Almost 40 days ago, I joined millions of people around the world to give up something for Lent – some quit smoking, some drinking, others anything with sugar in it … but I found it ironic that people were announcing on Facebook that they were, in fact, giving up Facebook for 40 days. Were they closing down their notifications immediately after they posted? Did they only shut it down after they waited a couple of hours to see how many people liked their status update?
I wasn’t planning on giving up anything for Lent – some years I do, but I usually just use it to pick up something else to bring me closer to my relationship with God, whether it’s extra prayer, reading a new devotional, or otherwise. I did that anyway, but as I saw myself carving out what seemed to be no time – but ended up being 20 minutes – scanning my Facebook news feed, I felt myself getting angrier and angrier with each post I saw.
It was the same stuff, over and over again. The same people documenting the same issues, time after time. Maybe the people changed, but the issues remained the same. As I fumed over a Facebook member’s latest status update about breaking up with her boyfriend for literally the eighth time in six months, it finally clicked for me.
I was spending more time on others peoples’ lives than I was my own. Was I examining myself closely enough, or was I content to put that off because it’s easier to play Monday morning quarterback on other people’s lives, people in which I have no vested interest? I had grown content. I was losing myself in other people’s lives because I didn’t want to confront whether I was lost in my own.
So with that, I immediately shut down my automatic notifications for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn – moved the apps to the last screen on my iPhone and off of the home screens of my Microsoft Surface and Asus Ultrabook. I had never done this before, but I was going to give it a shot.
I have to say, it was pretty liberating. Not feeling like I had to scan my news feed quickly as I downed my first cup of coffee headed to the gym in the morning allowed me to fill that time with reading other things, like an Easter devotional as well as the news of the day. I was learning about things happening in the world that didn’t involve an Instagrammed photo of someone’s food truck lunch, and it was great. There’s a whole big world out there, and I think that I was missing that by focusing on what was curated by my social circles.
This isn’t to say that social media isn’t a good place to curate news and updates – and that everyone I follow are shameless foodies, I actually have really smart, cultured friends. If you do it right, you can make sure you’re getting a very diverse view of things. But it’s like anything else, how diverse you get is really up to you. The very customizable nature of selecting your circle, or your followers, or your friends gives you freedom to choose what you want to see. But again, is that really giving you everything you should have? Or are you just content with what your other friends see and hear?
For me personally, I found that I wasn’t really updating my social media accounts all that much but I lurked an awful lot. I read up on everything, but never really engaged. I used it as a secondary news and events feed to standard news publications because I was too lazy to go look for it myself. I relied on others, but when I rely on others, I may not get exactly what it is that I want.
So in giving up social media for a brief time, I wanted to see if it made an actual impact on my life. If I craved the voyeuristic feeling of peering into others lives, but in a way that they allowed me to by giving me access to their daily updates and posts. If I missed wondering if a status update would get 5 likes, 20 likes, or a big fat zero.
It turns out that I missed it less than I thought I would, but now that I’m looking at it with a fresh set of eyes, I want to change the way I view social media. I’m going to much more liberally hide posts. I’m going to focus on the people I care about the most, and the type of news I care about the most. I’ve been really passive in shaping the conversation I want to be a part of, virtually, and it’s time for me to take that back. Like having to craft a strategic communications plan for an initiative at work, I need to craft a strategic plan for how I consume and engage through my own personal social media contacts.
I suppose social media is like anything else – you need to put it in its proper place in your life, and remember that you get as much out of it as you are willing to put in. This little nap I just took is going to help me do just that.