April 11, 2013 by Alex Johannigman
During Lent I embarked on a challenge that I thought would be impossible: Go 40 days without Facebook. As many of you know, particularly those who may have gotten to this post via a link on my Facebook page, I spend a lot of time on social networking. I’ve got Facebook, Instagram, a blog, and 2 Twitter accounts. I spend my free time following links that my friends post on these sites and reading other blogs. I’m constantly connected. So a lot of people were surprised, and a few were even disappointed or angry, when I told them I wasn’t going to post anything on Facebook during Lent.
I found that the experience was a lot easier than I expected, and actually made me really happy. Disconnecting from my social network certainly had it’s problems, but one of the pros was that it gave me time to really focus on my close friendships. I got to know the people around me a lot better. I would ask them about their lives rather than repeat back to them something that they’d said on their most recent tweet or status update. It also made me wonder, why did I have such a peace of mind during this time period?
Whenever I spend time on Facebook or other social networking sites I tend to get envious of the lives of my friends and acquaintances. I’ll see someone post a status about the fun thing they did last weekend, or pictures of their new baby, or update their relationship status to “in a relationship” or “engaged,” and then I wonder why I couldn’t have done something as fun as that with my weekend, why I couldn’t be in a relationship that seems as happy as theirs, or why I can’t already be starting a family with that person that I will eventually meet and love more than anything. Why are the seemingly perfect lives of all of my friends so much better than my life which is full of ups and down, easy times and hard?
It certainly makes things worse when I think about the times when I actually do spend a lot of time on Facebook It tends to be when I’m at home, bored, and lonely, or procrastinating on a paper I don’t want to write or a chapter for class that I don’t want to read. So I end up comparing my loneliness and boredom to everyone else’s high points. Aside from some people trying to throw a pity party, most people don’t post about the bad parts of their day. They share the cool things. They talk about what’s making them happy, and post pictures of a good meal or a fun night out with friends. Which means I’m comparing my low points of boredom at home to their high points.
It also creates a false sense of connectedness to a lot of people all at the same time. I feel like I know everything that is going on in the lives of my 1248 Facebook friends, but in reality I’m only getting the occasional highlights. For 98% of them, I have no idea what their struggles are, what they’re stressing out about, or what their interior spiritual/ emotional life is like. All I know is they had one hell of a time dancing last night, and that they think that a particular meme is funny, or, in today’s case, that they have siblings (Happy National Siblings Day everybody!!).
Going to confession during Lent was the first time in a while where I didn’t feel the need to confess jealousy towards some of my friends, which was a great feeling that was probably driven in part by staying away from Facebook. But with all of that said, I don’t think envy is the worst side effect of social media. I think it’s seriously damaging how we interact with other people and form relationships. A lot of people have forgotten how to communicate, and we consider following someone’s tweets to be just as good as talking to them on a regular basis. Through spending my spare time during Lent focusing on one on one relationships rather than Facebook I re-learned how important that type of communication is, especially when we’ve become, as a society, so addicted to text messages, Facebook statuses, tweets, and emails.
Is social media inherently bad for you? Absolutely not. But the important thing to focus on when using it is whether we are using it as a way to compare or a way to connect. One of those will strengthen relationships, while the other destroys them.
If you can’t think of at least 5 people who you consider yourself very close to, the type of people you could talk to about anything, who you can talk to for hours about all of the different things that they’ve been up to and thinking about lately, and who really know what your recent struggles and successes are, I’d encourage you to make a few new friends and really open yourself up with them. Make your friendship include things like getting beers together once a week, walking their dog with them every Sunday afternoon and talking for hours about anything and everything, getting coffee after you’re done serving breakfast with the Knights of Columbus on a Sunday morning, or meeting in a small group weekly to discuss the high points and low points of the week. It’s so much better than text messages, Facebook comments, and looking at the Instagram photos of their latest meal.