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 my newsletter, followed by The Good List. But I still pop on to Twitter and Instagram from time to time, and maybe once a month 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.
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.