June 21, 2016

My Battle w/Social Media & Why I'm Leaving the Party (Again)

by , in
I'm known for being not quite up to speed with millennial norms. I got my first smartphone during the summer of 2014 and I held out until December of that same year before I broke down and created an Instagram account. I've tried Twitter, but I honestly just don't get it. And there are several other venues I don't use simply due to ignorance. For the longest time I didn't understand what Instagram was or how to use it. (It was similar to how I currently perceive Snapchat. It seemed like Instagram was the annoying, less mature little brother of Facebook.)

I finally took the plunge the day after an epic ice cream eating extravaganza. I was asked (via Facebook) if anyone Instagrammed our night. So I scrambled to sign up. I quickly posted a picture from the night before and pretended like I knew exactly what I was doing. (In case you didn't know, an Instagram is NOT an Instagram if it isn't instant. If you post a picture after the fact, it becomes a #latergram. Rookie mistake! P.S. I hate that I know that.) At first, Instagram was a harmless tool used to share harmless images with my friends.

Yes, my view of Instagram (and social media in general) sure has changed, but my definition of harmless has changed more. Ice cream and snow shoes to my bare pregnant belly in the locker room to a never-ending feed of Wally baby images neatly fanned out for a bunch of strangers to see. I told myself that the selfies were only because I was pregnant...To think that I was once convinced I wouldn't share any images of my kid on social media for the sake of his privacy. (It sickens me that when I just Googled my name, pictures of Wally were in the results.)

First it was Facebook. Then it was Instagram. And now my phone and apps in general have become utterly detrimental to my mental health and to my experiences. The "reward high" has me obsessively tracking my relationships, my habits, even my water intake. It has me nearly unwilling to let go of my social media "connections," terrified to not have Instagram during a wicked cool family trip for fear of not getting that "you're awesome" high, scared to delete anything permanently, and cringing at the idea of shutting off my phone or leaving it at home.

What did people do before phones? They lived. Which is ironic because we THINK that we can't live without our phones and computers, yet true living happens in the actual experience, not our documentation of it.

What would happen if I didn't allow social media access to our upcoming trip to Alaska? Would the experience suffer or my people pleasing / approval addiction? And what would happen if I removed social media from my relationships? Would my relationships suffer or would I suffer because then I'd be forced to confront my fears? Afraid to not matter. Afraid to be alone. Afraid to miss out.

I only recently learned what FOMO means. Apparently Wally has it. (My response to such an accusation was what on earth did you just say about my child?) Fear of missing out. Wally loves daycare and would rather party than sleep while he's there. In his situation, FOMO is pretty harmless. But in relation to social media, it can lead to addiction. Heck, we're even afraid of not posting and "missing out" on our OWN experiences.

Here's a quick quiz to determine if you're addicted. Do you think of sentences in terms of Facebook statuses and hashtags? Do you live for the Instagrammable moments? Does your heart sink at the thought of losing, breaking, or forgetting your phone?

In a defensive argument I explained to James that I NEED my smartphone. What would I do without it? To which James neatly replied, you'd do what everyone did before smartphones. (I SO admire James here. He doesn't have a smartphone or any social media account.) He didn't need to explain further; I knew what he meant. There were a lot of things we all used to be just FINE at before the world of computers started to convince us otherwise.

Have I really forgotten how to navigate? How to be a friend? And how to drink water?

Excuse the drama, but are computers—the things that supposedly make us superior to other mammals—the crux of our de-evolution? James says that Facebook is phase one of The Matrix and I've gotta say, I'm really starting to believe him.

I feel like my head has been in the sand this whole time, like I've just woken up despite repeated attempts to be free from the death grip of a machine. I feel cheated out of the fullness of my experiences. As I look back on something as significant as the birth of my son, I think about the high I felt when I Instagrammed my pictures. And that's sad. Shouldn't the reward of his birth have been enough. I have to ask, if I was less present on social media during the time, would I have been more present in the joy of my baby?

I never used to post multiple Instagram photos a day. That simple fact led me to recently delete my social media apps, only to reinstall them over the weekend. I guess I was anxious to know what ladies were saying about the bachelorette party (yep, the one I was at). Apparently the experience itself was no longer enough.

An advanced phase of the addiction has to be the complete reversal of priorities, when we begin to seek experience for the sake of social media instead of using social media as a post-experience tool. Addiction: It's when we seek out the experience because of our unstoppable desire to crop, enhance, and filter both words and images.

Contrary to what Instagram might suggest, living in the moment is becoming a lost art.

I know a lot of people (including myself) who have at one time or another decided to take a break from social media, only to eventually return, slowly at first but soon sucked all the way back in, sometimes even deeper than before. I hate that so many people, like myself, KNOW that they're addicted and don't understand just how detrimental the addiction is. We're addicted and we aren't motivated enough to do something about it except make excuses about why staying is supposedly a good idea.

I've come up with plenty of reasons why my participation in social media is okay: I like keeping a diary of my pictures. I have friends over seas I want to stay connected with and even my family is on Facebook. I enjoy photography. I like the way my Instagram pictures look at the bottom of my blog...Really self? Use your REAL camera. If altering pictures is fun for you, download a photo editing app. Use your email IF your friends are actual friends. And it's called a photo collage. You can make one yourself with the help of some cool sites! (That string of photos at the bottom of this page isn't an Instagram feed).

