Over the last few months I have been contemplating the effects that social media have on us as individuals and as a society. This has led to reflection on how it affects me personally. I've come to the conclusion that I need to take some actions in my own life to manage social media and it's influence on me better. Let me start by explaining some of my reflections and observations over the last 4 months or so.
I grew up without social media. I'm part of the last generation that wasn't "connected" constantly and to be honest, I've found myself longing for the simplicity and peace of an age before social media. Social media exploded onto the scene when I was in college. I remember a roommate had his computer open to this Facebook thing and I asked him what it was about. Back then, you had to have a .edu email account to even get on Facebook and it was archaic when compared to it's current form. So, as most college students, I jumped on without thinking much about it and to be honest, that has been the state I've lived in ever since. I haven't thought much about it. It's just been normal. It's become natural.
That presents a problem for me, because as with many amoral things, we can not regularly evaluate the impact and effect of them because they start out benign and become so woven into our routine and lifestyle that we can rarely stop and ask if it has become more harmful than good. At least this has been my experience with it. This has led to some significant problems. These problems have grown slowly, incrementally over time. It's like all the small problems that we ignore in life that end up becoming big problems when they are not addressed early on. Over the last 4 months or so, some situations have arisen which have alerted me to the fact that I have been merrily plodding through life and have not considered the impact that social media has had on me, my family, and my disposition. This has led me to identify some significant problems.
My Issues With Facebook
1) Time. I have found myself spending an unhealthy amount of time on Social Media. I'm sure there are many who are in the same boat, but this has come to the forefront. My iPhone has a built in app that tracks the amount of time spent on my phone. I have been monitoring this over the last few months. If the results in general are embarrassing (and they are), the results specifically pertaining to Facebook are appalling. I've found that I am INSTINCTIVELY looking at Facebook ALL. THE. TIME. It's instinctive in that most times I am not even aware I am doing it. In other words it's not a conscious decision so much as a reflex. And I do mean all the time. Standing in line, early in the morning, laying in bed at night, while the kids are playing, after the kids go to bed. It actually is an addiction. It's just unhealthy.
2) Information Overload. I'm convinced that part of being a finite being is that we are not meant to have instant access to a world of information all the time. I remember as a kid if I wanted to find out what my friends were up to, I had to go out and spend time with them (by that I mean track them down) or call them on the phone. Now, I can not only just look on Facebook to see what my friends are up to, but I also have everyone's opinions on literally everything. I am guilty of this as well (I'll come to that in a minute) but I find myself being dragged to information that is given to me rather than being the one to seek it out and it's non-stop. There is almost no time to process anything because there is a rabbit hole of information that we are drawn into where before we know it, 40 minutes has passed and have followed a trail of breadcrumbs that take us someplace totally different than where we intended to go in the first place. Not only that, Facebook basically determines what I see using some algorithm and the settings offered seem to be an illusion of control over what you see without making a significant impact at all.
3) "Friends" I don't know. This is another big one. There is this strange pressure to accept every friend request we get these days (more on that in a minute). So over the last few months, I've realized that this platform is actually impacting my relationships in a negative way... or at least, if left unchecked, will eventually do so (I'm not sure which it is yet). I woke up and realized that of the people I am "friends" with on Facebook, I actually know very few of them and am actual friends with less. What this amounts to, is letting all kinds of people that I don't know have access to my life (since Facebook has become basically a day by day update of our lives). This creates the illusion of friendship when actual friendship is not present. This again comes back to the finite being thing. We aren't designed (at least I'm not designed) to have thousands of "friends". None of us can sustain that and have actual relationships. Let me put this in perspective... Jesus ministered to the crowds, he had 12 men he invested in, and three of them were closest to him. And that's Jesus. I've discovered that I don't have the relational capacity to keep up with the number of Facebook "friends" I have... which amounts to this... I'm lying about who my actual friends are. You might not have this conviction (and that's fine), but I've realized that this is unhealthy for me.
4) Non stop drama and chaos. Facebook is a place where everyone gives their opinion about everything (I include myself in this). I am convinced that this is unhealthy for a few reasons. First, you don't have to sit down and look someone in the eye when you disagree with them which leads to unhealthy disagreement. Second, it becomes less about hearing others and more about being heard. Third, the culture is such that I am convinced that no online arguments are productive. Fourth, this leads to people conjuring up drama and conflict when there shouldn't be drama or conflict. It's like a reality TV show that creates drama for the sake of entertainment and "likes". Fifth, at least for me, this has led to a situation where I am being robbed of joy. I find myself being drawn into conflict and unhealthy, unhelpful debates on a regular basis. I am surrounding myself with drama and chaos. This means that emotional capacity is taken from me that should be given to my church and family. This also means that I put myself in situations which result in frustration which affects my focus, joy and moods. I honestly am tired of the non-stop drama, arguing, chaos and conflict that Facebook has become. For me, it's best to take measures to end that. I think we all need time where we unplug from other people are are just present in our own lives and the lives of our families. That is certainly the case for me.
