Lately when I sit down to write, it feels a little stilted. Things feel a little off. I don’t feel quite up to the task of writing instructive, catechetical stuff right now. When I get questions about why the Catholic Church teaches this or that, or what to say when confronted with such and such pressing social issue, I sigh and close my inbox and want to answer that person in person, looking into their eyes over a cup of coffee, having a conversation.
As I’ve pulled back more and more from social media, my tolerance for human interaction has increased in a manner that this sleep-deprived introvert finds a little bit shocking. Even scandalous. Like, what have I been doing with my time these past years, that I would hide away from my neighbors and let phone calls go straight to voicemail, so anxious was I for solitude.
But it wasn’t actual solitude I was usually practicing, hunkered down in the trenches of early motherhood and round the clock feedings.
I was always connected.
Always one more click, one more scroll, one more follow. I was exhausting my entire capacity for social interaction in a way that is – if I’m being honest – social in name only. And in the practice of consuming social media, I think it was consuming me.
Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? That dazed, eyes-burning startle of guilt and confusion over the clock now reading 10:39 pm, and you were just going to log on “for a quick second.” And that was around 9:30. You don’t feel any more satisfied or any more connected, necessarily, but you might be mentally cursing your fate of now fewer than 8 hours of sleep because of one happy little rooster who will not be put off past 6 am.
I’ve missed some life events and birthdays and milestones this past couple months of ignorant bliss, but nothing so big that it couldn’t be rectified with a phone call or a personal inquiry. And the things that I truly dropped the ball on? What kind of a friendship requires digital notifications to maintain? Busy as we all are, that’s not a real relationship, in all honesty.
I’m not condemning social media or the use of it. I’m just processing and exploring what it means to me and what being unconnected now means for me. About how my brain is quieter. And in that sometimes uncomfortable quiet, there is room.
That’s the biggest difference. The busy, over-connected and always-scanning brain (mine, anyway) was noisy. Statuses I’d read, articles I’d consumed, videos I’d watched, updates I’d taken notice of. Images I’d seen and liked and assimilated into my interior landscape.
What we put into our bodies matters. I can hardly hope to eat burritos 3 times a day and avoid looking like one, however much I desire (and truly, I pine) for that not to be the case. What we put into our souls, the same. “Whatever is true, whatever is good, whatever is beautiful.” Should it come as a surprise that what we take in through our eyes matter, also? The words we read, the images we consume, the entertainment that captivates so much of the day and so much of my internal space.
I guess I’d been keeping pace with technology and consuming a moderate amount, by most standards, gradually accumulating accounts on the newer platforms and using the apps and basically just the norms of the culture around me. Without stopping to consider, truly, is this good for me? Is this healthy? Is this sustainable?
But everybody is on Facebook. Everybody shares their lives on social media. Jenny, you are a blogger.
Yes. This is a confusing and not entirely clean-cut knot I find myself trying to untangle.
But is the ambient culture an effective litmus for what is good for the human person? Is it a good standard against which my happiness can be measured?
I don’t think it is.
I see more and more time being spent online (she types on her blog) and increasing social and emotional estrangement in real life. I see sadness and unrest and such a hunger for real connection and so much loneliness. We live with such a poverty of love. And social media has the potential to alleviate that poverty in the right doses and used in the right ways. But overall, when I asses my own usage of it and my endless appetite for more!clicks! I have to be honest with myself and admit that 90% of the time, I am not being enriched by it. And not just in a “you could be using your time better” sense, but on a deeper level.
I am not enriched by the hours I spend distracted and separate from my actual life.
I would venture to say that you are not, either.
And oh, I say this with so much compassion, so much trepidation, so much awareness that for many, many people, community is few and far between, whether by limitations that are geographic or stage-in-life or shared belief in nature. I remember myself in that little 2 bedroom apartment in Rome, looking out the balcony window at the majestic rise of the Dome of St. Peter’s with hot, homesick tears running down my cheeks while my small babies napped in the room next door. That was a season of Skype and this computer was like a portal to another world, one where I had friends who loved me and family who knew me.
But I did miss out on a lot that year, too. If I could go back and do it again, in hindsight, I wonder, would I have made the trek over to the Borgo to see my friend Susana more frequently? Would I have braved the trundling city bus – stroller and all – to go see JoAnn at the U of M campus across town? Maybe I would have hosted that ill-fated American moms meet up at my apartment more than one single time. Perhaps I’d have taken the trek down river to Trastevere and spent more mornings with Kristi on that really surprisingly nice playground, cappuccino in hand.
Or maybe not. But I like to think that if I’d had more emotional reserves in the ‘ol tank or could have known how truly fleeting that season was, that it could have been different.
That’s the thing about hindsight, though. It’s only ever an exercise in imagination. And it can’t undo what was.
But now, in this time and in this season, I can apply that exercise in imagination and allow it to inform the choices and allocations of time and energy that are being made daily. And I’m finding more and more that I’m picking up the phone, not to scroll or to distract, but to call someone or send a text. I’m walking over to the fence and talking to my neighbor. I’m sitting in the silence of the post-bedtime hurricane, surveying the damage of the living room and feeling the tug towards a screen, but choosing often to forgo another episode of such and such, to plug in the phone for the night and walk away.
I can’t say that those nights are particularly exciting, or even productive, but there is a peaceful stillness to the way a brain naturally shuts down, maybe after a bath or a half hour with a book or a newspaper. Or maybe just in quiet, companionable silence mingled with conversation with my husband.
I don’t want to miss my life because I’m trying to escape from it. I want to lean into the hard, boring, painful parts and find out what He has for me there. Or I want to curl into a ball and cry out to Him that I can’t handle the pain, that I need Him to fix it, to answer me.
But I don’t want to be distracted from it. That’s not good enough any more.
Entertained sometimes? Sure. I still want that. But I want to be the one to make that call.
I don’t want my default setting to be “numb, zoned, consumed, detached.” I’m too aware of the sharp pains and pleasures now of real life, and that every minute I spend disconnected from it is a gradual atrophy of the muscles I need in order to stay in the present when the going gets tough. Motherhood is hard enough when I’m not handicapping myself by training my attention span back down to that of my very sanguine 6-year-old’s. Distraction is a poor master but a good occasional servant. I don’t need to constantly employ it in the checkout line or the car. Or when I’m in pain and tempted to turn away from real life.
It’s not cut and dry, and I’m not disavowing technology or digital engagement. But there is peace and clarity in pulling back, in assessing and evaluating and making conscious and intentional decisions about how this short time on earth is spent, and what it is spent on.
Sometimes I’ve joked in the past that I’m going to have to answer to God one day for every hour spent on Facebook. And while it was said tongue in cheek, that’s actually a terrifying prospect. Not that I used social media, per se, but how much time was spent there, and doing what.
The tools are neutral. Our actions with them are not. I don’t want to get busted having buried the talent.
Not because of any servile fear of God, but because what a waste. I wonder, when I think about Mother Teresa’s now-famed schedule, would she have found time to build a platform and grow a brand and get the MCs online, even if it would have been great for their fundraising efforts?
And I do sincerely wonder this. We have few saints to pattern our behavior after in this new digital frontier. I have a hunch that she’d probably err on the side of social media minimalism, just because she had such insight into matters of the heart. She’s a good saint, I think, to petition for prayers in this landscape of human loneliness and discontent. I think she would be happy to become a sort of patroness against isolation and loneliness. I think she’d like that a lot.