An article I read about social media says it bluntly and beautifully: "And even people who don't like the social network use it anyway, because that's where their family, friends and colleagues are—and because of addiction." FOMO here we go again. But these are REAL friends and family we're talking about. Have we forgotten how to actually connect even with the people we love? Seriously, what are we afraid to lose?

Point blank. My reasons for staying SUCK. So maybe "no reason to stay is a good reason to go."

Plus, I could probably think of a few reasons why leaving would be best, like the lack of privacy and maybe people don't deserve to know everything about my life if they aren't family or real friends who are willing to spend actual time with me.

This has all led me to ask myself some very basic questions over the last few days, like am I really willing to trade in my time, experiences, relationships, and self for the sake of fake approval and a temporary high?

I'm planning take Wally to the zoo on Friday. It saddens me to think that my time could be consumed with not just taking, but also modifying pictures and sharing them with people who don't care about Wally nearly as much as I do. It saddens me to think that I could be spending energy typing and texting on my phone, all the while trying to hide it from Wally because I don't want him to have screen time yet and I surely don't want him to see my addiction...

Life is about relationships, yet social media lessens the meaning of the word friend. Life is also about experiences. And in sharing them with social media, the souls of our experiences die a little bit. The obsessive use of social media and technology steals from our experiences. It shifts the focus. It changes what matters in those moments.

There's fine line between inviting others to share in your joy and pimping out your joy.

In other words, social media seems to be less about sharing in each others' joy and more about bragging, approval-seeking, and the illusion of connection. In order to feel present, we engage with something where no one's actually there. Just like alcohol is the illusion of relaxation...social media is all about the illusion of activity, approval, being known, being seen, and being celebrated.

Documenting life is a beautiful thing. But as with all THINGS, we humans have a way of abusing them. Just like alcohol is not bad and coffee is not bad. Food is not bad. Sex is not bad. Pictures and words are not bad. But I think the more beautiful something is, the easier it is to misuse it.

I have a hard time seeing how anyone (including me!) can use social media and be completely healthy about it. It'd be like trying to eat McDonald's in a "healthy" way. Fast food itself just isn't healthy. There's no way to make it healthy by how you eat it, only by how much you eat of it.

"It [love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:5-6). Is it wrong to question social media think about how it often opposes these things?

Even in my seemingly mellow participation in social media I feed the beast. I support that which I'm claiming not to support. My actions contradict my words.

Being part of the millennial generation doesn't meant that I have to adhere to defining myself as a "Digital Native" or as being part of "Generation Me."

Finally, social media robs me of ignorant bliss. I hate that it's been the unwanted thread that strings me to my past. I hate that I've had the option to stalk that never-happened-crush. I hate that I've had the option to know things about high school classmates I wouldn't have known otherwise. I hate that I was friends with my ex who lives on the other side of the world. I hate that my mom learned that we're going to Alaska from her coworker instead of me. The thread, stringing me along.

So I'm attempting to extract the pieces of all of this I find useful and life-giving, like photography, and let go of the rest. I'm peacin' out and leaving Instagram and Facebook. I'm still going to write and blog for the sake of writing, having a family diary, and holding onto the hope that my words might benefit others.

I'm working on finding ways to still share my experiences with the people I love, like email. I'm trying to let go, even mourn this "community" that I had built up in my mind. And I'm trying to remember how much I can do perfectly fine, without the help of apps. On the other side of all this, I'm finding a lot of freedom and relief from my anxiety. I'm also finding a lot of space to think more seriously about my relationships and what community means to me.

To take it one step further, this all has me thinking a lot about my faith and how I've been giving in just a little bit to just about everything. I care about how I look just a little bit. I fudge the boundaries with what I wear only a little bit. It's not that bad that I obsess over a clean house. There's only one show I watch that I'm not that proud of. I only get a little buzzed when I drink. It's only sometimes that I work out because I'm afraid of the scale. And I'm only bothered by likes and loves here and there. I've become okay with music lyrics and movie plots that aren't that bad.

What I'm okay with seems to be stretching, a water balloon filling up and expanding. But eventually that balloons gonna pop. And I can't scoop up the water that's been spilled out onto the ground. I can't get the purity of my experiences back. I keep thinking about what I read in my Bible study this morning about the defining trait of a testimony: "What mattered most before no longer matters; what did not matter before is now central" (Beth Moore). I hate that I often live like the old stuff still matters. I'm hoping that all this realization is a breeding ground for true change.

UPDATE: After a couple of months of being "off the grid," I decided to create a Facebook account and only involve close friends (actual longstanding friends) and family. I found that I missed seeing pictures from family members. I've found that's I'm basically incapable of being on Facebook and keeping it small, but it's helpful to not have it on my phone.

I dabbled with Instagram again...after I said I wouldn't. It's only reminded me how easy it is to let the line slip and begin idolizing image crafting again, in the fullest sense of the term.

It's like I'm afraid that it I don't capture the moment, I'll lose that moment forever.

I send my REAL friends pictures via text anyway. And just because everyone else is doing it, that doesn't mean I'll be left out. Point blank: There's really no need to continue to engage with something that makes me so uneasy.

My next step: I think my next step is going to be to switch to the Republic Wireless plan @ $15 / month, with unlimited talk and text but no data except via WiFi. This will help me to maintain boundaries and yes, regain my sense of direction.