I opened this larger series with the counter-cultural advice of advocating for cutting out all television from your life. Today, I want to look at another source of distraction and discontent; social media. This is not something I am as adept at avoiding as television. I have been avoiding television since before Facebook was ever created, but I have had a Facebook account for the last 8 years.
I have been challenged in my social media activity several times over the years, mostly by the example of a few who do not have a Facebook account. They seemed to function pretty well and be reasonably intelligent people. Most recently, I was challenged by Cal Newport in a series of two posts on his blog—first, second.
Newton doesn’t provide spiritual arguments—I can not discern if he has any religious conviction or not—but they have spiritual implications. My wife and I have been trying to curtail our Facebook usage since reading these articles. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far as we’ve done this.
First, nobody cares. What I mean is this; we have received zero Facebook messages, emails, phone calls, or comments from concerned friends wondering if we’re okay or why we haven’t been posting. Zero. That leads me to think that when we were more active, people cared only slightly more. This is not to throw guilt upon my genuine friends whom are also “Facebook friends.” I still interact with them, more through email now. They still care about me as a person, but they don’t seem to miss me on Facebook. I think that says more about how the platform is designed than the quality of our relationship.
Second, once I got past the instinct to open Facebook every time I got on my computer, I don’t miss it. I am not sitting around wondering what to read. Instead of opening Facebook when I want to distract myself from what I’m doing,¹ I now stare out the window. This is actually more productive than Facebook because I can continue to think about what I was doing while I stare at my backyard for a minute or two, whereas Facebook would take my attention and focus away.
Third, Facebook has changed, or at least my experience of it has. I would have deactivated my account a few years ago if it were not for two groups I am a part of. I still look at those two group pages occasionally, but they’re not as active as they used to be. Maybe there is a new platform now that facilitates those kinds of discussions better. My suspicion is that as we continue to be conditioned to mindlessly scroll while cat videos auto-play for us, meaningful discussion and interaction will continue to wane on the internet—and more significantly, in life in general.
If you are one of those who think you are “shaping the culture” or “advocating for your view” on social media, ask yourself this: “How many people have changed their minds about anything as a result of something I posted?” This is more than explaining something so someone can understand it, but actually changing them. If that’s what you think you are accomplishing by being on Facebook, you may want to consider a more effective means of doing so. The only people following you are either already convinced or are trolls waiting to argue with everything you say.
Unplug and experience the real.
¹ Honestly, that’s what we tend to do, isn’t it? How crazy is that? Do we not have enough other distractions to war against already when we are trying to accomplish something that we need to self-sabotage?