I recently decided to break up with social media.
Okay, so it was really just Facebook that I broke up with (for now). I’ve been wanting to delete my Facebook account for years, and I’ve taken the occasional hiatus from it here and there, but I always managed to convince myself that I still needed to keep it for one reason or another. For example, there are a lot of people that I have only stayed in contact with over the years via Facebook, which I do consider a serious benefit and what the true purpose of social media should be. As a self-published author, there is also the pressure to keep open any form of communication that might reach new readers. And I’ll admit, as someone who works from home and is an introvert to start with, Facebook and other forms of social media allow me to feel like I am still somewhat participating in the rest of the world.
But what a shallow participation that is in the end.
Like I said, there have been times in the past when I have taken extended breaks from social media. Even before I was Catholic, I have occasionally given it up for Lent, which I know is a regular practice for some. I’ve also intentionally given it up when I have gone on pilgrimages, not as a penance but so as to more fully participate in the spiritual journey I was taking.
In 2015, I traveled to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, and I really wanted to really participate in that entire experience, rather than getting caught up in the media coverage. The couple of times that I did get on Facebook or Instagram, to post a picture or share some significant I had just experienced, I found it extremely jarring to see the rest of that social media world just going about their regular posts and observations. The majority of my Friends on social media are not Catholic, and so the fact that the pope was visiting was not a prominent topic for most of them. So there I was, in a new city, listening to amazing and inspiring talks, getting ready to see the pope, and then I would get on Facebook and someone would just be posting about what they ate for breakfast. Now, I’m not above some food posts myself, but it was difficult to be fully present and reflective on such a significant experience in my own life while also being confronted by the indifference and everyday experiences of the rest of my “social circle”.
Then there are also all the recent (and some not-so-recent) news stories about how Facebook has been storing and selling all of our personal information to various organizations and for various purposes. There are even allegations that through the apps on our smartphones and tablets, Facebook (and probably other apps) can listen to and record our conversations. I’ve read about and suspected these things for years already, so I’m not really surprised by any of the recent stories. And really, if some shady organization wanted to profile me, they could easily (and more effectively) do so by following me on Pinterest. But all of it still makes me pause and consider the price I’m willing to pay (the privacy I’m willing to giving up) to participate in something I’m not even really enjoying in the first place.
So, why did it take me this long? Fear of Missing Out (a.k.a. FOMO).
It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality that if you are not constantly available and actively participating then you will end up missing out on something important or exciting. Whether it’s an event, a conversation, an important bit of news, or a good joke.
Again, one of the reasons I stuck with Facebook for so long is because it was the only way I stayed in contact with a great many people, but I got so caught up in that that I failed to ask myself how many of those people I actually really needed/wanted to stay in contact with. Yes, the majority of them are wonderful people that I genuinely enjoy as human beings, but that doesn’t mean that our lives are still in such a proximity that I need regular updates and details. The people that I should be interacting with on a regular basis are the ones who have my actual phone number, who make an effort (and who I make an effort for) to know what’s going on in my life beyond just the highlights. Friendship should require actual interest and effort, and not just the idle curiosity that social media allows to be the minimum requirement.
I could go on for quite a while about how I feel social media has warped our relationships and interactions, and even the way that we make plans, but it honestly makes me tired and a little sad to think about it. Which brings me to my final point and the realization that really caused me to cut the cord.
I need my world to be a little smaller.
I get overwhelmed easily in life. I get overstimulated and it becomes difficult for me to take in new information or even process what I’ve already taken in, which is one of the qualities of being an introvert. From global news stories to the new baby of an old friend to the engagement of someone that I met once at a social group but have never seen in person again; all of these things will bump around in my brain, vying for attention, empathy, and further processing. I might be able to prioritize what to consciously give my attention to, but my subconscious will still be processing ALL of it. Add to all of this my on-going writing projects, which involve whole worlds and casts of characters that I have to keep track of and define, and as well as all of the new information from my self-imposed reading curriculum on top of that.
And so the additional influx of non-stop information from social media takes a larger toll on me than I was even aware of for a long time. It’s like when you have a mild allergy to something that you live with every day; you know that you don’t feel great, but you are so used to it that you just stop noticing after a while. But then if you get even a brief respite from that allergy, a true rest, you suddenly realize how good you can actually feel! That’s how I feel every time I manage to cut back on some of the excessive distractions in my life.
The world is a big place, and there are a great many people in it, but what I want is to focus on my own little world of the things and people immediately around me.
The beautiful thing that I have noticed is that every time I have managed to make my world a little smaller, by cutting out distractions or reducing outside commitments, then that world actually becomes much richer for me. The less divided my attention, the easier it is to focus that attention on what is really important.
And the good news is that there are still plenty of ways to stay in touch with me! I’ll still be writing and responding to comments regularly here on the blog, you can sign up for my email list to get all of the updates on my writing and publishing projects, and I even have a page just for my contact information.
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