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?)