful as to what types of external input is creeping into our lives. This is not about going “off the grid,” or deleting all social media accounts, or, heaven forbid, nixing any and all blog reading. If there is any one thing that I learned from this lenten experiment, it is that I not only absent-mindedly let information bombard me, I did so frequently without any sort of filter in place to help me process it. Often when logging on, I was just not in the best headspace to deal with a hard-hitting debate about gender-neutral bathrooms or the seeming “demise” of Christendom.
Thirdly, it is beneficial to be intentional about what we do choose to read and inwardly digest online. During my timeout from Facebook, I found myself reading blogs (scholastic and creative) that both nourished my mind as well as my creative spirit. A blog post or article is generally better written than a Facebook status update and has the bandwidth to communicate more nuanced issues such as faith and political reasoning. Learning where and who those hot buttons are is critical in preventing knee-jerk responses that only lead to more fire and angst.
Taking a break from Facebook brought me closer to Christ in an unexpected way; the noise and clatter of life on the periphery faded away and I was forced to deal with myself and those who were physically around me in my community. I was forced to live incarnate, enfleshed in the physical reality of my day to day life, and it was not nearly as scary or depressing as I thought it would be.