I gave up Facebook for Lent. I felt that I needed to do this because in the months leading up to Lent, Facebook had taken on a new dimension for me. I found that I was spending hours reading every article, watching every video and reacting to every divisive thing that I saw. Facebook debates were quickly becoming vicious, and even the “safe” ones, the ones among friends and like-minded people seemed to result in misunderstanding and hurt feelings. They certainly resulted in frustration for me. I was checking constantly…from my computer to my phone, regardless of where I was. I needed to know the latest thing that someone had posted on the last topic that had upset me. It just wasn’t healthy.
On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, my daughter sang in church. She read Scripture aloud and I was moved to tears. I took a few pictures and videos and decided to end on a high note, a few days before Lent actually started. I posted those pictures and a video and signed off. In order to avoid temptation or the possibility of clicking on it by habit, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. I soon realized how much of a reflex it had become for me to type Facebook in my computer browser or go to that app.
It turns out that I really didn’t miss it. The stress of dealing with all the drama was gone. I was still aware of it because even though I wasn’t on, occasionally, I would hear about a Facebook “battle” and I could feel the wobbly feeling in my stomach that I had become so familiar with as the “someone is wrong on the internet” button was pushed. What a relief that I didn’t have to go fight that battle, that I COULDN’T go fight that battle.
What did I learn from all this? During my Facebook fast, I learned that not only has Facebook become a stressor for me, but it had also become a crutch. I realized that there were people that I interact with on Facebook and although I may run into them at a school function or something, I had absolutely no other way to get in touch with them. I didn’t have their email or a phone number. HOW ARE THEY GOING TO FIND ME TO GET ME MY GIRL SCOUT COOKIES??? (Facebook fast crisis #1: true story). There isn’t necessarily anything bad with using Facebook as the primary mode of getting in touch with someone, but the result was an unwanted DEPENDENCY on it. (Dependency on technology could be a whole post by itself).
What I really learned didn’t become apparent until Easter afternoon when I logged in again for the first time. It took me 30 minutes just to get through the news feed updates for about 1 day. I clicked on an article that someone had posted on some political or religious topic (can’t even remember what it was) and after reading a couple of sentences, I realized that if I let it, Facebook could suck my life away. Before I was done with that first login, an hour had passed…an hour I had intended to use for something else, an hour that was gone forever. What had I gained in that hour? I got to see some cute Easter pictures, which was nice. I got to get caught up on all the nice birthday wishes that people had left me. But other than that…I gained nothing. I didn’t get smarter. I didn’t become a better person, wife or mother. I didn’t learn anything new about the hot topics of the day that I hadn’t already heard by spending a few minutes listening to the news. The cute cartoons and shared pictures didn’t give me new insight into people or myself. All that happened is that I donated another hour of my life to Facebook. Dependency is the Facebook game. And Facebook is winning.
I realized then that the personal interactions I had over Lent with people far superseded anything I could get from Facebook. I learned that in order for people to feel “safe” discussing a highly charged topic on Facebook, a closed group was important. And closed groups tend to attract people who think similarly, and although valuable and interesting in some ways, also tend to create a group think atmosphere that ends up being more about my ego than a personal interaction would be.
I learned that you cannot possibly get to know someone by what they post on Facebook. We present a different persona to the “public” world than we present in our daily interactions with people. Life is glossed over and reduced to the latest accomplishment of our children, the latest vacation picture or what I had for lunch. The things that are really important to me, that really matter…my STORY can only be known from spending time with me. That time can be virtual, but it isn’t Facebook. Before you get upset, I’m not saying that the things we put on Facebook don’t matter, because when I see a picture of someone’s child and it makes me smile, that is good. It just isn’t real life. It isn’t the same as being in the same room as that child and hearing the giggle first hand and being a person that they KNOW.
At one point during the 40 day hiatus, Mark and I were talking about this and he said that Facebook is evil, and he wasn’t jesting. At first I thought that seemed over the top…but it made me think. Is it really good? Is it good that I have too easily replaced personal interaction with a computer screen? Have I judged someone or jumped to a conclusion or reduced someone to being not much more than the latest political/social stance they have taken? Have I let Facebook replace personhood with snippets of a life that may not even be real? Unfortunately, the answer to all of those questions is yes. I have done all of those things. I have done them because I confused Facebook with real life and it just isn’t so.
I am not giving up Facebook altogether, because at the end of the day, I enjoy those pictures of people’s kids, and seeing what my distant cousins are up to, and seeing what kinds of quirky posts my beautiful goofy daughters put out there. I like sharing ideas about my latest project (natural cleaning products) and Facebook is a convenient forum to do that. I like being informed about school activities and parent groups and other organizations that use Facebook pages as another avenue of communication. I like having another place for my blog to live (after all, MAYBE I’m going to start using it again). But I am limiting what shows up on my news feed. I am not going to be watching videos and reading controversial articles and digging into whatever stance my friends may be FOR or AGAINST. I’ll leave those things for real conversation. At this point, I’m not re-installing the app on my phone. I can still access Facebook through the browser on my phone when I want to, but it is just inconvenient enough, less easy to navigate that I will be more deliberate about it. I am not going to turn my email notifications back on. I just don’t need THAT much notifying and I certainly don’t need any more reason to spend more time.
Please remember that what gets posted on social media is not the whole of you, and it also isn’t the whole of anyone else. It is just a snippet, a glimpse, a piece. Real life is more than that.