So today I deleted the Facebook application off my phone. It doesn’t sound like a big deal at all, but I’m really glad I did it, and I hope I can keep it up.
I’ve loved Facebook ever since a friend forcibly created an account for me back when I was 16. I remember how my usage has changed over time — at first it was to share and access embarrassing photos; in JC, a few of my friends and I got addicted to Mousehunt (don’t ask); later we found out the usefulness of Groups and Pages.
But since university, with everyone having a data plan + smartphone, and with the necessity of bringing a laptop to school nearly everyday, I’ve gradually come to realise what I’m using it for now: attention. Andy Crouch of Christianity Today fasted (mostly) from screens throughout Lent —something I can’t imagine nor emulate anytime soon— and wrote a beautiful reflection. Beautiful, but also cutting for a Facebook user like myself, because it reveals precisely the problem of my heart and the depth of self-centredness. A long quote follows, but it’s well-worth reading and pondering (as is Crouch’s entire piece):
There is a lot of talk about the ways our devices are distracting us, and that is certainly true. Having spent several weeks away from it all, I’m a bit aghast at how much buzzing and blinking, how many notifications and messages, how much unasked-for stimulation, I’ve let creep into my life over the past few years. But there’s something deeper than just the sheer variety and urgency of data that presents itself to us. The issue is not just cognitive. The deeper danger of our screens, I am coming to think, is flattery.
Our screens, increasingly, pay a great deal of attention to us. They assure us that someone, or at least something, cares. The mediated world constantly falls over itself to tell us, often in entirely automated ways, that we matter every bit as much as we secretly hope we do. They tell us we are liked, retweeted, favorited—that we are significant, useful, and urgently needed. Every generation of devices gets better at this, becomes less a persnickety, recalcitrant technician (does anyone remember the exacting syntax of command-line interfaces?) and more and more an utterly dedicated, ingratiating concierge for our preferred future.
The unmediated world does not flatter us in this way. Stand on a deserted seashore and the creation pays you no evident attention, except perhaps for a few creatures that alter their paths to keep a safe distance. Even our fellow human beings rarely flatter us with the attention we think we deserve. Walk down a street in Hong Kong or Phnom Penh or London or Rome, and unless you are young and beautiful, or possibly rich, no one will pay you the slightest heed. And youth and beauty, even wealth, are fleeting things. I never was beautiful, but I have had some success, enough to know that even at the heights of attention, when the whole room is looking at you, smiling at you, standing and applauding you, the overwhelming experience of life as a human being is smallness and disregard. There is a hunger for attention that all the selfies in the world will never fill, a hunger that only grows as our mediated world breathlessly offers more and more ways to call attention to ourselves.
On my commute, during lulls in class, while I’m supposed to be doing my work, anytime I’ve a spare second — I would find myself scrolling and refreshing. Like most people who use Facebook regularly, I enjoy finding out who’s engaged, reading jokes and puns, seeing nice photos of people’s bakes / art / interior design. Most of all I liked seeing what smart, insightful articles my friends (or the Gospel Coalition, or the news outlets I follow etc) would share. And for a while I could tell myself it’s because I want to be well-informed and up-to-date.
Some reflection reveals, though, that I prefer to post more than I prefer to scroll —I often posted snippets of ‘wisdom’ from my reading and shared many of the aforementioned articles. C. S. Lewis once said (in more elegant terms) that joy is not complete until shared. True. Yet my need to ‘share’ things on Facebook has probably as large a component of ‘See how much I read!’ / ‘See how your view is wrong!’ / ‘See how well-informed I am!’ as it does of ‘Here’s something good and true and beautiful and I would like you to appreciate it too.’ My pleasure at seeing likes was probably greater than the joy from learning something new or having a different perspective to look at things. It was almost compulsive, the need to put my index on the iPhone’s fingerprint sensor, see my screen unlock, and secretly hope for a red circle on my ‘Social Media’ application folder.
Articles and warnings about social media proliferate on social media but I had never taken them too seriously, thinking myself immune. When I found myself consistently editing my posts, obsessing over my language and tone and what image I was sending out (as if anyone else cared), however, I simply couldn’t ignore the reality anymore.
Thus, no more Facebook phone application, and I also deleted the Mac app that allows me to access it with one click (which notifies me of Likes etc as well), but I still fully intend to access it on my browser. I’m doing this with the following hopes:
- To be less distracted when I’m meant to be doing something else, to be more ‘there’ when I’m with a friend or family, to focus on reading during my commute;
To have a necessary time lag between having a thought to share something and actually sharing it (it’s too easy to do on a phone), with the hope that this will make my posts more selective and truly value-adding, but more so that I can reconsider my true motives for sharing them at all;
- To be less obsessed with being ‘updated’ in real-time, because knowing and getting emotional about the latest rant or storm is not going to improve my character or my mind;
- To realise that the ‘flattery’ of social media, real or otherwise, is not a reflection of my worth or growth, and that the true inner/outer life consists of far more.