This is the fourth post in our series “Discovering God, Discovering Womanhood, Discovering Me,” written to help women learn more their relationship with God as they delve into what it means to be a woman of faith. To read the third post, click here.
Looking back, I can honestly say there was a time where my phone could have been called my “best friend.” Think about it. It came with me everywhere I went, it was the first thing I checked in the morning, the last thing I did before I went to bed, and was an integral part of my day. Providing constant refreshes and updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, News, Email, the list goes on… why was I so connected, yet so detached from those around me?
Ellie in Audrey Assad’s short film O Happy Fault quotes, “I am devoted to distraction.”
I’ll never forget watching this film my freshman year of college with my roommate, because what was I doing when I heard this line? I was scrolling on my phone, doing exactly that—being devoted to distraction while not being present to who I was with, or what I was watching. I was embarrassed, and the quote has stuck with me since.
I began to ask myself, why am I a consumer of social media? Why am I on this platform? Am I using this media as a tool, or am I letting it use me? This is the crisis for the majority of Western millennials: consuming or being consumed. We’re surrounded by excess and a simple click is the only responsibility we have to take in more and more. Why else would YouTube have autoplay or Netflix have a “next up” feature, with little deliberation or conscious choice on our end?
I grew up with a steady progression of media becoming more intimately a part of our lives, and the changes have been drastic. When I was younger, we had one computer in the house, in our shared family room. But by the time I hit high school, it was common for some families to have multiple laptops in the house, and our shared desktop was traded in for individual computers. But none of this impacted me more than when I received my first smart phone.
It was an instantaneous shift to my daily life. This new companion held all the world’s information, now accessible to me at any time, at age 16! It’s actually hard to think about my life before I had this full license and immersion in social media.
What I do know is that before my phone, I had a lot more time on my hands, and a lot less consumption of content that in turn consumed me with the implicit and explicit expectations of how my life should look.
With my phone, I now had over a thousand “friends” on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and their “lives” became a part of my daily life. I quote the words “friends” and “lives” because in some cases, these “friends” were people I vaguely knew, met once, or were people with whom I had little meaningful connection.
Regardless of whether I knew this “friend” on a personal level or not, it was incredibly difficult to achieve that “meaningful connection” I longed for with another. The scrolling and liking and commenting are an exchange of only the parts of our lives that were carefully cropped, filtered, captioned—it’s an edited encounter.
I’m both proud and embarrassed at my ability to edit a photo and compose a fitting caption, all to a tee. I have scrutinized and constructed and filtered my life to appear a certain way online. I’ve changed my “aesthetic” countless times: my bios, my profile pictures, and my captions, all striving to meet ever-changing ideals. Hoping to be thoughtful and inspiring, yet fun and exciting, but also witty and intelligent… There was no way to keep up with this multifaceted online personality. This isn’t to say that all of my posts previous to writing this were all fake and calculated, but there was always a certain amount of insecurity involved in my posting. I didn’t want people to know how often I actually thought about social media, all the while trying to make my appearance on social media seem carefree, hiding that I was constantly refreshing, refreshing, refreshing.
That word, “refresh,” is actually the most articulate way I can describe what I was seeking to feel. I wanted to be refreshed. I wanted to be connected, to find something that would interest me or spark my attention. I was looking for something beautiful.
I want to be very clear that I’m not saying social media is an evil in of itself, or saying that there aren’t beautiful and real things present there. I’ve been encouraged and enlightened by many stories, posts, and hearts of people looking to share and connect, and in some ways I’ve been bettered by these kinds of creators.
But I think in many ways, I’ve taken the easy way out, and tried to garner connection and the exchange of thought through social media rather than make the effort with those in my physical surroundings first. There is so much to be learned from those around us, and how often do I dismiss the creativity and wisdom from those in my immediate grasp who have the title of “Mom,” “co-worker,” or “lifelong friend?”
I’m seeking for a deeper connection, a love that goes past sharing a digitized thumbs up or heart. It started as a casual joke, but I really didn’t want my phone to be my best friend. I knew that social media wasn’t satisfying me, yet I was utterly addicted. There was a dependence upon those who I followed and their updates, while the idea of having “followers” fueled a self-imposed pressure to share content in a certain way or to be a certain way. Without other options, and knowing something needed to change, I made a big step in my lifestyle nine weeks ago, and I signed off from social media to see how my life would look, and to figure out if I could begin to tackle this “devotion to distraction.”
And here we are, nine weeks in.
I’ve been surprised with how “easy” it’s been to go completely off the social media platform, but also how easy it is to give into distraction, just in general. I still have the Internet on my phone, and I’ll catch myself looking up something entirely random, or even trying to organize apps on my phone. (Seriously, it got that low). I’ve been trained to be spending a large amount of screen time every day, and when I have a moment of free space, I’ll instinctively lean toward my phone or computer, even when there’s no functional reason to. I still have the tendencies to fill my craving for answers, intimacy, or fulfillment from something “shared” off the Internet. I often have to fight to do the things that have always been the last things I would think of in my free time: prayer, meaningful reading, practices of mindfulness and relaxation, even just plain old thinking, trying to stretch my mind and heart.
I’m still on the journey, but what have I learned so far?
Well, I learned a lot about myself. I had a lot of “connections” with people through social media, but they were (this is almost painfully obvious) superficially rooted in social media. I engage with a lot less people these days, and now that I’m “out of the loop,” I have a lot more incentive to check in with the people who are important to me. Following from that, I have a lot more time to spend time with the ones I love, my family and friends. Instead of “unwinding” by refreshing Instagram, I now can make the effort to be a more connected family member, or to give a close friend a phone call to really ask them, “how are you?” I don’t want to cover my bases in being a friend by looking through their pictures or from a quick comment. This is taking on a greater responsibility, but now with a smaller “home base” of connections, it’s a greater balance: choosing depth over the width, not choosing “how many” but “how much.”
I’ve also discovered so much more about myself as an individual. I’m not currently involved with platforms where I’m constantly absorbing the content of my peers’ lifestyles and “what’s in.” I have much more time to explore what actually interests me and to use free time to learn more about the things I’m passionate about, rather than checking in on everyone else’s Monday or the previous night out.
What do I still have to learn?
Balance. I don’t expect to never come back to social media, but for the time being I think this is the healthiest lifestyle for me. I’m still figuring out when—and more importantly how—I’ll integrate social media back into my life. I’m interested to hear from you how you have achieved balance in this area, or what is preventing you from doing so.
To reiterate, I’m not looking down on social media or users of social media, (remember how much I talked about how I loved it?), but I’m trying to seek relational integrity. Right now I’m not in a place to use social media well and to not let it use me. The key word is “let.” We have a role in our usership in how we consume content online, and I firmly believe that deeper reflection will guide us to determine how much time we give to social media, and what it gives us in return.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks remarks that there are three questions that each individual must face:
“Who am I?
Why am I here?
How then, shall I live?”
My hope is that we can examine these questions earnestly and let the third question, “How then, shall I live” direct our answer in how to responsibly use the privilege of information and media. I challenge you to take a break from the “excess” content you’re currently absorbing on a daily basis and to ask yourself why and how you’re using it. It could be a day, a week, however long you feel will be an adequate time for reflection and examination as to what your life looks like without the excess. Then, equipped with the insight from the time of the fast, may we come to a fuller understanding of ourselves, and what we’re really searching for outside of the distraction among us.