It happened again today. I got sucked in to social media sites, first checking the latest news (not good), then getting the updates from friends I’ve not seen since high school (how to do home schooling), and then a chuckling at a few dozen memes before checking the news again and restarting the whole process.
And so it goes. And likely so it could go for the next 2 weeks or 4 weeks or 8 weeks if I’m not careful.
In some ways the internet is a gift right now. We’re able to get information and connect with colleagues over zoom (the us of which is the source of some of the memes mentioned above). I’m getting updates from loved ones and seeing photos of fabulous baked goods. The social connections while we’re physically distancing are great.
And they also can keep me mindlessly numb for a long time. Part of that is only expected when dealing with the stress of this time, but it’s not the most helpful.
I devoured Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism when it came out early last year. Newport is a professor of information systems, and deals with technology in his work, so he’s no Luddite. And yet he recommends a 30 day detox from all social media, and significantly limiting email too, in order to engage in more focused, deep work and a more robust life. I did that last year, and loved it. I felt less stress and also saw how being intentional about avoiding distractions could help me in my work. I toyed with the idea for this Lent—seeing that my social media use was creeping back up—but chose instead to focus on making all my meals at home (a tad ironic now).
As our church services now stream online and important information is getting out via the web, I don’t want to dismiss it entirely. But I do want to find a balance and limit my intake, both because I just can’t take a fire house of hard news all the time and also so I can be present to what’s happening in my life and the life of those important to me here.
By closing my laptop, I can play a game of 7 Wonders Duel with my son or make a cake with my daughter. By putting my iPhone at its charger, I can engage in conversation with my wife or read that book on my bedside table. Yes I can still call those I love—and have–or text with my siblings, but I don’t need to see every posting about how the homeschool kids got suspended for bad behavior and the teacher was dismissed for drinking on the job (a chuckle the first time I saw it; barely a smirk the 10th time).
These days ahead will be difficult, but I don’t think the elixir of social media is going to make things better. I think it’s just going to suck away my time. And perhaps make me more depressed.
I’d rather be doing something that brings me closer to those I love, connects me to God, or brings me deep satisfaction and contentment. And then I hope that I’ll be better equipped to stand alongside those I personally know whose lives will be upended through all of this.