From time to time, articles will circulate on social media that illustrate the evils of social media. Get off of Facebook and start living. Step outdoors and look around. Talk to a stranger on a train. Play with your kids.
That’s a great message. Don’t allow social media to keep you indoors. Don’t let it steal the attention that your kids need. Don’t sit in a room full of real-life friends and stare at your phones. If your screens keep you from seeing the world around you, then you need to take immediate action.
However, these anti-social-media articles bug me. If you’re convicted by them, then you probably do need to make some adjustments. But I also believe these articles are missing the mark, at least with many of us. For one thing, there’s an irony in using social media to badmouth social media. With many of my friends, I would have no idea they were wrestling with appropriate technology usage were it not for technology.
Does social media take our eyes off of the real world?
There are other, bigger problems with the arguments against social media. It’s true that smart phones can keep us indoors and keep our eyes off of nature. But when I see photos of the sunsets my friends are witnessing, the hikes they’re taking, and the roads they’re travelling, I’m often inspired to look up and around. Social media gives me an opportunity to appreciate nature through the eyes of my friends. Rather than distracting me from the real world, social media often draws my attention to the real world.
Does social media make us anti-social?
It’s also true that if you’re standing in line at Starbucks (or anywhere), everyone in line is staring at their phones rather than chatting with each other. But how chatty were retail lines before smart phones anyway? I’m not the type to small talk with strangers just because we’re both waiting to order coffee. So I’m not upset that they’re all looking at their phones while we wait. Personally, I’m glad I can use those few minutes to see what my friends are up to, to read a quick article or blog post (are you reading this in line somewhere?), or to knock out an email or two during a few spare minutes that would otherwise be wasted. In some contexts, you need to put down your phone and be social. I’m not sure that sitting on a bus or standing in a line qualify.
Does social media take our attention off of our families?
Being distracted from your family is probably the most serious accusation against social media. I don’t want to minimize this. I sometimes have to fight the urge to pull the phone out of my pocket when I’m at home with my family. When God has given you an opportunity to be with friends and family, don’t choose that moment to nose around the internet. But many of my friends use social media in a family-centered way. They’re posting photos of their family doing fun things because (this will blow your mind) they’re doing fun things with their family! Social media allows them to preserve and share memories—real memories that they’re really making with their real family. In my opinion, there’s a valuable place for social media, even in family life.
Do we pretend to be happy and perfect on social media?
I’ve also heard social media attacked on the grounds that people try to make themselves look good. All of these superficial Facebook users post their happy times but conveniently pass over their embarrassing or tragic life events. I’m sure some of that goes on, but I think the critique is misguided on two counts. First, I see people posting unhappy content all the time. The loss of loved ones. Requests for prayers in the midst of trials. Stories about their failures in parenting. So I’m not sure that critique is even valid much of the time. But secondly, isn’t that more of a human issue than a social media issue? How many of us go around telling people about what makes us sad when we’re chatting after church on Sunday mornings? In my experience, not many people answer the casual “how are you?” by saying “depressed” or “angry” or something equally unflattering. We know there’s a time and a place to go deeper. And in my view, social media is not the place to work through deep, sad, tragic issues. Call me old fashioned, but I’d rather do that face to face. Maybe people aren’t pretending to live perfect lives; maybe they’re using social media appropriately.
Here’s the thing. Social media doesn’t ruin lives. We ruin our own lives. Social media doesn’t force us to neglect our kids. It’s there when we want to stop interacting with our kids, but so are books, television, phone conversations, etc. Social media is not to blame; it always comes down to the heart.
Technology is an excellent tool if you use it well. But if you find yourself dehumanized through your use of social media, it’s time to check your heart. Deleting your Facebook app might help, but there are probably deeper issues in your heart that need to be addressed. If you’re not using your time sacrificially for good things, then the time you spent on social media will simply go towards some other non-essential pursuit.
We should be intent on living fully, and maybe social media can help us do it.