Over Spring Break our family took a week-long road trip. We posted on Facebook some, and sent family a few pictures, but for the most part, we made a conscious decision not to post about the trip too much. That was partly out of not wanting to be annoying oversharers, you know, one of those people. But I think a more important reason is that we wanted to focus on what was right in front of us, and not spend half our vacation on a screen.
I’ve posted about social media before, and that led me to do a #30DayHonestFacebook challenge. Instead of putting on a front, and only posting the good stuff going on in life, I tried my best to be honest for a month. This past week I pretty much stayed off social media, and it wasn’t even on purpose. We were busy driving, eating, hiking, and sleeping. The urge to check Facebook and Twitter just wasn’t there, and that was a really nice feeling.
Often times on social media I’ll catch myself scrolling through posts trying to stay plugged in to what others are doing. I want to press that LIKE button to make sure people know I’m paying attention and care about them. But after a few minutes and a few dozens flicks of my thumb, I’ll hear a voice in my head. That voice always tells me the same thing: This is a huge waste of time. It’s not that the people are a waste of time, but the mostly mindless interaction with a screen doesn’t develop the deep relationships most of us crave.
I can tell myself that without Facebook I’ll get left behind, or friends won’t think I care, but that’s not true. I don’t even like Facebook, so why do I let it suck me in? Then I start to think about writing, and whether or not this is worth my time. After spending a week focused solely on my kids and my wife, even sitting down to write out my thoughts seems like a futile exercise in trying to feel relevant. This is definitely more engaging than mindless Facebook scrolling, but I could do without the desire to feel important and have my voice heard for me to be valued.
It’s really weird how social media has become this tool to help us stay connected, but it so often does the opposite. It sucks away my time like a black hole. It steals my attention from everything right in front of me. It puts relevance on an unattainable pedestal, and that has me thinking about my long-term plans.
Happier Without It?
Intentionally or not, I gave up social media for a week and really enjoyed life without Facebook and Twitter. To be clear, I don’t put texting and other chat apps on the same level. That sort of interaction is really no different from writing letters to people, except that they’re instantaneous, and we have emojiis instead of having to draw pictures. I’d imagine that back in the day when you could start mailing letters to people, there was some crotchety old guy that said you should ride your horse to someone’s house if you wanted to talk to them, and sending a letter was impersonal. Then phones came around, and now, instead of taking the time to write a nice letter, you just called the person. “No one takes the time to write letters anymore!” screams the even older and even crotchetier old man.
From spoken language, to handwritten letters, to phones, to phones without wires, all of this communication is largely the same. It’s generally private and between a couple of people, and the only thing that has changed is the speed and format of the communication. The format has changed but the purpose is the same. You could ask people how they’re doing, catch them up on how you’re doing, and develop your relationship.
Social media is a completely different animal. The communication is no longer personal. What you say is on display for anywhere from a couple hundred to millions of people to see. Instead of primarily being communication between people with established relationships, social media gives people who don’t even know each other a platform for communication. These changes fundamentally change the purpose of the communication.
That’s not inherently good or bad, but it is different. Take Twitter for example. I’ve seen some awesome communication between complete strangers in the world of Math. Teachers (like myself), asking other teachers questions about what has worked well in their classrooms. It has provided a platform for people to share ideas quickly and openly. At the same time, there’s another side of Twitter that is a giant dumpster fire. Petty, constant, and childish arguing with strangers on everything from politics to religion. It’s like all the people who believe they are God’s gift to the world join together to scream at each other in a cacophony of opinions. Shame people you disagree with, win the argument at all costs, and feign any real interest in trying to understand someone else.
Looking to the Future
I’ve read articles about my generation, and how there is something really unique about growing up in the 1980’s as a kid, and then being around in the 1990’s for the explosion of the internet and computers. We experienced VCRs and landlines, but also Netflix and cellphones. We experienced High School without the stress of social media, but then saw the rise of Geocities and Myspace and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.
What does the future of social media look like? What does life look like for my kids, who will never know a world without follower counts? How do I protect them and teach them responsible consumption? What are the real reasons we’re using social media so much, and is that actually leading to deep and meaningful relationships?
Maybe the answer is as easy as “all things in moderation,” but maybe that minimizes the impact that social media can have on our lives. What we’re using, and why we’re using it are important questions to consider. Instead of accepting the status quo, it’s worth thinking about what we want life to look like now, and years down the road. I want people to have better things to say at my funeral than, “He was an avid Facebook user and a witty Tweeter.”