We all know some of the benefits of social media. Whether it is staying in touch with family and friends, keeping up on the latest news, or a little entertainment, social media can deliver. These are the reasons we started using it, but as I mentioned in another post, when it comes to social media, the benefits rarely outweigh the costs. The main reason is because we tend to misuse it. To get the advantages mentioned above, we rarely need to spend more than 20 minutes a week on these platforms; an hour, at the most, is usually enough.
I am not talking about people who have social media responsibilities in their job descriptions or use it as a form of income. For those people, the benefits increase dramatically, so they can better shoulder some of the burdens that come with it. I am talking about the general user. The last thing the architects of these platforms want you to do is to use it wisely. They make their money by getting you to spend as much time online as possible so they can collect a more extensive and more accurate marketing profile on you. That way, they can profit off of the information they have collected by selling it to advertisers who are looking for people like you, and you need to be online to see those ads.
To get you to spend more time online, they employ multiple tactics that I talked about in this post. All I want to do now is point out a quick test to see if you are experiencing mission drift with your social media usage. Mission drift is when you set out to accomplish one thing but unconsciously end up pursuing something else. In some cases, it can be positive; in other cases, it can be harmful.
If you started to use social media for the primary reasons already mentioned, one of the ways you can detect mission drift in your usage is to ask yourself how obligated you feel to check these sites continually. Remember, you started to use them to make them serve you, but if the feeling of obligation is strong, maybe you are beginning to serve them.
If you are unsure if you feel an obligation to social media, ask yourself this question. How would you feel if you were to step away from these platforms entirely for two weeks? For most of us, there is an instant internal spike of concern. We think we have too much at stake to do something like that. How would I know what is going on? What if someone commented on one of my old posts, and I would look bad if I did not respond? Would the people I interact with start to forget about me? I have worked hard to cultivate these followers; would I lose them? All these questions could be warning signs that something unhealthy is taking place.
These feelings of obligation are one of the main reasons why the majority of people who spend long periods on social media struggle with more anxiety and depression than those who do not. Social media has a way of making us feel like we have more on our plate than we do, and it gives us next to nothing in return. It can also give us a false sense of accomplishment because we think we somehow have met our social media obligation. The problem is, in the end, we have not accomplished anything that will last. Social media is some of the shallowest of all shallow work.
If you have been feeling a strong obligation to social media, maybe now is the perfect time to take a week off to see what life is like without always checking in. My guess is you will not miss it as much as you think you will. Likely, you will find your week off more fulfilling than the weeks you are active online. If that is the case, there are ways to adjust your usage going forward to gain the benefits without incurring as high a cost. In the end, it never hurts to take a closer look at our habits and reevaluate what we are doing because, as Socrates once said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
As mentioned in a recent post entitled Social Media is Brain Poison, where I used hyperbole to lay out some of the problems with social media, I mentioned that there are some real benefits to this new technology. Connectivity to family and friends is always at the top of the list. The problem is the costs often outweigh the benefits. The reason why we tend to lose with social media, despite what it can offer us, is because we tend to use it incorrectly which the designers of these platforms hope we will do. So how do we use social media in a way that allows us to tap into the benefits while mitigating the costs?
I conjecture that the vast majority of regular social media users can receive the vast majority of the value these services provide their life in as little as twenty to forty minutes of use per week.
We need to start by using it less. There are benefits, but those benefits do not merit hours of social media time per day. I have found his conjecture to be true. I have not abandoned social media altogether. Instead, I check it once a week and usually spend less than 15 minutes doing so. Any other posts are sent through a free posting service that avoids interacting with these platforms directly. You can receive the benefits you seek without spending hours online scrolling the infinite feed and checking your likes and comments.
Of course, you may ask, what is wrong with spending more time on social media? To answer that question I leave you with one more quote from Newport where he describes a conversation he had with a social media executive.
[The executive was] just raving about these people spending twelve hours a day on Facebook . . . so I asked a question to the guy who was raving: “The guy who’s spending twelve hours a day on Facebook, do you think he’ll be able to do what you’ve done?”.. . ..You can’t, in other words, build a billion-dollar empire like Facebook if you’re wasting hours every day using a service like Facebook.
The only way it would not cost us to spend long hours distracted on social media is if we literally had nothing better to do with our time. As Christians, we have a much higher calling.
