We live in an internet-driven world, where people expect to have instant access to us whenever they deem it appropriate. We are raising a generation of children whose minds cannot rest for interruption by the thought of “who might have just DM’d them, and might be awaiting their immediate response.” We have families that sit around dinner tables and restaurant booths staring at the bright light emanating from their phones, instead of at the beloved faces of those they should engage in communication.
Fairly recently, I had a conversation with one of my daughters about a friend who was nagging her and arguing with her over the fact that she left her one “read.” What this means is that she opened an Instagram message and read it but never responded to it. The problem was that the girl had messaged my daughter at such a late hour that she fell asleep and didn’t respond until the morning. You see, we even give people permission to know when we have looked at their messages! All this instant gratification is driving us further and further apart.
We are becoming locked in, signed in, tuned in, connected, interlinked, and on the grid twenty-four hours per day. We may fool ourselves into thinking that we set limits on our use of these technologies, but we often inadvertently challenge ourselves to circumvent the very limits that we impose. In addition, technology is so efficient that it will continue to maintain our connections while we work, sleep, or eat; leaving us little reason to actively think about its effects.
I am convinced that each person in our world is seeking community. Each person is seeking a feeling of being interconnected with others. We all have a God-given need to be heart-connected to other people. However, impersonal modes of communication cannot make up for real community. Real community is getting to know someone as more than just the persona they choose to display to you on social media.
We need to give ourselves permission to unplug social media to let our minds rest. Let us remember that when Jesus felt in constant demand, he gave himself and his disciples permission to rest. In Mark 6:31-32 it says, “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” If we don’t fill our emotional tanks through quiet, rest, prayer, and positive self-care, we will have nothing left to give to those around us.
We should commit to embracing the idea that no person deserves instant access to our time outside of our immediate families. One of the ways that I do this is to avoid installing the Messenger app on my phone. This simple decision keeps people from thinking that I should be immediately at their fingertips the instant they reach out to me. I don’t “do” Messenger. If people need me (and unfortunately they sometimes do) they can call the church, email me, or they can call my cell phone number. A second way that I guard my heart and my attention is to not allow notifications from any social media to alert me on my cell phone. This ensures I’m not constantly being interrupted by alerts every time someone “likes” a post or every time someone posts on my wall. Finally, create space for cell-free zones. The dinner table is one example of a cell-free zone. When you are on a family outing you may want to consider leaving the phones at home, or putting them under the seats of your car. Don’t even carry the silly pieces of technology into that venue or that event.
Limit social media use to the occasion “when you get to it.” This means social media should be the least of your priorities, and personal interaction with live human beings should rise to the top of your agenda. Make a commitment not to check your phone when you are in the company of another person. Spend time engaging with that person rather than engaging with the way people display themselves on social media. Be present in the moment, and don’t allow your need to post your experience to social media to prevent you from enjoying the experience in the present!
Let’s seek real places to connect with real people, rather than what I call social media “fake life.” People really post on social media only that which they want you to see about them. Even when people say #nofilters, they have already filtered the content to their liking, even if they haven’t doctored their photo. This is easily discovered by noticing the number of pictures in someone’s gallery they scroll past in order to select exactly the right one, which gives them that “perfect” glow.
I believe there are ways that social media can be utilized for good, but there are dangers even in attempting to do so. Don’t lose yourself in an attempt to entertain others. Seek out real relationships with a group of people who will care about you for who you are, even when that includes your downside. Always post content that is God-honoring and uplifting. Don’t get into quarrels that can never be resolved in impersonal ways. Guard your heart and your mind, and remember that God is God even of our media use!