5) Unhealthy pressure. I find myself feeling an unhealthy pressure through facebook. Part of this comes from my role as a pastor of a church. I have been criticized for not "liking" posts in the past of some people while "liking" posts of others. When a friend has a birthday and I post "happy birthday", I find myself wondering if it will upset someone because I missed their birthday or not posting at all because I don't want to unintentionally offend someone when I don't post on their wall on their birthday. To be clear, in many cases, this is not anyone's fault and they might not even give a rip if I say "happy birthday", but for some it is. I've found, for me, that there is a pressure (whether self-imposed or not) that I can never live up to... nor do I want to (for the reasons listed above).
6) Short attention span. Facebook has significantly shortened my attention span. I find myself opening an article and seeing how long it is then scanning for the highlights. I've noticed I read click bait titles without considering the content. I will actually at times "like" something without fully reading it. Scroll, scroll, scroll... there's always something new the more you scroll. This is transferring to other areas of life and it is just unhealthy.
7) Unloving to my family. As I have alluded to, I think this has been harmful to my family. I don't want to look back at life when my kids are grown and wish I had spent less time on Facebook and more time with them. Worse than that, I don't want my kids to think that some article or scrolling mindlessly through Facebook was more important than listening to them and being present with them. I find myself looking at Facebook instinctively when there is a moment of silence. I don't even give my full attention to a movie my wife and I are watching because my phone is out. As you might be able to tell, this runs deeper than just Facebook and speaks to phone use in general, but as I have reflected, Facebook is the main distraction on my phone. The issue is I don't want to be on Facebook so much and am struggling to make that happen because, as I said, Facebook has become instinctual. I've concluded that it is unloving to my wife and my children and I don't want to communicate to them what I have unintentionally communicated... that the lives of others and articles that they post are more important than my life with my family and investing in my relationship with them.
Facebook Exit Plan
With all of that said, I want to clarify... this is not Facebook's fault nor is it the fault of others on Facebook. This is my fault. I have failed to manage and control Facebook and instead have allowed it to manage and control me. No more. I'm convinced, if for no other reason than for my own health and the health of my family, that I am going to make some significant changes to my social media presence. I've had enough of the vitriol, chaos and drama. I'm done with the relational cost. I'm not going to give my wife or kids a reason to question my love for and devotion to them. So... starting in January, I'm making some changes.
1) Toxic groups are out. I'm leaving almost all groups.
2) Friend list will be culled. I have debated the best way to go about this. Facebook is a tool and it's up to each of us how we use that tool. I've considered whether or not I should just delete the "friends" I don't know and it has just come back to how I want to use Facebook. Therefore, I will be making drastic changed to who I am "friends" with. I'm going to limit it to family and close friends. People who actually know me (not the social media me) and my family. Facebook will be a tool to keep in touch with people I know from different places we've lived as well as family and a few close local friends. Please don't take offense if you find I've unfriended you. I know in our current climate that is an insult. It's not intended that way. It just comes down to how I want to use Facebook in my life.
3) For those of you who would like to read content that I put out, I would direct you to my "page" (you can find it here). This is where I will post public content that I want the world to be able to see. I will not however be debating or engaging in online arguments. If you see something and want to talk with me about it, let's talk in person.
4) I will also be culling the pages I "like". I will continue to follow ministries and pastors that I have found to be helpful as well as some other pages that produce content that will help me grow and develop, but the list will be much smaller.
5) As a side note, I will also be putting my phone on night mode when I am home and making some changes to my phone usage. For those in Arbor Drive, if there is an emergency, you can call the office and leave me a message and that voicemail will go to my email immediately and notify me. Other than that, I don't believe that anyone should be able to be immediately contacted for anything at any time.
Thank you for reading and for understanding. Again, this is not personal. This is my own issue that I need to take ownership of. I have made excuses for a long time on an issue that I have been aware of, and has even been pointed out to me, but never addressed.
Jon is husband to Carlee, Papa to Finleigh, Ainsley, and Olivia, a pastor at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne, and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast