Here’s a social experiment to try the next time you’re gathered with a group of friends: throw out the F-word and see what happens. No, not that F-word! I’m talking about the word Facebook. The reaction I often see and hear in response to the very mention of the word involves grunting, eye rolling, crossing of arms, and shaking of heads. Myself included. I’ve joked that if it weren’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t know what sins to confess. It all reminds me of the infamous “Newman" mention in Seinfeld.
I opened a Facebook account in the summer of 2007 after my tech-savvy cousin suggested I do so to better keep in touch with faraway family. Back then I was “Facebook friends” with a few dozen people, mostly family members. Today, seven-and-a-half years later, Facebook has grown well beyond a place where I simply connect with family and close friends. It’s a venue where I freely share my writing and other social media work. I’ve connected with people around the globe, and while I’ve only “met” many of them through online connections, they have greatly enriched my life and ministry. I like to think I’m better off because of these friendships.
So why does logging on to Facebook so often make me feel as if I’m back in sixth grade when my classmates kicked me out of the clique for two weeks, leading me to fake sick. Sister Helena Burns, my favorite media nun, calls herself a “Facebook Hater.” Now what on earth would cause a nun, a media nun no less, to hate the most popular social media tool of our day? I recently asked her as much (on Twitter!), and here are a few of her thoughts:
- It’s too time-consuming.
- Christians are super-nasty on Facebook.
- Unlimited space to say what you mean.
- Takes forever to scroll down through posts.
- It’s like a casino --- forces people to waste time.
- It’s too personal.
- Too visual.
- Too unnatural a form of communication.
Sister added a few more reasons, as did many others who followed our conversation. I don’t think my Twitter feed has ever seen that much activity. One person tweeted, “Facebook is more like a NYC traffic jam. The longer you sit in it, the more irritating it becomes.” And there’s actually research that supports that statement. When I googled “Facebook Depression,” I found this research study. It's conclusion doesn’t surprise me:
The more they [the research participants] used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time … On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.”
For the better part of 2014, I wrestled with my Facebook use. I’ve wondered if Facebook is just one big near occasion of sin that I need to avoid. Should I delete my account? Should I keep my account open and just unfollow those who stir up negative emotions? Should I install software that locks me out of Facebook during certain times of the day when I’m most vulnerable? (Yes, that software exists!)
I casually mentioned all this to one of my friends who recently deleted her account; I told her I was considering doing the same. I was prepared for my friend to walk me over to a computer right there and then and hold my hand as I clicked YES to the “Do you really want to DELETE FACEBOOK FOREVER?” prompt. Surprisingly, my friend advised and challenged me to keep my Facebook account open, suggesting that maybe the Holy Spirit is calling me to share my charisms of leadership, faith, and wisdom online, specifically on Facebook.
I think my friend is spot-on. I wish she wasn’t. I do believe I’m called to have a Facebook presence, so I will be there and do my share in evangelizing the digital continent. But I also know that I need to set some limits guiding my online time or else I will go mad. I’ve come up with a few 2015 Facebook resolutions, still an early work in progress.
- Be Intentional
I shall examine my intentions before logging on. Am I lonely and seeking conversation? Feeling low and need some affirmation? Rough day with the kids and need a spiritual boost? Or maybe I’m simply avoiding a mundane task that must be done. Whatever the case, will logging on to Facebook help fulfill any of those needs, and if not, where else should I turn? Quiet time with God? How about some coffee and conversation with a friend in a quaint café? Maybe it’s just a telephone conversation or even a quick text message? Then again, checking-in with Facebook might be precisely what I need. I just need to be mindful of how long I’m sitting in “Facebook traffic” when I do log on.
- Check Impulses
I can’t control what other people post on Facebook (obviously). But I can check my behavior, thoughts, emotions, and responses to what I see. When I venture on to Facebook, I can take responsibility for the negative and often sinful emotions that rise to the surface. My strategy is to walk away from the screen and simply pray, “God, those ugly emotions are not from you. Please take them from me and purify my heart.” I can do my part to avoid projecting my experiences and feelings on to others, and I can be real about what Facebook is --- just a window into people’s lives, and a rather small window at that.
- Be Authentic
I've ruffled a feather or two when something I've posted didn’t sit well with others. I can’t control the way people interpret what I post on Facebook, yet I’ve spent way too much time and energy over-analyzing my every move trying to do so. Stop the madness already! Some people simply aren't interested, and I can't make them interested. Some people naturally take offense, and some days I'll be their target. I can't waste my time trying to please either of those groups. Who am I there for? Partly for me and my needs, yes, but I have developed a small "tribe" of followers who are edified through my writing and the posts I share on Facebook. I truly desire for my online work to be all-embracing, to fully integrate my faith, and to foster personal growth in not only myself but those who follow along.
So no more waffling about my Facebook use. The Internet is big enough for the both of us, and it’s time for Facebook and me to bury the hatchet. At least until 2016. Anyone else making resolutions around social media use? I'm not alone here, am I?
Copyright 2015 Lisa Schmidt
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