I remember the day that I decided that I wanted to trade-in my Razr flip phone for a fancy looking computer-ish phone. I don’t think I even knew to call it a Smartphone back then. Little did I know that I would enter into a decade long dance with this distracting little device that I can never seem to part with. I, like many others in my generation, was immediately mesmerized by the vast array of tasks that my little device could do at the simple tap of my finger.
Over the years–and especially in the second-half of my thirties–my phone has become a pure and utter distraction in my life. My social media apps, and Instagram specifically, lure me in whenever I find a moment of down time. Waiting in line at the grocery store, sitting in the pick-up line at school, and even in my car in my driveway have always seemed like good times to check my phone. Sometimes checking Instagram seems like I neutral and harmless distraction from my daily routine. No harm here, I tell myself, and truly–what is the harm?
Social media is incredibly nuanced for me. On the one hand I love social media. I love crafting the perfect picture and writing a meaningful caption. I love using Stories to share things that are meaningful to me. Not only do I love sharing these things with others, but I love documenting my own life just for myself. I enjoy looking back at the things that I shared in stories and on my feed. In fact, most years my Christmas card photos come directly from my Instagram pictures. Also, I love seeing what other people are up to. I like looking at new baby photos and new houses. I love feeling connected to friends and family that are far away. Let me be honest, I am totally reliant on Facebook to remind me of everyones birthday.
In addition to all those good things, there are more. The people I follow on Instagram specifically have poured into my life spiritually. I’ve learned more about justice, racial reconciliation, and much of my political views have been informed by voices that I truly value and respect on social media platforms. There is good there. There is good stuff on social media–without a doubt.
So what’s the problem? The problem, for me, is more subtle. In fact, in conversation, it is much easier for me to put words around what I like about social media than what about it is unhealthy. If I had to put it into a phrase I would say this: Social media influences me too much. Truly, I’m ashamed to admit some of the things I’ve done, tried, said, worn, bought, posted about purely because I was influenced into action by something I saw on Instagram. Some of these ventures have been fulfilling and spiritually valuable (like finding the work of Emily P. Freeman) others have been taxing and overwhelming (like my brief stint as a Beachbody coach).
Social media also has a sneaky way of influencing how I feel. Sitting at work in the middle of February and seeing a friend on a cruise is some tropical location always makes me feel like my life sucks. When I see pictures of a perfectly staged house, I always feel like my house is totally inadequate. When I see someone else’s kids doing something incredible, I always wonder if I’m raising my kids the right way. I’m not always conciously aware that my mood has shifted, but when I am it alarms me that something I saw on my phone that has nothing to with me has somehow–even in a small way–negatively impacted my day.
What I still haven’t figured out is simply this: does the benefit I receive from a social media presence outweigh the cost to my mood and life? Sometimes I feel like I am receiving more benefit than cost, and other times it feels like I am paying more than I am receiving. In the book Digital Minimalism Cal Newport argues that an activity that provides “some benefit” doesn’t necessarily justify the cost in minutes, hours and days of our lives. The older I get the more I realize the endless array of options for I spend my time–some beneficial and some wasteful. The question that I always come back to is this: is time spent on social media the the best way for me to use my time or is this just an easy way for me to use my time?
So what to do? Once again, I’m not really sure. I’m still figuring this one out, and it’s probably going to take me awhile. My position on this may even shift with the season of my life. I know though that I really enjoyed my time away from social media in January. I’ve been back “on” for a little over two weeks now, and I’ve already downloaded an app (called Freedom) to keep me off my phone simply because my phone is once again distracting me too much. Also, I’m going to give up social media again for the 40 days of Lent with the hope that I will gain a bit more perspective on it.
If you’ve read this far, I’d love to know–what is your relationship with social media? Do you ever wonder what role it plays in your life? I’d love to know!