Reflections on the Use of Social Media
All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
This is what Blaise Pascal said in the mid-1600s. If it was true then, how much more true must it be now that we have social media?
Boredom is a child’s greatest fear. Boredom will drive someone crazy. As adults though, we crave time to just be bored and relax (because if you work and have kids, life is crazy). But, what do we do as soon as we have it? We whip out the phone and scroll through social media, or we play games on our phones, or turn on Netflix to binge on the next episode of another show that numbs our mind to the cares of the day. Children will literally play on screens all day if allowed and threatening to take away a screen is literally like threatening to cut off a hand (Seriously. Not joking here…many kids see a screen as another appendage of their body. Creating a unity between the body and technology is probably part of the goal for the tech giants, but that’s another discussion for another time).
At some point, we must admit that this is all insanity. I have been on social media since it started in 2004. At first, Facebook was only open to college students with a valid .edu email address. Now it’s open to the entire world. We are all connected. During the 14 years I have been on Facebook, I have liked and shared thousands of pictures, articles, quotes, and who knows what else.
Over the last few years, I have become more and more convinced that our use of social media is not a good thing. One day, I believe, we will look back and see that social media has had a negative net effect on society. Sure, technology is good for some things, and I am not opposed to the use of social media. However, I do believe there are many things for which we should be concerned.
Here are my concerns on the use of social media for the last 14 years (primarily related to people my age using Facebook):
Social media makes it nearly impossible to ever stop using it. Recently I realized that “breaking up” with Facebook feels nearly impossible. It was a serious headache creating a new account. Facebook has more photos of my family than my phone has of my family. Part of the reason I have never deleted my account is because I don’t want to lose all the pictures on Facebook. So I began saving them. Now, I am done with “Jon Hoover,” and this blog post will be my final post there.
Social media gives you a false sense of friendship. About 6 months ago I realized that I had over 600 friends on Facebook. 600 friends? Really? How is it that I have over 600 friends on Facebook, but I would likely be unable to name 50 of them? So I began “unfriending” people. I got my friends list down to around 250. Even at 250, it’s hard to believe that I want to share so many details of my life with 250 people.
Social media creates division. Facebook creates one large echo chamber. It shows you more of the stuff you like and more of the stuff you search for on the internet. The effect of this over time is that it confirms more and more of what you believe to be true about the world, politics, ideology, etc. People become hardened in their positions on any given topic and fail to seriously interact with opposing views. I’ve seen this myself. As a pastor, sometimes I feel a sense of obligation to post something regarding the moral direction of our country. I did this when Obama was president and received almost zero pushback. But, if I dare say something about Trump now, I am suddenly a flaming leftwing liberal who knows nothing and better keep my mouth shut (I got real “hate mail” over this). The problem is that people cannot seriously interact with things that might cause them to question their own beliefs. This is not good, and social media only makes this harder.
Social media has documented our kids lives. This is a big one for me. My kids entire lives have been documented on Facebook. As proud new parents, we happily posted their baby pictures. Then we posted them smashing their first birthday cake, their first word, their first steps, their first this, their first that, and on and on their story goes on Facebook. Soon my kids will be old enough to realize that hundreds and hundreds of people know who they are but they don’t have a clue about my 600 social media “friends.” They will meet people that know all about their birth, their first word, their first steps, and every good thing they have ever done (because, you know, we don’t post anything bad about our kids, only their shining moments of glory). Is this what we want for our kids? Do we really want the world to know them before they know the world and are old enough and mature enough to interpret the world around them? I’m just not convinced this is a good thing.
Social media is primarily documenting insignificance. Seriously. Scroll through your news feed on Facebook and see how much of it really matters. It’s an endless list of random pictures, recipes, Plexus posts, articles, and who knows what else. Most of it is highly insignificant. Why spend so much of your life scrolling through insignificance?
OK, so now that I have beat up on social media, let me say that I do think there are many good things about it (being able to connect with long lost friends, promoting a business, networking, etc.). I am not against using social media for good reasons. I am simply questioning its long-term value in our lives.
All that to say: I have started over, and I am so glad I did. Facebook makes it nearly impossible to go into your account and clean it all up, which is why I just had to start all over. Several of you have told me that you want to start over too. I created a list of “social media rules” that I plan to stick with, and I will share those below. Maybe they will be helpful for you too.
Here are my rules about social media use:
- I will only “friend” the following people: actual friends, family, church members, and ministry colleagues.
- I will no longer share pictures of my kids. I realize that won’t keep them off social media completely, but I want their story to be theirs to tell, not mine. I did create a private shared folder on my phone using the Photos App so my closest friends and family can view family pictures.
- I do not “like” any pages except pages I help manage (like my church, Trail Life, etc.). I do this because I don’t want Facebook showing me more than I care to see, and I also don’t want them deciding for me what kind of person I am (seriously, they do that too so they can advertise more effectively to you).
- I will only share articles or comment on things that may be controversial after waiting 24 hours to see if it is worth the pushback I might receive from it. As a pastor, I still feel a sense of obligation to be a moral voice in the public square. I’m just not convinced Facebook is the best public square for that to take place in.
- I have literally “unfollowed” every new friend request I have accepted on my new account. Sorry, I just refuse to get stuck again in the trap of scrolling through social media when I have nothing else to do. It’s not worth the distraction. If someone has something really important to share with me, I am sure they will contact me personally. Plus now I can go 2 days without charging my phone. I notice beauty around me more often too (like the sunset, and birds flying through the air, and more). How many times have you gone to a park or to a restaurant and noticed everyone around you staring at a screen? It happens all the time. Look up from the phone. There are amazing things all around you.
That’s about it. Social media and smartphones in general are not a bad thing, but I think it’s time people evaluate how they are used and how much time is wasted on them. Many people live in fear of missing out on something on their phones, and the great irony is they are likely missing out on what’s right in front of them.
If nothing else, hopefully this post causes you to stop and think about how much control your phone and social media has over your life. Maybe you too should adopt some sort of “rules” you will live by when it comes to how you use your phone and social media.