On Not Belonging to our Social Networking Feeds

It’s day 27 of my #write31day challenge and I have been meaning to write on the topic of social media since the beginning! 

On Not Belonging (1)

Back in 2007, I signed up for an account with a trend I couldn’t let slip by. I got to add my profile picture, supply my info and let the world know I am here! I wasn’t one of the initial joiners, as it generated in 2004, but Facebook has been integrated into my world long enough now to know that it’s definitely altered several aspects of my life. I didn’t know then that I was innocently giving away a lot of future time to what would become an essential part of my day.

Am I an addict to social networking sites? I don’t know if I’d go that far. But I crave information and connectivity and it serves both of those cravings. I love to know things about people, love ideas and love to feel like I’m not missing any big news. You’ve heard people say, or maybe you’ve said, “I missed (insert big life event), because I didn’t see it on Facebook.

According to the Pew Internet Project research, as of January 2014, 74% of online adults use social networking sites, the most popular being Facebook, the number of users growing all the time. This cultural trend is not going away, we’re living in an era where connectivity is most accessible and also most threatened. How has it impacted our lives? Do we belong to our social networking feeds? Are we slaves to the constant stream of noise and news?

As a budding writer, seeking to build influence and a platform of interested readers, I rely on social media sites to help get my work out to the masses (or to a handful of dedicated readers!). I get exposed to other writer’s works which challenges me to grow. And as a person who has moved countless times, social networking has been a conduit for staying in touch and watching friends’ and relatives’ events unfold.

Marlena Graves summed it up well in her book, A Beautiful Disaster,

“While the internet is a convenient way to keep in touch with family and friends and to plumb the depths of knowledge, it is also a means of indulging our idle curiosities and nearly insatiable appetites for attention, affirmation, fame, and influence.”

So despite the positive aspects, the negative ones post a real danger. We are settling for quick fixes to address our relational needs, a strategy that leaves us feeling emptier and less significant than ever.

Consider just two statistics about the American population:

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)
  • While the US makes up less than 5% of the global population, 80% of the world’s manufactured opioids and 99% of world’s hydrocodone (Vicodin)  are consumed by people in the US. (A recent statistic from the American College of Clinical Pharmacology (September 23, 2015)

We are in emotional and physical pain, longing for a cure. We want belongingness in the most meaningful way but are settling for placebos. And despite this core longing to be loved and affirmed, we’re numbing our own abilities to do so well. The more we are staring into our phones or computers, the less we are really living life with each other. We miss the nuance of a facial expression, the earnestness of a child’s request, the opportunity to give and receive real love from those right in front of us.

So many meaningful relationships take uninterrupted quality time. A baby growing in it’s mother’s womb, friends growing closer over a year-long Bible study, married love deepening over decades. If we replace the majority of our interactions with quick snippets reduced to a pithy comment or thumbs up, the void of belonging will only increase, not abate.

How many times have we gone Maleficent and essentially used social media sites as our mirror; asking it, “Facebook, Facebook on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?” How do I compare to others? If our mirror says we’re the fairerest, then the feeling is good. If the mirror finds a Briar Rose, we’d like to shove a poison apple at her. Certainly not a way of thinking to belong to for peace and joy.

Though there are good things about social networking and I don’t plan on giving it up, there are dangers that lurk–filling a void, a la carte relational interactions, comparison and envy that make it a dangerous venture without being accompanied by wisdom.

Some ideas to avoid social networking feed slavery:

  1. Set limits. The only way to healthily integrate social media into our lives is with the context of limits. They are different for everyone; some friends have taken social media apps off their phones, some limit their interactions to a few minutes in the evening, and others fast for given periods of time. Anything that comes without limits has the passcode to controlling us.
  2. Determine your purpose for going on-line. If you go browsing in search of “something,” not knowing what it is, you won’t find it—and you’ll probably feel worse when you’re done.
  3. Friend or spouse accountability: What do others say about your interaction with online social sites?
  4. Consider what social media presence you want to have. You are called to be a witness even to the ends of the earth; that now includes to the far reaches of the internet. You don’t get to take off your Crucifix when you sit down at a computer.
  5. Weigh your virtual versus actual interactions: Do you spend more time surfing than pursing?
  6. Take your emotional temperature: How do you feel after you’ve been on social networking sites? If it’s bummed, then they are controlling you. I’ve been there many times. If we let other’s perceptions of us rule, the Truth of God will be blocked in favor of lies.

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

Don’t let your social networking feed own you; live life and make room for real relationships that reflect God and his love. Only then can you and I begin to sense true belonging. I know there’s fear of putting ourselves out there or acceptance that this is the norm now. And I know in our pain and emotional voids we’ll settle for anything to feel better.

But let’s be the Church to each other. Let’s look around and be intentional about connecting, so we don’t have to belong to our social networking feeds.

 

For links to all the #write31days posts on belonging click here.

 

Comments

  1. Galatians 1:10 has long been my life verse, but I fear I often forget to live by it. Thanks for taking the time to share this message; it is needed! I know my kids are always on my case about my phone habits. It is hard to break away but so important in order to model for them the value of real relationships over virtual ones.

    • We write to work out the kinks in our own lives right? I don’t want my kids memories to be of me on a phone all the time. 🙂 Agreed that real relationships trump, that’s why it was good to see you even for a few minutes this morning. I was happy about it all day! (but, indeed like on-line connection with you which is important as writers…)

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