Life after Social Networking: Three changes that affected my life after I left Facebook2
(To begin, I am aware of the fact that this blog is being posted on Facebook - so there is a bit of a contradiction here. I'm also aware that Facebook can be used for much, much good. But bare with me…)
Neil Postman, a philosopher and social critic who wrote primarily in the 1980’s and 1990’s had this to say about technology:
“…all technological change is a trade-off… Technology giveth and technology taketh away. This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage.” (From his speech, "Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change")
I was a ten year user of Facebook. I remember not being able to sign up during 2005 because I was not a college student (as then, it was only for those with a .edu email address). During 2006 it actually opened up to any and everyone, and then I signed up. But as we speak, I’ve been off of Facebook for a year. I have many reasons as to why I chose to, but I must say that for me, the trade off of dropping this “technology” (I feel that we can call Facebook a ‘technology’ in the sense of it being a product of technology) has indeed outweighed the keeping of it.
In this, I agree with Neil Postman, and it also applies in reverse - an exchange has taken place in my own life from quitting Facebook. What I have learned, I believe, is that social media is nothing neutral, that is to say - I have argued for a while that the outcome of using social media does not outweigh the benefits of not using social media. With the demands of a life in Christ, as well as a view of basic human development throughout the ages - we need to revisit continually this new phenomenon of social media and ask ourselves: do the benefits of using it outweigh the benefits of not using it?
In this blog, I’d like to share with you three things that have changed in my life from not using social media, primarily Facebook. I know that I’m in the minority, with nearly two out of seven people in the world who currently are on Facebook (1.8+ billion Facebook users!), but this makes it all the more important to address. So let’s get to it.
1) Being off Facebook, I instantly lost touch with many hundreds of people. And mostly, it made my life better.
This was the most alarming thing to me, which had both its positives and negatives. The negative being: with my family living 900 miles away from me in Georgia, I lost the chance to share elements of my daily life with them via pictures or updates on quirky things my children did throughout a day. That is a legitimate loss.
The other side of this coin was that I instantly lost touch with many, many people that I seemed to regularly interact with on Facebook. I mean that, with a drop of a hat, I lost touch with them. Instantly. None of them are calling my phone. None of them are trying to reach out to me via email. None of them are making the effort (a simple google search of ‘Daniel Nelms New Jersey’ makes me findable).
When I say and examined this, The people that fit into this category are people that I, without Facebook, would not be interacting with naturally. This is mostly because of geographical distance - I would never be running into my old high school friends from Georgia in New Jersey, and that one guy I met during a conference in Boston or at a restaurant - people I’d never normally stay in touch with. This is not to say that none of these people cared about me. Of course you have a general affection for old friends you haven’t talked to in ten years, or even some stranger that you had a meaningful conversation with. But this showed me that naturally, without the avenue of Facebook, I never would have stayed in touch with them in the first place. And they would not have had, either.
The effects of this has been interesting. I’ve found myself with open space in my mind, and less anxiety. This is what I mean: I learned just how unnatural it was to be learning and retaining information on so many people that aren’t exactly strangers to me (hence that general affection you feel towards them), but people who I normally would not be interacting with on a daily basis. This led me to the thought: are we actually intended to have such personal contact with so many people? Can we actually handle that many relationships? The answer is, I believe, is no. Physically no one could actually keep up with hundreds of people on a daily and weekly basis without the media of Facebook.
The effect lessening my anxiety was unexpected. You always hear about the best of news and the worst of news on Facebook. Yes, there are many tragedies in our lives. Learning about so many tragedies from so many people whom I have that general affection for but haven’t spoken with in ten years produced in me much anxiety that I felt powerless over. This even applies to those random heartbreaking news stories from a state or country thousands of miles away. Sometimes you can contribute to a Go-Fund me account or something with those in need of money, which is small but helpful. But to hear of someone in my hometown in Georgia going through tragedy, and me living in New Jersey - what can I actually do about that?
I can pray, and I must. But I could find myself doing nothing but praying for all these things on Facebook! What about the people that I actually physically see on a week to week basis that are in tragedy? Shouldn’t they be taking up the majority of space in my mind, since I can actually be of help physically for them? After all, Christianity demands so much more than a “I’m praying for you,” Facebook comment, but it also calls for us to physically go and be with someone or do something to help them if need be. Job’s friends didn’t hear about what happened from a distance and merely said “I’ll pray for Job.” They got up and traveled to be with him. This is the call of the church, to “bear one another’s burdens’” (Galatians 6:2).
