For Lent this year, I went on a Facebook Fast.
I did peek at it from time to time.
But I gave up posting.
Well, I posted only ONE thing during Lent. It was a news story about a killer who was in a satanic cult that kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered a number of young women in the 1970s. He was getting out of jail and was going to be moving to a nearby suburb. I wanted to warn people, and I figured God would forgive me for giving up my Lenten promise for this reason. I have to be honest here - I know it's possible someone who is friends with me on Facebook saw that post, and so I thought I should fess up.
Now back to the Facebook Fast. Most people who give up Social Media, I've read, feel tremendous relief. They focus their time on other things, don't feel "pressured" to check it (they describe feeling "addicted"), don't feel bad about comparing themselves to other people's lives any longer, and don't really want to go back to it after a hiatus.
Truly, I say kudos to them!
There are many problems with Social Media – I do understand that.
In my opinion, however, I think of Social Media as any good thing that can be abused or misused to the point of being unhealthy.
I see a person abusing Social Media (or being abused BY Social Media) as being similar to the person who has emotional issues and eats until they are unhealthy, or any other circumstance that is similar.
I didn't use Social Media until I was in my 40s and I have only had a positive perspective about it. I was well past my teenage insecurities and saw Facebook, my main Social Media outlet, as a way to connect with other people. My friends and family locally or across the country - even the globe, as I have a few friends living in other countries or at least who travel the world. I like to be friendly with everyone.
In that same spirit, I am the kind of person who likes to work in my yard and see passersby and chat for a few minutes.
Alongside our backyard and the side of our home, we have a public sidewalk that goes up to an elementary school with a playground and adjacent to that sidewalk we have an open field that is used for sports practice.
I love chatting with parents about their children participating in practice, I've known the coach of the soccer club for years, and I see tons of neighbors out with their kids, grandkids and pets, or people simply going for a walk on the sidewalk alongside our yard. This makes for a great way to say "hi" to many people, or stop and chat for a few minutes and catch up.
For me, Social Media is like working in my yard and coming to the fence when someone says hi, or sitting out front in a lawn chair sipping a lemonade, greeting whoever walks by.
For me, Facebook is my Front Porch.
If I HAD a porch I'd sit on it – but we live in a Colonial so it doesn't have a porch – but whatever.
It's just a euphemism for the fact that Facebook is like getting personal letters every day, and I just love that.
And it lets me "send" personal letters to people, too.
Like I said, I enjoy communicating with people, and so I'm a natural for Social Media. I wear my heart on my sleeve and like to tell people what's going on in our lives when it's good, and I like to ask for prayers and support when I need it.
Shorter than a letter, most Social Media posts are a sentence or two, and you can find out a lot in a quick summary and handful of pictures.
What did I miss about Facebook during my hiatus? Here's a laundry list:
Wishing people happy birthday, happy anniversary, congratulations on that college acceptance, congratulations on getting that job, happy retirement, congratulating someone's kid on that great game, acknowledging I'll pray for your sick relative or pet, saying "great vacation photos!" saying "your new home is awesome!" saying "it's magical to see your little one!" and so many, many more well wishes.
I also wasn't able to explain what our family was doing, what my feelings were about any topic, share something funny, post meaningful quotes, ask for support, share our celebrations, etc.
The lesson of Lent is being in the desert – away from all the things you're familiar with – to learn whom you really are.
It reinforced what I already knew - that I am a person who thrives on regular social connection, both on Social Media and in person. Taking that step away from connectedness and into the desert helped make that clearer for me, helped underscore that I wasn't just participating in meaningless chatter - that my Social Media is based on REAL people who mean a lot to me, and I to them.
Some good folk do tell me regularly that Social Media isn't real, and that it's a time-waster that makes people feel bad about themselves and that it causes people to compare their lives with others.
This article in Forbes "6 Ways Social Media Affects Our Mental Health"spells out what you probably have already heard about the damaging effects of scrolling through posts. It's all true.
These findings, while accurate for many, don't apply to my life and the people that I know who use Facebook or any other Social Media.
- While I hate phone calls for the most part, (and to think, I used to be on the phone for hours in high school!), Social Media actually does give me a lift. Here's some more ways it benefits me:
- Seeing my friends and family in pictures throughout the day makes me happy
- I belong to a Facebook Group founded by a friend I'd lost touch with (I've known her since 4th grade) which has the sole purpose of finding ways of expressing gratitude and ways to make the best of each day – she posts very early - 4:30 AM before she swims before work - so her posts help me make the most of my waking time
People's vacation photos shows me places I may want to visit, let me reminisce about places I've loved visiting, or if I expect I probably won't visit there, the lovely photos allow me to see places I may not get to see in person
- Same for restaurants people visit – I love photos of their meals and drinks, and atmosphere/views from the restaurants - charming and fun!
- I love seeing people's lives and what they're doing – and their kids and grandkids, too
- I want to have a way to love and support people when they need it. People post about what they're suffering through on Social Media, when maybe they would have kept it to themselves, or maybe aren't close enough to call me. When you feel awful, seeing messages with love from your friends builds you up
We are fortunate to live in an area with wonderful neighbors and we have been blessed with good friends. We have a loving family, both nuclear and extended.
Is life perfect? Hell no. But that is part of the Human Condition. And living through the Human Condition means connecting with others in a variety of ways.
This essay does NOT mean that I don't recognize the damaging effects of Social Media on people, especially young people who aren't fully formed emotionally in so many ways, and who feel beaten down by what they see and read.
I fully understand that for young people especially, Social Media can play with what they know is true – that what they see is the "highlight" reel and they compare that with their "behind the scenes" life.
I do talk with regularly about this with both kids. Daughter's intellect knows better; but her emotions at age 18 still gets caught up in the comparing game and it does affect her. Daughter wears her heart on her sleeve, and she still tells me a lot about her feelings.
Son says he recognizes this about social media, and also says he doesn't look at social postings much, and he doesn't make many, to my knowledge. I think he has two pictures on Instagram. As is typical for a boy his age of 15, he holds his cards close to the vest. He reveals much less about this life than his sister does. He and I do talk regularly and I always encourage him to speak with me about anything – he seems to be holding up fine and not very concerned about Social Media.
If there are problems with Social Media, I could take away my kids' phones and/or shut downt their accounts. But I made a decision long ago that like it or not, Social Media is a part of our society and even if you don't have it, all the other kids will be talking about it, using it and my kids admitted they'd feel too left out if they had no access.
So the choice is to navigate the potential minefield that Social Media is for so many, and keep up a dialog about it. Take the good with the bad, figure out how to deal.
For the child who is insecure, compares, is anxious or gets depressed, this is harder.
Ultimately, the young person WILL need to learn self-regulation.
Some kids come to this naturally; others have a struggle.
As an adult, I hope to show my kids that I use Social Media for its best possible attributes.
If they are having trouble doing that right now – and let's face it, they are teens living in a world very different from my middle-age friendships and worldview – that is part of growing up and learning to make the healthy changes necessary for one's own mental and physical health.
Now, regarding my decision to remove myself from something - the question begs: Will I go into a desert place again?
Yes – although this time, I think a weekend silent retreat would be better for me. I do like time by myself (but still like to have people around me/nearby) as I enjoy my quiet solitude.
My mind is ever busy, and for that retreat I would be making the effort to NOT TALK – not even in my head to myself – to stretch that part of my brain into a new way of thinking – because it's a growth area for me. To be silent, if even for a little while.
And no matter how I choose to do it, when I grow, I'm a better person for me and for all those around me.
That is what I hope to teach my kids.
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