Yeah, I know. I wrote a book on technology for parents, yet I haven’t even been on social media lately. At least, I wasn’t on for a season, and I feel I’m all the better because of it. So here’s the story. For several months I took a social media sabbatical. I didn’t delete my accounts; I just let them sit there idling for a while. It wasn’t that I felt there was an addiction or anything morally wrong with social media, but rather a distraction from what was most important in my life.
In full disclosure, during my three months away from social media, I did make two posts and retweeted three times. I wasn’t trying to be legalistic about my absence. In each case, I felt there was something important that needed to be shared. As much as possible, I simply wanted to take a pause from talking about myself in any way, not to avoid the events of the world altogether.
Think of a sabbatical from social media as something akin to giving up chocolate for Lent. About fifteen years ago, I gave up beef for Lent, then when Lent was over, I never went back. About ten years ago, I gave up soft drinks, then when Lent was over, I never went back. I’d never given up social media, and frankly, 30 days just didn’t seem long enough. Now after going three months without it, I think I could very easily walk away from most forms of social media altogether.
I read that Ed Sheeran did a similar social media detox two years ago. He decided to give up not only social media, but also his cell phone as a new year’s resolution. He announced on his Instagram account, “I’m taking a break from my phone, emails, and all social media for a while. I’ve had such an amazing ride over the the last five years, but I find myself seeing the world through a screen and not my eyes so I’m taking this opportunity of me not having to be anywhere or do anything to travel the world and see everything I missed.”
I am more and more convinced that social media doesn’t connect me, but rather isolates me. It makes me believe that I know what’s happening in people’s lives because I see their birthday announcement on Facebook or a picture of their athletic accomplishment on Instagram. My LinkedIn even tells me when a far-off business acquaintance gets a job promotion, as if I am somehow a part of the experience. But I’m not. It may give me the illusion of social tendons holding my life together, but just like Ed, I am missing so much of the real world.
In what has to be the most ironic advertisement I’ve seen in a while, here is a banner ad from E!Online that was posted on their site at the bottom of their interview with Ed Sheeran about his social media blackout.
One moment I’m reading Ed say to me in so many words, “Turn it off. Get out. Go play. See the real world.” And at the bottom of the same screen is this ad telling me that the way to avoid the “Fear of Missing Out” is to sign up for their social media updates. E!Online bills itself as the website for entertainment and celebrity news and gossip. In other words, why live my own life, when I can live vicariously through the gossip of other’s lives. Really?
Social media consumes more than my time. It distracts me from what’s most important. It takes away part of my humanity. Most importantly, whether I care to admit it or not, if affects the condition of my soul. I can certainly use it and it can serve a purpose in my life, but I have stopped looking at social media as a necessity for human connectivity in the millennial age.
Over my time away, you didn’t get to hear about my trips to North Dakota, Cincinnati, New York, Tampa, or Boston. You didn’t get to see me brag about my son and daughter—which I do quite frequently because I think they are amazing. I didn’t get to wish my friends a Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas on Facebook. Yet the world kept spinning, and to borrow from Gordon McDonald, my own private world feels a little more ordered.
I decided to let you in on my experience for two reasons. One, I need to remind myself not to get dragged back in again to the “time suck” that social media can be on my life. A friend from Oregon, Lacey B., recently told me that she only uses one social platform because “I hate learning new technology, but more importantly, I’d rather be with people than spend all that time staring at my phone; trying to ‘manage my life.'” This too is were I’d like to stay for awhile. Regardless of what new social platforms are launched, I don’t have to follow.
“…more importantly, I’d rather be with people than spend all that time staring at my phone; trying to ‘manage my life.'” –– Lacey B.
Two, I hope this will help you ponder your own relationship with social media. Are you using it or is it using you? A little of both perhaps? Describing the highlights of what I learned will take a while, and one thing we’ve all learned from social media is no one has a while. We all like our social media to be quick, bitesize, and able to see all we need at a glimpse. Instead of losing you halfway, I’ll be releasing a social-media-sized portion of my experience over several days. So be sure to check back to read the three big lessons I learned from unplugging and setting it all aside.