About a year ago I started considering whether the benefits of social media were actually worth it. Several times I very nearly deleted my facebook account, but two primary reasons held me back. One of those reasons is gone now, and the other I decided was just an illusion. The short story is I’m done, but here’s the longer thought process behind it.
Reason 1: Social media gives me an opportunity to use my voice and to make a positive impact.
I have lived half my childhood and now adulthood overseas. I regularly interact with people of different cultures and religion (particularly Islam). However, I still have one foot in American culture & American Christian subculture. There is grief in the rootlessness of this reality, but I’ve also thought that perhaps there is a gift in it. Perhaps the gift I can give is an outsider’s perspective who understands the inside. So I interact on social media to offer that perspective and to challenge the sometimes myopic view that is inherent to those who simply haven’t had experience with different ways of thinking.
Every “spiritual gifts” test I’ve ever taken has told me that I am prophetic, and my personality profile (ENFJ) tells me that I “radiate authenticity, concern and altruism, unafraid to stand up and speak when they feel something needs to be said.” This has been true for me, and in past years, I think it was a good thing. But the world has changed, and I am afraid the medium of facebook et al is no longer viable for me to do advocacy and “prophetic” well.
We are a divided people now. It seems that the days of having authentic, two-way dialogue is gone. Now an expression of an opinion, no matter how well or how badly expressed, is assumed to be a line in the sand. All words are fighting words even if they were never intended to be.
I am tired of fighting.
And I no longer believe that my voice matters in this particular sphere. I fear that it is not received as loving or bone deep aching desire to see us to better – to BE better. Rather I fear my voice is just more noise adding to the division that is ruining us. I can’t participate in that any longer if I am only a gong.
Reason 2: Real relationships are maintained by social media only if they exist outside of social media as well.
Ten years ago, I started a facebook account because my college friends started getting married and having babies. And I wanted to see pictures! As we moved overseas, and then moved overseas again, I began to believe that social media would help me keep relationships. I thought if I saw pictures of children that I love growing up, somehow that meant that I know them. I thought if I knew the random daily activities of old friends, somehow that meant we still have a relationship.
It doesn’t, and I cannot articulate the grief that this realization has caused.
Pictures and unimportant interactions are simply not real relationships. They are joyful icing on actual ones. Just because people see my kids does not mean they are a part of their lives. It does not mean I am a part of their kids lives either. I have to let some of the not-actually-real relationships die a natural death… or acknowledge that they are already gone. I believe that still living relationships that I have don’t need social media to continue to flourish, but social media acts to mask the reality of death in too many old friendships.
The pain involved in choosing to let go would probably be enough to keep me from doing it, if I didn’t believe that the obscene amount of energy that I put into maintaining dead relationships could bring new life in my new home. There are relationships here that I can’t have because I have no time for them. There are ways that I get my social needs met online rather than by people in my flesh and blood community. I believe that there might be a gift in this somehow, even though it is excruciating.
So I’m making some personal changes.
* I’ll still have messenger & WhatsApp because texting is SO much easier with a 12-15 hour times difference with the Western hemisphere, and the group feature is awesome.
* I am still a verbal/writing processor, and I still love to engage with theology, current events, and social justice issues that I am thinking through. But I’ll be taking those conversations to more intimate circles or to my own “space” here on this blog.
* I haven’t let go of facebook completely. It’s still the easiest way to share cute stories and photos of my kids. I just simply will no longer let myself believe that likes and comments have any significant relational value.
As with anything else in life, we’ll see if this works. If it makes me a more effective leader, a kinder mom and wife, a more intentional friend, and a more consistent disciple of Jesus, I’ll call it a win and keep going. If not, I can always jump back into the social media chaos. I suspect it’ll be the first…