mental health · millennials · social media

Breaking the Spell of Social Media

For the first time since I made my Facebook account around 10 years ago, I’ve just about completely stopped using it.

Not since I was a pimply teen have social media and I been so long-distance. I have barely used it now for the past month or so, and I don’t see myself urgently running back to it any time soon.

It’s been a gradual process of reducing my time on social media. What was once on average 30 minutes to an hour a day became 5 minutes a day. I stopped using one app, then another. Most recently, I decided to delete all the remaining social media apps from my phone, too. The accounts will all stay active and I’ll use them from time to time (from my computer), but probably not much more than a few minutes a week.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is in hot water at the moment, testifying before the US congress over the company’s questionable behaviour in handling user’s private information, not to mention censoring conservative political groups. But that didn’t really affect my choice.

There were a few reasons I did it, and they’re all intertwined.

1. Anger

I found that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were causing me to become angry and irritable every single time I used them.

I was getting fed up with the whole game. Everything I was seeing in my feed was either trivial, trying to provoke moral or political outrage, or virtue signalling. I was seeing a lot of arrogance and attention seeking. I was seeing friends, who should know better, spread really dumb ideas. All in all it was getting to me, and making me very irritable every time I used it.

2. Political outrage

I used Twitter to follow political news, and after a few weeks I decided to stop that because it was absolutely overwhelming and negative. I used Instagram to follow artists I liked, but since the 2016 US election, most of them had become very politically active, and at times divisive, and I was growing tired of it. Other than that, it was mostly just a highlight reel of the best parts of people’s lives.

I have used Facebook for the longest to keep up with distant friends. But these days it doesn’t do much for me, other than inform me what Joe Bloggs thinks about “gun control” in the US, same sex marriage, or Barnaby Joyce. (I met Joe once at a party 6 years ago and haven’t seen him in person since. But of course, his opinion is very important to me.)

It seemed to me now that most Facebook posts I was seeing fitted into one of three categories: 1. Trivial, 2. Attention seeking or 3. Political outrage. Of course there are exceptions, but this is what stuck in my mind. 

3. Arguing in comments – I barely know you, who cares what you think?

Facebook has a way of creating connections between people without any emotional currency or depth of relationship – I met you at a party 5 years ago – and now, all of a sudden, you’re supposed to care deeply about my opinion, and me about yours.

But you have not invested anything into my life, nor me into yours. So why are you so upset that I disagree with you about politics?

Quite a few times over the last year, I have tried to start a polite discussion on Facebook, and it has devolved into a comment war, with insults and all the rest. Everyone is so quick to either misread what someone has said, or jump in and share their thoughts, because it’s so important that we know what you think.

For a long time I felt the need to find validation from what others thought of me. But now I have realised that unless you and I actually have a real friendship, I don’t need to care what I think about you, nor should I worry what you think of me. There was never a real friendship in the first place. I have better things to do than argue in the comments section.

Now, if you were a friend from work, or church – let’s get a coffee and talk about Trump until the cows come home. Otherwise, I have more important things to do.

4. Overwhelm and anxiety

It is a game that I am growing tired of. I am tired of feeling guilty for scrolling past overwhelming tragedy. Another mass shooting in the US, another terrorist attack, another cyclone here and Tsunami there. It is exhausting and overwhelming.

I found this article by Stephen Altrogge very helpful:

Social media has a way of crushing me with burdens I was never meant to carry…And yet when I scroll through social media, I’m confronted with burden after crushing burden. An earthquake kills thousands; supplies are desperately needed…

I’m not dismissing these problems and concerns in the least. They’re real. They’re serious. And they need to be met…But I’m not called to be the universal burden-bearer. That’s God’s job. Only he has the strength to do that….

But God has connected me to a particular people in a particular place. He’s called (me) to be present for those who are literally close to me. Yes, there will be exceptions to this rule; but for the most part, he wants me to direct my energies toward a single location and leave the rest to him.”

I think there is something to be said for this. Am I really supposed to know about all of these things happening in the world, and be involved in helping to fix all of them? Am I really responsible for them?

5. What am I really responsible for?

There is one simple truth that has transformed my life over the past few years. I’ve talked about it a lot on this blog.

It has radically improved my whole life, especially my mental health. It has changed the way I view the world, it has strengthened my faith, my sense of self. Since I have understood it and acted on it, it has improved all of my relationships, it has helped me to become a stronger person, and it is now informing the way I use social media.

That is this:

I am responsible for myself, and ALL of my decisions. I am NOT responsible for ANY of your decisions.

There are some things that are completely my responsibility. I am responsible for my own walk with God. I am responsible for my own mental health. I am responsible to do a good job at work, to pay my bills, to be a good friend. I am responsible for the kids that I lead at youth group on a Friday night.

I am responsible for my own behaviour. Nobody else is responsible for me. Nobody else is responsible to fix my mental health but me.

But I am not responsible for you.

I’m not responsible for what you post on social media. I’m not responsible for your lifestyle choices. I’m not responsible to correct you when you’re wrong. I’m not responsible for your mental health. I’m not responsible to fix all of your problems.

I have a very small circle of influence and control. I can try and make an effort to fix my relationship with my parents. But I can’t fix Syria.

I can be a role model to the teenage boys at church. But I can’t do much for the teenage boys in Libya. If I pretend that I can, I will be crushed with guilt, and I will be completely ineffective to do anything. That doesn’t help anyone.

Understanding this has changed my life. It has brought tremendous healing and peace where I was overwhelmed, anxious and depressed for years. I now have the power to deal with my own problems, and empower others to deal with theirs.

And now it is going to change how I use social media.

I encourage you to be very selective in how you use social media. Consider unfollowing all but a handful of people. Consider turning off notifications, removing apps, or subscribing to a very limited amount of content, if it provides actual value.

The best value I am now getting from social media is from subscriber content. Podcasts, Youtube channels and audiobooks are terrific, and add a lot of value to my life. But it needs to provide value to me. It exists for me, not me for it. That is the key.

Unless social media can help me to that end, it has no place in my life.

P.S – The problem with a post like this is – how else will you keep up with my blog?? I’m glad you asked. In the top right hand corner there should be a subscribe button. Hit that, put in your email address, and you will be notified in your email every time I post. Or, you can follow my Facebook page and ask to be notified when I post there. Who knows, maybe you’ll hear some cool tunes that I’ve written, too. Cheers.

Grace for Failures is the blog of Carlin Doyle to encourage and inspire those who have gotten life wrong for a long time, and want to try and do things a little differently. Click here for more info, and here for more posts. 

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