"Thank you for telling me via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that you did in fact get up and go to the gym at 5AM this morning."
"Don't forget Tumblr," I replied.
"Hashtag: Social media addict."
My dear friend Belinda has been calling me out since the seventh grade. We were both transfers to our tiny Christian school. We prided ourselves on our "School of the Hardknocks" background--you know the Southern suburban public schools we were transplanted from. We bonded over sarcasm, cable television, and secular music. Clearly, we were not as sanctified as some of our new classmates. We quickly learned that Catechism reciting, T.U.L.I.P. touting, Limited Too wearing thirteen year old girls are often times more intimidating than the folks that roamed our former schools.
It is no secret that I love social media. One of my friends is pretty active on Twitter, and his tweets make me laugh out loud. We have actually had whole Twitter conversations at the gym while on our respective cardio equipment. He tweeted the other day that he was beginning a week long digital detox. I am not sure that the icky feeling I got was because I would miss his hilarious observations of life tweets or that I, too, needed a little digital detoxing.
I think, like with any detox, it's about cleaning out, rebooting, and gaining a better perspective. It's not a way of life, and let's be honest, our lives today are centered around technology. We do not live in a world where completely checking out of digital media is realistic. Many of us, myself included, use social media for work. So, unless we decide to go the prepper, off-the-grid route, we are left to learn how and where to steer ourselves in this digital world.
So, I think instead of asking, "How do we avoid social media?", a better question to answer is "How do we learn to navigate well in the world of social media?" As a Christ follower, I desire to reflect His light in my everyday life, so my goal is for my social media life to do the same. This is a lofty goal because my life outside social media is filled with failing Him everyday. My life is messy and has lots of not so pretty parts. I rely on His mercy and grace to carry me with each day, so this should be true in my online presence. If we are authentic, we will make mistakes and "let our slips show," but we can use those moments to reflect back to the Perfect One. Being authentic, transparent even, in your online life, does not mean you can excuse your flesh and sin in the name of being "real." Social media is still an outlet of yourself, and we are accountable for our behavior online.
As I seek to live intentionally, I want to look at how this looks in my online presence. What are the positive shapers of social media? And what are the negatives that we should avoid?
Beneficial Uses of Social Media
Use social media to stay connected This is almost every person's first defense of why they have a Facebook account. "I just use it to keep up with people." "It's a great way to share photos with friends and family far away." Both true statements. Some of the dearest people in my life are those who are geographically miles, even oceans away. There are several key women who had a major influence in the shaping of my adult faith and worldview whom I met while living in Los Angeles. Since then, one has moved to Vancouver, another to Portland, one in Las Vegas, and still others in LA. Facebook has allowed us to stay connected in a way that would not have been possible before. More than letters, trips, or phone calls, social media allows us to follow each others journeys and how our lives are unfolding. It's quite remarkable.
Use social media to bless people. Friends, this can be an amazing opportunity for us. We are called to serve, and social media is a stage for revealing to us the needs of those around us. Use the information you get online to then help someone offline. Your words, too, can be such a blessing to your friends. We all feel the "birthday love" when our walls get flooded with well wishes. Imagine how just checking in with someone online can shine light in their manic Monday. My favorite English professor is my friend on Facebook. He is most excellent at telling his friends how much they mean to him. He sent me a message just recently, and turned my dark day around. Blessing. These little blessings can turn into much more. My friend Liz, who cheered me on via Facebook during my half marathon training? She is a result of the benefits of social media. Blessing.
Use social media for accountability. This a big one for me. My friends rib me for it, but the benefits far outweigh the cons. Posting my goals for nutrition and exercise has allowed a weak area of my life to gain real traction and momentum. I have seen genuine growth in this area over the last few years from making it part of my social media life. It has sparked great dialogue with friends and provided real encouragement. I have seen many friends use this practice in various areas of their lives. What is neat about this use of social media, is that it rubs off on others. I am encouraged by other friends' own progress and goals in life. It's a neat ripple effect.
Use social media to learn. I like surrounding myself with people who are leaps and bounds smarter than myself. I think I secretly hope their intelligence is contagious and I will catch it! When those intelligent friends post articles, links, and such on their Facebook walls, I take note. (I emailed Whitney, one of those said smart friends, just the other day, saying only one thing: "What are you reading right now?" She keeps me thinking.) I do not always agree with what they are sharing or believe, but I respect them because I know they are smart people. (Perhaps one of my biggest pet peeves in when people spout absolute garbage, disrespectful, and often untrue rants. It most always reflects their ignorance and stupidity more than anything. You can guess this is more often that not politically based.) My smart friends challenge me to think. If it were not for social media, I may not be challenged to read things outside my comfort zone, my own worldview, and convictions. By the same token, it often deepens by own beliefs and convictions, and roots my faith even more so.
Harmful uses of Social Media:
Do not be a Debbie Downer. Being authentic does not mean being Eeyore, my friends. If everything you post on social media is about how you are victimized, your rescue and salvation will not be found online. Find real offline community to talk about your issues. Get on your knees, not your laptop.
Avoid Venting. We all have this friend. You know the one who uses their status to tell us how upset they are and angry over anything from the cashier at Walmart to their crazy ex girlfriend. And if you do not have this friend, well, read your recent updates, you just may be that person. You can be authentic and real without being obnoxious. Do not post when you are highly emotional. This will most always lead to regret or hurt--of yourself or someone else. If the matter is that upsetting, address the party--not your one thousand Facebook friends.
Just say no to the Humble Brag. Let's just all go ahead and admit, each and everyone of us has been guilty of this type of post...at least once. It's a tricky thing. Our updates encourage us to tell everyone what we are doing, but how do we do this without being shameless self promoters?! There is nothing wrong with sharing the blessings in your life, what you are thankful for--a job promotion or something exciting you have been part of--but be mindful in a way you present it. What are your motivations for posting? Is it to boost yourself or belittle someone else? Just like we should guard our tongue in real life, we should view our status updates the same. People can read between the lines, my friends, do not misjudge your followers intelligence.
Do not use Social Media to Compare: When scrolling through your friends, followers, and feed, always be aware to take these "slices of life" moments with a grain of salt. Your own life cannot be told through your social media updates, so why would you judge someone else based on theirs? Show grace. Their joy is not meant to cause you pain. The mom who posted a photo of her organic homemade baby food? She may have cropped out her own diet cola and waffle fries from that photo. And the single 30 year old woman instagraming her life, cocktail to cocktail? Well, I doubt she feels inclined to share the moments of loneliness, doubt, and tears over one more night in a queen sized bed...alone. (But that's just a hunch)
So, if you find you are coming away from your social media time with more harm than good, perhaps it's time for a little digital detox. A break. You may find you will come back to appreciating how good it really can be.