The other day, I was having lunch with an older wiser friend, and we began talking about social media. She, having only recently come back to Facebook after being away for roughly two years, was expressing how she was already beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed by the flood of opinions and images and statuses on her feed. I’ve had Facebook since I was about 11, and I’ve never taken a two-year hiatus, and yet I can still certainly relate to feeling overwhelming at times. So, it’s not just something you have to "get over" when you rejoin the social media world. It’s not something you really get used to.
I wouldn’t consider myself addicted to my phone — not because I don’t use my phone a lot because I do. I wouldn’t consider myself as someone who’s addicted to my phone solely because when I’m unable to use my phone (like when I'm up in the mountains where there’s no cell service or when my phone dies while I’m out and about), I usually end up feeling relieved rather than annoyed.
Whenever I come back from a retreat in the mountains, it’s always a struggle for me to turn my phone back on just because I know that as soon as I do, I’m going to feel pressured to check every single notification, text, email and snapchat.
Okay, so the point of this article is not any sort of “holier than thou” message — not even close. I’m still on my phone a lot — probably to an unhealthy degree. The point of this article isn’t even to say that technology is evil or that social media is the reason for ALL THE BAD THINGS!!! No. The technology we have today is actually a really wonderful human innovation and should be respected. There are so many people who I would not be able to contact with if it weren’t for the social media platforms we have available to us. Technology can be really, truly good.
My point about technology is this: we need to learn how to control technology so that it doesn’t control us. (And I don’t even mean that to sound like the opening line of some Sci-Fi, robot movie.)
You know the overwhelming feeling I’m talking about, right?
You open up Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat because you’re bored or you have a few minutes of open free time. The first post you see might be somewhat interesting, so you’re intrigued, and you get a good feeling of “Ooooh!” and “Ahhhh!” as you watch a video of decorating a cake or something. Then, you keep scrolling. An image of a dog: cute! A ranting, angry political status promoting Trump — ugh. “Why am I on here again?” Eventually, it becomes somewhat mindless, and you’re just kind of scrolling and looking for the sake of scrolling and looking.
Then you become aware of how unproductive you are. “I should really be doing homework,” you say as your thumb continues to flick up and down your phone screen. You can’t seem to stop. “Wow, another cat falling off a couch. Cool.” Your thumb speeds up its scrolling pace a bit.
“No, like, I really need to go do homework,” but your eyes are still glued to the screen. You get a text! Then a snapchat! Someone commented on your selfie! There’s another angry status about Hillary Clinton! Your phone becomes physically hot from working so hard to produce all the information you’re taking in. “Ahhh if only I could just get to the bottom of this Facebook feed and see some familiar stuff, so I can carry on with my life!” As if there was something you’re expecting to find at the bottom that will answer your curiosity.
You must be kept up. You must stay in the know. You must not miss anything. You. Can’t. Stop.
(This is usually the part where I throw my phone to the other side of my bed or violently drop it on my desk, as if attempting to conquer the social media monster. But I don’t know if anyone else does that.)
The TV show Portlandia actually does a really good skit that perfectly demonstrates this craziness.
That’s the feeling of being overwhelmed that I’m talking about. I know it all too well.
When I sat at lunch the other day and heard about my friend being overwhelmed by Facebook, this is all I could think about. I expressed to her how crazy it made me feel, and she just kind of looked at me and said, “Well, have you ever considered fasting from social media? Sounds like you should take a break from it.” I don’t know why this somehow seemed like the most revolutionary idea ever, but it did. Why hadn’t I considered fasting from it?
I realize the irony behind this article is that anyone who reads this is probably reading it from their phone because they were on Facebook on their lunch break or something. You probably just got a text from your friend on the same screen on which you’re reading this.
But that’s the thing. I don’t think we should permanently get rid of social media forever. As I said, it has the potential to be truly good. All I propose is that we consider taking breaks every once in a while from social media or from modern technology as a whole. Delete your Facebook or Instagram apps, or put your phone away for as long as you need until you feel you can safely re-enter the social media world without being controlled by it. I have yet to actually, formally try this fasting from technology, but I'm more than willing to give it a shot. Who wants to join me?
Like I said, we should be controlling social media. It should not be controlling us.