Aren’t We Meant For More Than Social Media?

Last week I read this and then this and then this and then this with great interest. It echoed much of my own experience when I get offline — most notably last summer during my sabbatical, when I completely deleted social media apps from my phone and went digitally off the grid.

I slept better, I was in a better mood, I felt less stressed, time moved slower, and I was more engaged and present in the physical world around me. I read 11 books in one month. I noticed smells, tastes, sounds, and sights with more astonishment. It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true: the world was more lovely.

Since then, I’ve still largely kept my distance from posting on social media, preferring to primarily channel my creative efforts to Books & Crannies (and its free weekly companion letter, 5 Quick Things), followed by The Good List. But I still pop on to Twitter and Instagram from time to time, and maybe once a week to a few Facebook Groups (I haven’t seen my main feed since mid-November 2016, when I installed the Facebook Feed Eradicator extension and my online experience yielded a tenfold net positive). 

A few of those books I read on my sabbatical were 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, How To Do Nothing, The Tech-Wise Family, and Burnout, already having loved the books Deep Work and Digital Minimalism.

And yet when I returned, I still stayed on social media. 

I set up healthy boundaries: Twitter only on my laptop and not the phone app; Instagram once a week, by downloading the app and posting, scrolling for a few minutes, then deleting the app again until next week. All these things were healthy for me, and I was still able to work well via the internet.

I kept my social media accounts for one reason: people. Community. Connection. It’s not an exaggeration to say some of my best friends have been birthed from the internet, and they’ve become friends IRL. We travel together. We visit each other’s homes. Our kids are friends. And yet we often live on the other side of the globe, so we use the internet to stay connected as best we can.

Yet Mika’s words here have burrowed their way into my mind, and I can’t stop thinking about them:

We were not made for this. …And by “we” I mean our brains, our hearts, our biology, our souls.

And this:

I don’t think we were really made to be connected to our phones like this. I don’t think we were made to get updates about the people in our lives through an app. I don’t think we were made to receive hundreds and hundreds of DMs a day – and be expected to respond back. I don’t think we were made to “like” and comment silently behind a screen. I don’t think we were made to scroll other people’s lives sitting in our cars and while waiting in line. I don’t think we were made to capture our lives in captions (even though I love a clever caption.) I don’t think we were made to get so much information coming at us at an incredible volume.

This is the rub for me. Social media has done a world of good — think global movements, relationships, learning from other people. But in its very infrastructure, it just doesn’t seem …right. As things should be.

I don’t have a clear answer for this. This post isn’t wrapped up in a pretty bow. This is simply what I’m sitting with these days.

I’m so grateful for what social media’s taught me — I hear from people I wouldn’t otherwise hear from in my physical world, my political views have shifted, my theological convictions have changed, my reading life is so much broader.

And yet… Scroll, scroll, scroll. Like, like, like. Double-tap, retweet, thread, share-on-Stories. Is this how we’re meant to interact as a community? Is this what it means to be neighbors? Are these platforms making us more fully human, more fully who we’re meant to be?

I’d argue no.

I’m not sure where this leaves me, other than I’m grateful for podcasts, blogs, newsletters, and other forms of digital creativity. “Social media” is not synonymous with “internet.” It always strikes me as strange how often people equate Instagram with The Internet, as though that’s its central hub. “My feed” is shorthand for “my Instagram feed.” There’s more, so much more to the internet than silly little, safe-feeling Instagram.

I may leave there eventually, like Mika, but for now, I’ll keep my feed there and continue to post infrequently. I’ll keep Twitter, my preferred platform, so that I don’t bury my head in the sand in an echo chamber of only like-minded voices. But I’ll go back to laptop-only, and it’ll be with an intentional visit, not a mindless scroll.

We were made for more. We’re humans, with a God-given need for human connection. Screens are a facade of this, with just enough familiarity to deceive us into thinking we’re getting our needs for connection met. 

Right now, during a pandemic, I’m grateful for this partial solution. But that’s all it is — it’s a partial solution. It’s not a good, true, nor beautiful default, primary method of connection. And sadly, that’s what I sense it’s become in our culture.

No pretty bow to end things with here. Just sharing my thoughts.

Reading Time:

4 minutes

 

 

 

12 Comments

  1. joanna

    I agree wholeheartedly, Tsh. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Christine Bailey

    Sigh. I’ve been thinking about this incessantly since I read her post as well – and let’s be honest, I’ve wrestled with it a lot before then too. As a first-time author I’m not sure how to balance this well yet. But I kind of miss the days when Instagram was just me sharing pics of my toddlers with close friends.

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I miss those days, too. Maybe if enough of it reclaim it to be the place so many of us seem to long for a return to…

      Reply
  3. Aimee

    I read Mika’s article, too, and it put words to the thoughts and feelings I’ve had about the role of social media in our lives. I admire her for not allowing herself to stay beholden to it for the sake of her platform, and I was impressed by the supportive community she is surrounded by.
    Not specifically about social media but about general phone use, this morning I shared a few times we would all benefit from putting our phones down during the day, for the sake of our relationships and productivity. http://www.whispersofworth.com/focus/relationships/ditch-your-phone

    Reply
  4. KC

    Have you read “Re-Engineering Humanity”? I’ve got it literally beside me, but I decided in March that the pandemic was adequate “Bad News That People Won’t Do Enough About Because Capitalism and Profits” without adding on confirmation of what I kind of already know about yet *another* thing deeply wrong with our society that people won’t listen to. Note: 1. I haven’t read it yet (I was planning to do so before recommending it to anyone!) and 2. it’s just straight reading, not pop-sci-lite (even though it has endnotes instead of footnotes) – but you might find it interesting anyway, and worth the mental workout. 🙂

    I do think that online resources are an incredible boon to many, many people – but there are… a lot… of problems with the way things have dug into our lives and society, and very few people have found Middle Ways that still fulfill the “knowing when your high school friends who you still have affection for are having babies” function while avoiding the full firehose of information – and I’d like to hear from anyone who has! (including those who, like you, delimit social media use to a specific device or specific time in the week)

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      “Very few people have found Middle Ways …while avoiding the full firehose of information.”

      So very well said, KC; you’ve articulated much of how I feel as well. I hadn’t heard of that book, but I’ll look into it! Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  5. Andrea Debbink

    Tsh, this is one of my favorite things you’ve written lately. (And I like everything you write!) I’m with Christine, trying to figure out how to use social media as a newish author yet not liking the effects it has on my life or my creative work—plus I don’t really want to connect with potential readers that way. I’d rather people just read the books I write than have to show them where I vacation or what I had for breakfast! 😉 Thank you for reminding us that this is a part of our lives that’s worth examining and changing.

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh, I’d so rather that, too! And as an author, lately I’ve been rather skeptical of how important it is for us as authors to be on social media a lot, vs. us just doing the good work of writing in front of us. I definitely see the value of readers sharing books they love, but I’m not sure a reader needs to be convinced a book is worth their time by how much the author self-promotes on their own feed. You know? It’s tricky.

      As an avid reader myself, I like it when I find out an author I love isn’t even on social media at all, or when I click on their feed and see real-life photos of kids and dogs and travel, or insightful thoughts on Twitter without a constant deluge of overshare.

      Reply
  6. Eva

    I read Mika Perry’s article after reading the last 5 quick things. I’ve closed facebook and instagram for 2 days now. I came here on AoS thinking of it so i’m not surprised you wrote about it… thank you for this post too. I will try to find balance… that’s not an easy task!

    Reply
  7. Lindsay

    Tsh, I grapple with the same feelings and thoughts on the role and impact of social media for myself and my kids who are growing up with this as the cultural normative. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Reply
  8. Beth

    Good thoughts. I closed my facebook account years ago when we moved to a country where it was blocked. We’ve been back in the States for a while now but I’ve decided not to reopen an account. Or any other social media account with the exception of the messaging app that’s popular in the country we lived in and a Slack group with just my immediate family. Only my siblings are interested in what I fixed for dinner (because we swap ideas). Only my family needs to see pictures of my kids. I just don’t have the mental space and I don’t care what others are eating for dinner or the 100th cute thing their kid did today.
    My weakness is the news. It’s easy for me to get caught up in reading way too much “news.” I recently disabled the internet browser on my phone. I’m still going through withdrawal (checking the weather constantly) but I’m glad I removed it.
    My kids are still young (7 and under) but I have friends with teens and tweens battling the smartphone/social media issue. I have a strong feeling I’m going to be the mean parent that never allows their kid to have a phone. Because of how physically brain-altering the technology is.
    My husband and I joke that we’re going to become Amish or something so we have a “legitimate” excuse to keep social media, too much internet, useless culture, etc. out of our house.
    Even if you’re careful about the content and quality of technology consumed, just the presence of “good” can be detrimental.

    Reply
  9. Celeste Orr

    I totally agree. As a new writer I’ve been wondering where the line should be for me, and this month while I took time away from every social media related, I think I found it. I don’t think I can be a creative and consume social media all day every day. I choose to be the creative. I hope so many more people will too. We need the beauty that gets created offline.

    Reply

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