Some thoughts on social media
We are in a semi-survival season here, with a newish-born babe and 4 other kiddos – first grade down to the 2-year-old who is crazy like a fox and did, in fact, climb on top of the fridge and rain down contraband Peeps on his brethren before 7 o’clock this fair morn.
But it’s not as intense of a survival season as, say, 2 months ago when the baby was still truly a newborn, and it was also bitterly cold, and nobody would ever just go to bed on the first or even second attempt.
So things have improved. My motherhood muscles have been broken down and pulled taut by a grueling new pace of life, and the routine is starting to feel, well, routine. But this week has been a little rougher.
Because, man, 4 days out from Easter and I am burnt from spending so many hours on Instagram. I actually had to make up some new ground rules for myself of only checking T/Th between 9-10 am (or something, still working on that) because after a Lent-long social media abstinence, I spent the first 48 hours of the Easter season in a blurry haze of scrolling and liking and storytelling. And I haven’t even logged back into Facebook or Twitter, yet.
I consider myself an addictive personality, whatever that means. For me, it means that abstinence is always far easier than moderation, and that when I do fall off the bandwagon, it’s with a flying leap that tends to do serious damage both to me and to the ground below.
So I didn’t have a smartphone for the better part of a year and it was magical and freeing and I was such a great mom! And then… I got another smartphone. Because all my research and attempts to find a texting-capable and still reliable dumb phone proved futile. So now I have this crummy, bottom-of-the-line prepaid Samsung situation with a screen so cracked that I have to squint to see my contacts, lest I errantly dial my boss’s phone number instead of my mom’s (tile floor, meet glass screen) and yet I’m still so lured by the siren song of digital dopamine that I will spend 4 (4! I know, because I have an app that tracks usage #irony) hours straining my eyes at, among other things, pictures of other people’s kids dressed in their Easter best and great vignettes composed of little else but fiddle leaf figs and white walls.
It’s a problem.
It’s a problem and I know it’s a problem.
It’s a bigger problem that although I recognize and acknowledge the problem, I come crawling back again and again “as a dog returns to its vomit” (Dave claims this is my favorite Scripture quote, but he is wrong) panting with desire for the thing that I have repeatedly identified as a problem: ‘social’ media.
‘Social’ media is distinct and separate from social media (texting, Voxer, Whatapp, etc) whereby I am communicating with people who are actually my friends and with the intention of sharing specific nuggets of information. And it’s not that I don’t have real friends on Instagram! I do! I love you, Instagram friends! But there is a marked difference, for me, in social media as the evolved flow of conversation and information between friends and family (letter meet telegraph meet telephone meet email) and the ‘social’ media that captivates our attention spans and fills our minds and hearts with unrest.
This is my litmus:
Social media: me reaching out to or being summoned by a specific person for the express purpose of communicating specific information “I was thinking of you/I have a question/Have you seen this article?”
‘Social’ media: essentially, it’s group-curated entertainment, heavily subsidized by advertisers and controlled by algorithms to maximize time and attention spent consuming and participating in an unending feedback loop marked less by communication and more by consumption of publically-directed content.
Social media is pleasant and useful and makes life more interesting.
‘Social’ media makes me a crappy wife and mother, and causes me to shriek in annoyance at my children when they trespass on my “me time,” in which I mindlessly consume content about other people’s beautiful lives while my own brood tries futility to get my attention from the swing set.
I’m impressing nobody with my grim self assessment of motherhood here, but truly, I spent much of Monday and Tuesday of this week in a bleary eyed haze of catch up after a six week hiatus from this stuff, and it was not pretty. I felt not unlike a Whole 30 finisher walking shakily out of Coldstone Creamery on day 31 with a sugar headache and a belly full of regrets.
I hate that this is such a struggle for me. I hate that I’m modeling poor boundaries for my kids, who aren’t even allowed to play video games or use screens without mommy or daddy present. It’s hypocritical as hell, and I know it, and yet I wave them off with a guilty internal resolve to do better “tomorrow,” because gosh darn it, today is hard and I need a little distraction fix.
And sometimes you do need a little distraction fix. But I think there are edifying distractions (articles on First Things or cat memes, for example) and then there are pure junk food distractions. The former leave you feeling mentally refreshed and lighter in spirit. The latter cause you to look up with a crick in your neck at 10:39 pm and realize with a wave of guilt that you just lost nearly forty minutes of your life to catching up on someone else’s life without actually spending time with them, and at the direct expense of your own, since 5 am will come swiftly and with the vengeance of a preschooler.
My quality of life is inversely proportional with my overindulgence in ‘social’ media, I’m convinced of it. And funnily enough, it’s those times where my life feels the most overwhelming/uninspiring/frustrating that I am most tempted to “get away from it all” and tap open a little app to escape for a quick hit.
But it’s never a quick hit, and it’s never enough. I don’t feel better afterwards. I don’t dust off my pants and smile cheerfully in the direction of my obligations and responsibilities when it’s over, refreshed by a new perspective or a little mental solitude. Quite the contrary, I am, generally, more ill at ease, less content, and much more snappish after I’ve been mindlessly observing other people’s’ lives to escape momentarily from my own.
It doesn’t help me escape. It makes me feel even more trapped.
And woe to the child who stops me in my scroll with a pressing irl “need” like a wiped butt or a filled cup or a question about something they saw in the backyard.
“mmmhmmm,” I’ll often mumble, not looking up. “That’s super interesting. Here, let me help you with that,” eyes still glued to screen, not even bothering to use two hands to gather someone’s tangled hair into the world’s most pathetic little ponytail.
My children should not have to compete with a screen.
And I should not prefer a screen to their little faces! So what is wrong with me? What is wrong with us, that this seems to be a struggle of such epidemic proportions? And what are the realistic solutions, given the profoundly ironic reality that I’m going to share this blog on Facebook after I finish writing it? The Internet and digital communication are here to stay, and so, like electricity and food and pinot noir, they are something we have to learn to enjoy in moderation.
What are your thoughts? How do you protect your kids from your own online consumption habits? Do you have rules and behaviors that help you draw the line? Do you struggle with feeling addicted to digital content/social media/connectivity? Do you have any lasting solutions for moderation you’d be willing to share in the combox?
I’d love to continue this as an ongoing conversation we can have about best practices and how to use social media rather than being used by the social media. I’m also eager for any book suggestions – two that I’ve read that have really helped shape my vision, idealistic though it may be, for my own use of social media are Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” and Sherry Turkle’s “Reclaiming Conversation in a Digital World.” A third title I haven’t read yet but plan to is Jean Twenge’s “IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us.” (How’s that for a subtitle?)
Nailed it. I am dreadfully addicted to my phone. I quit Facebook almost a year ago (!!! ), I don’t follow anyone on Twitter, and I’m not on instagram. (Amish, any one?? Just kidding, but sometimes it seems true! Hahaha) I check my email, other people’s blogs (oops, caught me!), and texts more times than I’m willing to admit in a day. Ugh. And yet, where do I find a balance? I need to get better. For my kids sake. And for my husbands sake. And for my sake. Solidarity.
This is really good. Really really good. Totally a struggle and not easy in the least.
Been thinking many of the same things- wait- do I prefer this screen to their face?! No… that’s impossible, right?
Why am I driven to escape? Why can’t I lean into the hard stuff.
A few things I do is purposely leave the phone in the car.
Purposely leave it in the other room or my closet.
Give myself limits- I’m not picking up the phone for an hour at least. I post nothing on Instagram. I don’t want the feedback that I know would lure me in.
I try to follow only people I know in real life.
I never joined Facebook, as I knew it would be a constant battle in time and attention, and I do not miss a THING. I find out about events and groups in other ways and people can text me their baby pictures. I don’t need to see every update.
Thank you for the book recommendations.
Ugh. Why can’t their be a dumb phone for people like us. We need to design one.
It’s a smart phone, but only allows us to connect with people we really know!
I think Instagram can play into a sin of “snooping”— like we get this look into people’s private lives (even though they post it).
Great conversation starter- thank you for your honesty in this struggle.
I feel you on this front, Jenny. I, too, am in the midst of an Eastertime social media binge. One thing I have intentionally done is not to move beyond Facebook and Pinterest in the social media realm. I won’t do it because I know myself too well and I know I won’t be able to resist. I have curated my Facebook feed pretty well also, so I don’t see much that takes me down the rabbit hole (mainly news from sources I prefer, enlightening artciles–like yours!–and feeds of people I know and care to know about or pray for). In the past year I have also made a commitment to stop social-media-ing and look at the child who needs or wants my attention, to answer them directly while looking at them, and to walk away from my computer if needed for as long as is needed. That part has gone suprisingly well and I find that I am less angry with myself and my kids seem to feel more loved. I still seem to need frequent “hits” and I want to find a better way to control the urges…..I should probably be praying about that!
Miriam Del Heirro
This whole post resonated with me from the discontent feelings and the irritation for no reason with my children. I have come to terms that I have an addiction to my smart phone and I have to be on it for the business my husband and I are in. I always keep my phone in grayscale mode and that helps me quite a lot. The science behind the colours/design of smart phones is understandably addictive and this seems to cut that back for me.
This is genius! I turned the color off on my phone after reading this comment last night and it is amazing how much less satisfying it was. Thank you for sharing this tip!
Wow. This is brilliant. Thanks for the tip.
Ugh. I tried this after reading that tip somewhere a few months ago. I checked my phone just as much in those 3 days when it was grayscale as before AND I missed looking at pictures of my own kids in color (which is what I do when they go to sleep because i’m that mom).
there is no hope for me 🙁
Ok are you reading my mind? I also binged this week after 40 days of fasting and haven’t felt great! There are so many statistics out there about how people’s happiness is related to how much less they spend on social media… I think moms who either work from home or stay home completely feel isolated… I know that I’m the only stay at home mom on my street… But I agree with you I have a hard time regulating it… One thing that helped for me was to make my phone stay plugged into the wall… In an uncomfortable place (not the kitchen or the family room or my bedroom.). For me it was in the hallway, near no furniture..) So that checking it, is hard and uncomfortable.. but then you get a phone call and you forget to plug it back in and scroll, scroll! Thank you for the honest wake up call. Have you read the Atlantic Monthly piece.. “How Smartphones are Destroyinh a Generation”. It’s the author of IGENs summary of her book in article form! Anyway, Solidarity!
So freeing to finally acknowledge the real problem even though we knew it all along and just couldn’t name it.
I can totally see your point if you have really strong in real life community. For me, I really felt like I lived on an island until discovering all of the Catholic instagram/blog accounts & I think that totally changed my perspective on Catholic motherhood for the better. I’m a pretty young SAHM & I don’t have any real life friends with kids. Slowly meeting other mothers in my community & parish but they have been much older (which is fine! But not exactly the same) so following other young moms of multiple children has been such a lifeline for me, even if I don’t know them on a personal level. I guess just seeing that it’s possible to live out nfp & being a young mom is the benefit of social media in my case! Even if it’s time consuming.
I agree with you on this! When I needed it, it was such a positive example to see moms living out their faith with joy & openness to life. I grew up going to a church where you didn’t see young families & here I was, 21 married with 3 children(yup, you read that right. When there aren’t positive Christian examples in your life, pre-marital sex seems ok) & catholic social media helped me a lot! We also had to seek out a good parish with families. Now I feel I’ve got a solid enough foundation that I’m not as interested in following along with on instagram. I’m going to leave my Instagram use to Sunday’s only, and if we are busy it won’t get used. My children need me more.
I’m an introvert & while I am addicted to books, facebook is about the level of my intellect these days with my own two-month-old (& her three older siblings). My brain will return…it will just take a bit. Mostly a bit more sleep. Facebook is on my iPad, though. I thread the smart/dumb phone needle by having a “smart phone” (so, shiny flat-screen Samsung) with a call/text no-data phone plan. Yes, it can connect to wireless, but I’ve chosen not to install social media apps on it & to reserve its internet capabilities for emergencies. Bonus: using Airvoice for just texting & calling (which uses the AT&T cell network) means my phone bill is only $10/mo.
I tried to give up Instagram for Lent…and failed miserably. I found myself feeling a twinge of anxiety that I would miss my
favorite bloggers’ Instagram stories! How sad is that?
I love that you’re addressing this issue, because I think it’s definitely a problem for many people in today’s day and age.
“But it’s never a quick hit, and it’s never enough. I don’t feel better afterwards. I don’t dust off my pants and smile cheerfully in the direction of my obligations and responsibilities when it’s over, refreshed by a new perspective or a little mental solitude. ”
Oh. my. goodness. I was just praying about this last night — how scrolling through Facebook never satisfies the rest, beauty, and captivation I am truly looking for, and it just steals the only “me” time I have at the end of each day after my children have gone to bed!
I’m really pathetic about social media after my two-under-two are asleep for the night. I’ll check Facebook “only for a minute” only to look up from the couch an hour later. However, I’m actually not too shabby in the daylight hours! Here are the rules I’ve set for myself (and when I break them, I can FEEL it in my tired, frustrated, and discontent mothering):
1. No social media apps on my phone. I only have a Facebook account, and if I want to check it, I have to pull out my laptop. It’s way easier and more tempting to simply press a button on my phone than to pick up, plug in, and keep little fingers off of my laptop. Ergo, keeping Facebook off of my phone eliminates the temptation!
2. No checking ‘social’ media unless both kids are asleep. Of course, this means I have to be careful not to waste their entire nap time and bedtime hours scrolling through stupid crap I don’t really care about when I should be reading/calling a friend/doing something I actually enjoy.
3. I only post something once a month, if even. It’s way more tempting to break my own rules and check FB when I’m hoping to see that little red notification telling me someone else has liked or commented on my post.
Anyway, these little rules I’ve set for myself do actually help a lot!
This is my hack for making my iPhone a dumbphone: under settings, you can set restrictions to any app. You enter in a PIN code that you determine and then check off any apps you don’t want to be accessed. For me, that means all internet browsers (Safari, Chrome, etc.), the News app, all social media. To eliminate temptation, have your husband set the PIN code. I had my husband set mine a year ago, he now has no memory of what it is, but I don’t care.
I think if you remove the ease of access on the Phone, things will drastically improve.
And here is a question for you, Jenny. Is it possible to run this blog but not have Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Something to maybe think about. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off… right?
Personalities are so interesting! Did you read Gretchen Rubin’s book (I think Better Than Before)? She addresses exactly what you described above- how abstinence is easier for some that moderation, and vice versa.
You’re on a roll! So good to have you back.
During the day, when it’s just me and the gang at home (and, still, three screens and a TV – gross), I hide the Ipad, keep my phone either in my purse (on silent), or on the counter. I have no social media apps on it so if I’m wanting instagram on my phone I have to google it.
The computer is in the middle of our living space, so that’s where I fall short. I’m constantly sitting there, “eating”, and suddenly i’m mindlessly scrolling. I’ve starting noticing my 4yo and 3 yo doing the same, but just madly clicking (is that what I sound like?!) and just glueeeed to the activity of moving folders around when I call their name. This freaked me out; mini-me-s). I’ve been turning the monitor off (if not the whole computer off) when i’m finished so the allure is less visible when I walk by or notice them busying themselves with toys and I have 0.347 seconds to myself. Trying to just go on and read/shop/take a break (and have a strong coffee) when they get their midday program (and limiting myself to half of their program, rest for “chores” that I won’t do if not done right after my coffee).
It’s a real challenge, particularly on tired days. I don’t want to parent, I don’t want to play and I don’t want to discipline (them, or myself). I want to escape. Spring is on it’s way (here, at least) so outdoors we go! Tired or not, here I come!
I also struggle with moderation, the only app that has helped and stuck around is anti social http://antisocial.io/personal. Thought I’d share for anyone else who could help themselves by using it. I’m not affiliated or anything. It blocks me from using apps I don’t need to use while my kids are asleep or while I should be sleeping and gives stats on my usage as well.
This is me too exactly. Moderation isn’t even an option for me because I’ve proven to myself a million trillion times that I’m not capable. My life is so much fuller without Facebook and Instagram. I’m so much happier and less anxious, though I do get FOMO occasionally. Is deleting your accounts even an option for you with your writing, Jenny?
Still need to get a grip on my texting and I’m not sure what that would look like.
Occasionally I use the forest app, which challenges you to stay off your phone a certain amount of time. Sometimes that’s effective for me.
Thank you!! I think I’m going to do this! I come back to the possibility of a dumb phone but don’t know of any that are reliable- and I’d be even more terrible about picture-taking than I already am.
Jen @ Surprised by Marriage
“It doesn’t help me escape. It makes me feel even more trapped.” Ahh, yes! I always have trouble explaining it but that’s exactly it. I’m the same as you – abstinence is easier than moderation. The only times I’m good about not wasting time on my phone is when I leave it far away from my person (which I can’t always do with a kid in school in case of emergencies). Hubby and I were just talking about how it’s crazy that we expect kids to be responsible when it comes to phone usage when we, as adults, struggle with it. It really is a problem and I wish there was a simple solution. I’ve been tempted to downgrade, but I keep hearing that it’s hard to find a “dumb” phone. Thanks for keeping up the conversation about this – it’s so necessary!
My phone is only allowed in one room in the house and my kids hold me to it, even when I yell that “THIS IS IMPORTANT.” It’s not perfect, but it helps a little. I am in the ‘abstinence is easier than moderation’ camp. So humbling.
I’ve said it once And I’ll say it again.
We . Are . The . Same . Person.
I wasn’t on Ig and then easter happens. Boom, beautiful shot of my sweetest first communicant goes up and I go scrolling away.
It’s been a tough week that I chalked up to my sinus infection and hectic schedule…but there’s obviously truth to the return of social media and no real Lenten fast / mortification
Mother church is wise man….. a few more days and the octave is over and we can all get back to regularly scheduled asceticism hehehe
What’s the temptation for you? It sounds like the temptation for you is more on the “consumption” end than the “contribution” end.
So, if that is the case, what is it that Social Media is selling you to consume?
An image of domestic beauty and perfection? The pretty, crafty wonderfulness that you don’t have right now but could have in 10 easy steps?
An image of peace? The coveted shalom bayit that everyone else has while you feel frazzled and overwhelmed?
An image of wisdom? All the things that you could know but you don’t know right now?
What ever you are looking for on Social Media, you know you aren’t finding it there. Actively seek it somewhere else. Easier said than done.
If you have to abstain rather than moderate, that’s not a failure. It is being honest with yourself and doing what works for you. Its like when they say “the best exercise is the one you’ll actually do” or “the best diet is the one you actually follow.”
My Social Media failing is that I am a show-off sharer (“look at me! I am so wise, so right thinking!”). Taking a Lenten Facebook vow of silence was good for me. I’m probably being a show-off sharer right now. Back to silence for me!
Love your blog, Jenny. My husband just wrote a book on this topic, especially as it relates to children and families. If you shoot me an email, he will totally send you a copy. :). Shameless plug, hope this is okay:
Book recommendation: “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise” by Cardinal Sarah.
Thank you for this post. This is such an important topic and I like you gave up social media for Lent and am now navigating how I will actually change my habits and not go back to exactly how I was with instagram before Lent. I think the motto “I must create before I consume” is really helpful. I need to fill my soul with prayer and reading and care for my own little people or I am going to work where I have to be present to others and actually do things before I log onto anything. I also try to stick with no social media the first or last hour of my day. For me if I check stuff in the AM then I focus on what I don’t have or what I’m not doing compared to my peers or strangers. And the evening time is for the little bit of time my husband and I have together. And I’m like you, I can definitely be addictive with things so out of sight, out of mind just works better for me with keeping my phone away.
If anyone’s interested, there’s an Indigogo fund going on for the Light Phone 2–a beautifully designed 4G phone that the designers say will allow phone calls, texting, alarm clock and ride sharing, but not social media. They’re also looking into adding a playlist and directions feature:
They listed $250,000 as their goal, and are now at $1.35 million.
Our computer developed a “problem” on Holy Thursday, right after getting home from mass and right before bedtime. My husband was on the computer and after leaving it to go brush his teeth, something mysterious happened and the system locked up. Well, it was up to me to fix it….and that certainly wasn’t going to happen quickly: Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday took precendence (although Saturday afternoon was a day spent with a bit of time analyzing the problem).
It was extremely inconvenient to me to be without our computer, which I primarily use as a tool for doing real work or communicating with family. But for my husband, it is a form of entertainment (including playing around building a website), and without it, he was going crazy. Like a drug addict undergoing withdrawal. It wasn’t pretty. We just finally got back up and running 12 days later. He doesn’t even use social media. And we don’t have smart phones or any other devices to rescue him from his loss of the computer. He actually went down to the Apple store 2 times to use their computers before the thing was finally fixed.
So, I can relate to the behaviors that are exhibited when use of devices cause addiction. The behavior of making the screen more important than the people in your life is particularly worrisome. One thing with paying attention to our kids: their lives pass very quickly through our life and then they are gone one day. You will never get that time back. It is always a thought worth posting in one’s head to remind oneself that the opportunity to pay attention to them only comes by once in a lifetime.
My 19 month old granddaughter is observing her parents use of media, particularly the cell phones. She actually is far too attracted to the thing, throwing huge fits if she cannot have it. It’s like she realizes there is something supremely important about that device, more important than any other object around, and she wants in on it. Having parented our very young children before the age of cell phone technology, I can seriously say there never was a time I had ever seen a child so obsessed with a landline phone. In fact, children that young were quite satisfied with a “play” phone…likely because there were no obvious visual elements, like photos, movies, etc. There is also no one taking photos of you constantly with the phone and then showing you the pictures. It was quite different back “in the old days” of parenting. It makes you wonder how the child’s learning process about communications will be influenced by observing the parent’s own behaviors of using devices. And you are right: it is very important to model for your children what you think the desirable behavior is.
As for developing a good balance in use, it seems that the reason for use is more telling than the amount of time spent. If you had to spend 2 hours researching information about medical issues for a family member, it would be more justified than spending 2 hours doing unimportant things. So, time shouldn’t be wasted is a good benchmark, making it a quality rather than quantity question. And if you want to allocate a certain amount of time for just “leisure” use, make sure the activity is wholesome and beneficial to your life. If during the time you are having leisure you are interrupted and bite someone’s head off for interrupting, then it is not beneficial to your life. If you really need “time alone” for leisure, make sure you arrange it that way so that you don’t have those negative interactions with others. So many people behave that way when pulled away from the use of devices that it merits some reflection on the value of relationships as measured against things.
Jeanette, I also have a 4-year-old granddaughter who is way too interested in her parents’ cell phones. She got obsessed with looking at photos, to the point of sneaking a peek when Mom wasn’t looking, and they had to stop letting her look at it. I especially worry, if they don’t homeschool, how they’re going to be able to handle the enormous pressure to let young teenagers get on social media so they don’t stand out from their peers.
Hey sweet mama! I dropped Facebook back in January, and my whole outlook on everything changed: running our mini farm, homeschooling, teaching art at our 4H club, teaching catechism, and most importantly my marriage! This has also spawned deep reawakening of my faith. I mean deep. And it’s not as deep as I want it to be, but I’m getting there…. with God’s grace and guidance.
The time I spent on the facespace is now dedicated to prayer, teaching my wee ones the faith in our homeschool (I mean… duh. Wasn’t doing that before! What the heck!!!!), flirting with my husband, spending more time with my animals, and yes…. a much cleaner home. We spend more time with friends, making the incredible memories we envisioned when we moved here… and not for the perusal of friends that were friends (or never were). It’s private, between your family and God.
I tell everyone in order to live the life you pretend to have on social media, you need to get off social media, get out and live that life.
Livin’. L. I. V. I. N.
So fun story, our priest gave an awesome homily on the dangers of smart phones and social media (maybe e read your blog!) and as a newly single mother of 2, I found myself immersed in social media as a way to cope and thoroughly addicted. So, that very might I deleted my Facebook app after signing out and when I went to sign back in, I couldn’t remember my password and the email on file I don’t have access to either so God works in wonderful ways and I can’t access my Facebook anymore which was the only social media I used. I have found myself actually dealing with life and reaching out to real friends instead of fake booking it to feel good about myself.