Entering Social Media With An Empty Tank

social media

Last September, my husband took a much-needed two-week holiday from work. He had vacation days accumulated that would expire soon and had just completed a heavy cycle of projects that lasted months with many long hours at the office and often working weekends. We didn’t have the budget to travel, so we decided to make a fun and light staycation out of it. Lots of sleeping in, ordering takeout, watching movies and reading. I was overjoyed to have him all to myself for two weeks. That alone felt like a vacation to me. And that is what motivated me to do the following.

When our staycation began, on a regular Monday of a regular week, my brain went into regular mode. I wanted to grab my phone all the time. To tweet, to check Instagram, see who wrote what on Facebook, etc. Only, this time, I would look up and see that my husband was there in the room. We were together during hours that normally I don’t have the joy of his company. Wanting to not waste the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation, or simply enjoy him, I’d resist reaching for the phone.

Finally, I decided to regulate my usage. About twice a day for 10 minutes, I would check it and participate by posting, liking, etc., if I felt compelled. Having my husband home for an extended period was much more alluring than endless scrolling, tapping, and commenting.

By the end of his two-week break, I noticed something that wasn’t there before: I had a lot more emotional energy. Not only was there more desire to engage, be present and pay attention, but the energy to do so was in better supply. It was feeling emotionally fully present, more whole (less fragmented?), more focused, and even more content, that helped me realize how much I normally didn’t feel that way.

After that, I became more observant of my own mood and mindset. I began to be more intentional with how I approached social-media, and for what purpose.

I was so taken by the sudden increase of energy, emotional clarity, and focus, I prayerfully decided to create a social media filter for myself. An inventory if you will, to check up on my emotions and gauge expectations:

1. Filter to gauge my heart’s conditions.

Am I running on empty? Have I gotten my fuel from healthy sources, like God’s Word, or spending time in real life with loved ones?

2. Filter to discern what I share or consume.

Is it truth based? i.e. from God’s Word, consistent with it? Honouring it?

Is it true? About me, my life? And not to make me look/feel better.

Is it life-giving?

3. When sharing or consuming remember…

Don’t try to speak to everyone about everything. (refer to #1)

Don’t try to consume everything from everyone. (refer to #2)

Fast forward to the present. Over the past 8 weeks, I’ve been taking one day a week off from social media. The experience has been revealing. It’s helped me understand on a deeper level our need for connection, and in my case, my own mismanagement to satisfy it. It’s brought full circle those questions I created for myself back in September.

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I chose Sunday to soak in the respite of a slower rhythm and counter the emotional fatigue I often feel by the end of the week. Although sometimes I switch it up and fast Friday or Saturday, I find Sunday works well. Usually, I begin my fast, late Saturday evening. Then on Monday, either late morning or early afternoon, I will re-engage, catch up with notifications, read status updates, and post if I have something to share.

Now two months into this practice, I’ve noticed that I’m less eager to grab my phone come Monday. Willing yes, but not needing to. Finding that I need it less is refreshing, liberating. It’s also very telling, begging the question: What need was I satisfying?

On the other hand, disconnecting on Saturdays stills feels sudden. It’s when I will reach out for my phone and with a deep sigh remember that in a few hours I’ll sign off. Less habit there. Why is that? I wonder. The answer, for me, has to do with why I use it, why I engage with it.

Like most, I use it to connect.

Being far from my closest friends, social media is a way to stay in touch and share a bit of our lives. Funny moments, cool adventures, and the occasional rant. Or to consume what I think of as high calibre content; thought-provoking articles, posts written by fellow writers, etc.

The problem occurs when in that myriad of interactions and connections, the pictures and words become my measure for performance, validation, or happiness. In my longing for connection, the small squares and short paragraphs become failed mirrors and definitions, which leave a vague feeling of sadness.

Vague because the cause is almost subliminal. Quiet thoughts that run underneath the regular frequency of my day. Undercurrent narratives like I am not as skilled. My life does not look like that and perhaps it should, oh no another thing I am behind! And so on. They are more a general malaise than a clear statement.

I am reminded of these words found in the gospel of Mark: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 ESV.

What most catches my attention here is the wording. It’s informing me that I was made for something, not the other way around. This verse is Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees, who watching him along with the disciples collecting food from a field, question him, presuming they hold the higher moral ground because a rule they know well is not observed.

Jesus’ words are piercing. The nuance between something being made for us vs. us being made for it marks the difference between life-giving and life-draining. How often I behave toward something as if I was made for it. That is a picture of idolatry. If you think you were made for something, your reflex is to work for it, to serve it. When we see something made for us, our attitude is to enjoy it, soak it up, we use it.

His answer makes me think of how we engage social-media. Like other man-made inventions, is a tool that can be useful. The problem is the heart is always looking for ways to fill its emotional tank. Connection morphs into comparison, validation, and so on. I feel empty. I want to connect. Rinse and repeat. This reverses its role of the tool, something made for me to use and instead makes me a dependent, made for it.

We have a maker and we were made for Him.

***

This post had been on my mind for a long while, but I didn’t feel ready to share. I found inspiration in this piece by fellow writer Carrie Roer. Great tips!

Learning informs my decisions. First from God’s Word, letting it steep deep in my thoughts to rewire them. Also, sound advice backed by solid research. Tony Reinke’s book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You is a resource I can’t recommend enough. Another excellent book on the subject is Andy Crouch’s Techwise Family.

Lastly, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport is a worthwhile read. Heavily researched, the book covers methods to work productively and efficiently in areas that demand focused attention, including writing. I read it in May and I am still chewing on the insights. The chapter on social media alone is worth getting the book.


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Paola Barrera
Paola Barrera is a writer and a learner. She blogs at www.wordsoutloud.net about living everyday life with eternal perspective. She and her husband Gustavo live in Montreal, Canada. You can follow her on Twitter  and Instagram.