2) I Received Back Much of my Time
This was my morning routine: I’d wake up, get a pot of coffee brewing, and in the 12 or so minute gap of time before the coffee was finished, I’d grab my phone and get on Facebook. When the coffee was done, I’d sit and have my time reading Scripture and praying. Often times, I’d get stuck on Facebook. It’d shorten my mornings. Sometimes I even found my mornings sucked dry by Facebook, with no time left for reading or praying. This time has been restored.
Secondly, when I am out with my kids or the family, I never think about getting any cute picture on Facebook anymore. I have found myself actually with my family, without a thought of getting anything on Facebook about what I’m doing. It also restored the time when I got home from these trips, as that was a prime time for me to sit for 30 minutes and chronicle everything correctly.
Thirdly, I’ve gotten back those one or two minute portions of your day that you are sitting at a traffic stop, in the restroom, waiting in the grocery line, etc. I customarily always pulled out my phone and scrolled for that thirty second time period. Rather, I try to interact with those around me. I listen to Podcasts in the car undistracted. It’s been replaced with helpful things, and that time does add up dramatically in a day.
And lastly, when the kids go to bed, I am now sitting with my wife talking with her, or plowing through a good novel (oh the joys of reading for the first time Huxley, Harper Lee, Steinbeck and how much I’ve learned from them!) or ending the day with more Scripture reading. No more Facebook scrolling before bedtime.
The result of this in my life has been just as profound as the first: I’ve read more books in the past year than I have since college (50+ books). My times of prayer have increased, my time with my family has become far less distracting, and my phone is less and less in my hands when I’m not calling someone or texting someone. In short, much of my time is back. It could be up to a hour or more a day is back, I’m not sure sure. But the meaning of Paul’s words have become much clearer to me: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
3) I Know Less About the World, and it's not a bad thing!
Facebook isn’t just a social networking site - it is also the largest conveyor of news in the world, as a news story can spread on Facebook to millions in just a matter of hours. At first I thought this could be a problem for me to not be in the know. Then I realized something: the vast majority of the news I did know about was actually meaningless to my day to day existence. It made no change in my life. My anxiety levels, again, decreased.
Neil Postman, in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” was again correct in saying “[M]ost of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action” (pg. 68). It becomes almost trivia. A great example was when I learned about the recent scuffle with United Airlines and one of their customers - I knew nothing of it, but I sat and observed a whole room of people arguing and debating about who was right, why he should have been able to stay, or why the flight attendants could have driven to their location and let the doctor stay, and on and on - there was something to talk about, but no substance to draw us to meaningful action. This situation had very little meaning to my day’s routine and my life in Jersey.
Now, I do try to stay up to date online with world news via the standard famous news outlets and some independent ones, as that is very important to do. If something serious was actually happening that does affect my day to day life - I will know about it. Nevertheless, I still know far less about current day events in life after Facebook - and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.
Why write this on a church’s blog?
You may find this odd to be written on a church blog, but let me explain: I try my hardest to analyze my life and my family’s life and what we choose to be involved in. I’ve learned that with technology, we can no longer approach it as something “neutral.” It can have a positive effect or a negative effect on our lives - often times you and I are the decision makers in that. I must say this, and please hear me loud and clear - MUCH good can come from the use of Facebook. Many people use it for much good. I will say that I do hate the loss of my family, and all my extended family down south not seeing the day to day life of my family that they are missing.
As Christians, though, we need to always be examining our faith and our modern culture and asking ourselves - how can we really live this life out as Jesus asked us to do? For me, I realized that Facebook was causing myself to be, in some ways, a modern Gnostic - that is, it was pulling me away from physically spending time with people, and deceiving me from actually believing that I was having sustaining relationships with people. When I realized that this wasn’t just applying for those far away to me, but from those who live minutes away in my own church - I was functioning as if I could sustain relationships with mere information about someone’s day to day life, and no face to face interaction. As a pastor called to shepherd a church, I knew that this would be very detrimental to my ministry. As Postman said, there is a give and take with technology. I had more information about people in our church, but less relationship with them. This could no longer be. An element of this does specifically apply to me, but I do believe is applicable to us all.
CONCLUSION: “Let us test and examine our ways!”
I pray that we can be thinking Christians who continually analyze our life in Christ, and do all we can to fulfill our commitment to seeing Christ’s Kingdom expand here on earth, whether that means using Facebook to the glory of God, or quitting Facebook to the glory of God. His death, burial and resurrection call consumes all of our lives. Let us live thoughtfully and carefully in our calling before Jesus.(Lamentations 3:40)