So, I’ve been thinking about doing this for at least a month and a half now. Thought about making a clean break at the beginning of the new year, but I didn’t. Maybe I couldn’t. It’s been sort of a lonely few months anyway, what with the transition back home and without the daily interaction of the classroom. But I still can’t shake the idea that a little time away from social media would do me some good.
Facebook is the only connection I have to some of my people from the last couple years, and the only connection I have to people from my past with whom I’ve reconnected. Would I be able to maintain a connection if I walked away from social media? Likely not, to be honest. I could barely keep up with my pen pals back in the days when letter writing was how we kept in touch. Does anybody use email these days for anything other than brief, productive, essential communication any more anyway (beside me, who still uses it to write like I would in a real letter, I’m sure to the annoyance of the ones who receive them)? …For that matter, does anyone actually READ their email (my teacher husband would say probably not, at least as it pertains to his students…)?
Could I really step away from Facebook and Twitter? Meh. Probably. The times I’ve tried before, though, it’s been more stepping back, of not responding, of not posting. But I still read others’ posts. That’s what I had a hard time letting go –not so much FOMO (that’s “Fear Of Missing Out”), but fear of not finding out something I should know. And in some corners of my world, Facebook is a communal online calendar and newsletter of events.
So, why quit? That’s where I’ve been in this month and a half. Why walk away? Primarily, it’s a concern about the amount of time I spend attached to social media (for me, only Facebook and to a lesser amount, Twitter. I don’t understand Snapchat, and Pinterest lost its glimmer about a week in). It’s a mind-numbing comfort. Reaching for our phones in times of awkward silence or empty moments has become a tic for most of us. I hate how that habit has dulled my ability to pay attention to the world around me. I used to be quite observant, a person who didn’t miss much. Now, though? I think my phone habits are eroding that ability, and if you write, you know that the skill of careful observation is essential to writing well.
I hate that Facebook is such an easy way to craft an alternate identity. I hate that it so often becomes a way of framing my existence, of editing out the things I don’t want to reveal and billboarding every detail that I want the world to know about me (example: do I really look like ANY of the selfies I’ve ever taken? I doubt it). More than that, though, I think it’s weakened our collective ability to have constructive face-to-face discussions on things we disagree about.
Early on, I made a conscious decision to avoid discussing politics on Facebook (that’s more of what I use my Twitter account for, where two-way discourse is a little more concise and, to be honest, difficult). I have seen a handful of occasions where friends have had constructive, civil, even loving disagreements on Facebook. But it’s the exception, not the rule. I decided early on that I prefer to discuss that kind of thing personally, where I can read a person’s tone and communicate my own more clearly, so I use my Facebook account for other things. As they say, that’s JMHO. Just my humble opinion.
I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum, and as I’ve decided where my own politics fall, I’ve found myself limiting how much I see from friends who have a pattern of declaring their allegiance to parties, policies, and politicians I disagree with. And I hate that. I hate that I can control that corner of my online existence with the selection of a box or an addition or deletion to a list. It takes a lot for me to unfriend someone unless I just plain don’t know them, but I’ve unfollowed plenty of people –particularly November before last. It got to the point one week in November of 2016 that all it took for me to start looking for the “unfollow” box was one too many political posts (or, worse, memes) that hit me the wrong way, and you were gone from my feed, at least for a while. It helped, a little, but I hated that I had that much control over the thing, which now is sort of my window on the world some days. I value the fact that my circle of friends is diverse, and the idea that I can sweep through and filter out the opinions I don’t like doesn’t feel right at all.
Back when my kids were very little and I was housebound with them most days, I discovered an online message board of Christian moms. It became my community, and, to be honest, I spent far too much time online, particularly in seasons when I was fighting depression. I stopped reading books. I quit making things, quit making art. I seldom wrote. Cooking and housekeeping became a chore only done when completely necessary, with much internal resistance and unspoken resentment. I lost the joy in completing everyday tasks. This group of moms became my escape -and though they got me through a lot of the tough parts of new motherhood (and for that, I value the experience), I regret the time I could have spent calling someone to go for coffee or take the kids to the park together, like people used to. I regret the times I spent the kids’ naptime on the computer instead of being creative or filling my own (empty) well. Three years ago, I deactivated my account there with significant trepidation. I realized that I’d outgrown the need for it. It took fully two weeks to quit the knee-jerk reflex of typing in the address to the board when I first sat down to the computer, but eventually, I found all kinds of freedom and time that I’d missed. Unfortunately, however, I’ve found that what used to be message board time has eventually become Facebook time, particularly once I got a smartphone and my “friends who live in a lighted box” could be carried with me everywhere. Sure, I read more now, I’m knitting again, I write, and I study, but I still spend too much time in virtual reality.
So, I’m thinking it’s time to step away for a while. Not sure for how long, but I need to pull the plug for a bit, to find my balance again and relearn how to connect with people and watch the world in my spare time and learn to enjoy awkward silences again. I’m resisting even announcing this, because nothing says “self-righteous flounce” like someone who announces they’re quitting social media for good (implied: AND YOU SHOULD TOO).
I’m writing this more to figure out why I can’t let go of the idea that I should quit for a while than to write a manifesto against social media. I’m not saying that it’s not a good thing, mostly. I’m just not sure I’m using it well, myself.
I’m hoping that I’ll relearn how to communicate with more depth, to think before I write in a different way –instead of in a defensive sense (how will people reply to this and who will read it?), in a way that communicates with depth and complexity. Depth that can’t be found in 144 or even 288 characters. Depth that reveals what I want to reveal, but teaches me as I write about even the things I can’t or don’t control. I want my sense of mystery back. I want to talk to someone and not have them reply, “yeah, I read that the other day…” I want silence again. I want a life without so much distraction, and I want, for once, for my friends to be found outside the lighted boxes on my desk and in my pocket.
So, if you need me for the next while, you can find me via email (my name at gmail dot com) and occasionally around here. I just might respond with an effusively wordy, completely obnoxiously wandering conversational reply that you’ll probably ignore anyway.