If you want to grow in godliness you need to slow down. What is it about being forced to slow down that makes us want to run faster than we were before? I think it is because, when sickness or some other obstacle hits us, we want to have the will to power through. Whatever it is, slowing down is something we resist, and when we are forced to do it, it is often uncomfortable.
When we have no choice but to slow down, however, we realize we had been taking our time and abilities for granted. On top of that, we realize that though we were running fast, much of it was spent on directionless pursuits. It is amazing how we can feel pressured to check social media, or check a gaming app on our phone. There have been times I have felt like my evening was pressured because I needed to write a blog post, but no one is sitting at their computer waiting for me to post. My mom doesn’t even do that. Still, something inside me says you better get something written soon.
These are small examples, but we fill our days with these types of anxieties. Many of the things that have us running so fast could be eliminated without hurting anyone. Often, the only real negative impact we feel is the effect it has on our pride. We tend to think, “if I am busy, then I am important. People need me to fulfill all of my so-called responsibilities, because if I do not, things will fall apart,” but it is not true. Much of what we feel pressured to do is noise.
We rarely realize this until something hits our life that forces us to start reevaluating. There comes a time when your body or emotional state says, it is time to change pace. At first, we usually think we can work through it, but, in the end, we find that providence is serious about making us slow down. It is at this point that we will hopefully start to gain perspective.
The process is painfully pleasant. A few years ago I found myself in a similar situation. First, I wanted to power through as if my will-power could right all the wrongs with my health. Once I resigned to the fact that I could not do it, I settled in to make some changes. The first thing that I needed to do was to get rid of all the needless distractions that had been adding stress but did nothing to help me be productive with important things.
I started by reevaluating what truly mattered. The key to this was making sure my mind was set on things above, or in other words, making sure I was seeking first the Kingdom of God. I will not talk about this much here because most of my posts deal with this in one way or another, but if we fail to seek Him first, even slowing down cannot help us.
Upon reflection, I found I had filled my life with needless interruptions, and they were not benefiting me in any way. I also began to realize that I did not know I was being distracted because I was not even aware of what I was being distracted from. I believe this is the case for many people.
Then began the process of slowing down and removing needless stress. This process involved deleting apps on my phone, limiting social media time to once a day, and I even began to schedule time on my calendar to check email only three times a day at work, instead of checking it constantly. This reduction was the part that felt painful at first. I felt like I was going to miss out. If much of my productivity happens with email, how could I accomplish all that I needed to get done?
I noticed myself repeatedly looking to my phone for notifications that were no longer available. My brain’s habitual response needed to be retrained and it did not like it. The result of this was that I was not less productive, I was more productive. I had hours in the morning, afternoon, and evening, which were email and social media free. These uninterrupted hours forced me to become more strategic with my time at work and home, instead of wasting it always checking to see if I had new messages and diverting my train of thought. This also gave me more time to do something I enjoy, writing.
Regarding social media and time online, I realized I was not missing out on much. I also noticed that my executive attention, the ability to focus on something for an extended period of time, began to grow stronger. Before I was forced to slow down, I had already realized that the internet had started shrinking my thoughts. I began blogging 2005, that was eventually reduced to Facebook posts, and then I was down to 140 characters on Twitter. Though all of these can be powerful tools if used correctly, sustained thought is not something online platforms encourage. The big takeaway was that my mind was spending much less time flitting from one unimportant thing to another.
I also began to choose my television time much more carefully, and I would always keep my Kindle or a book with me. If I was going to spend time doing something during my free moments, I could at least make it something mindful. I could continue to tell you about more of these little changes, such as how the boredom created by the absence of so much entertainment and social media actually sparked creativity, but I think you are getting the picture. Let me conclude with a few thoughts on the importance of slowing down.
Slowing down is not something we have to be forced to do. It is something we can do even when our health is strong. Jonathan Edwards once said this about a man he honored deeply, David Brainerd.
“[One] imperfection in Mr. Brainerd, which may be observed in the following account of his life, was his being excessive in his labours; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”
Much of what I have written about to this points is removing the unnecessary and unproductive activity from our lives, but sometimes we even need to slow down on that which is worthwhile and godly. Our Lord has put His treasure in jars of clay, and though the outward man is wasting away, the inward man is being renewed day by day. This truth should teach us two things. First, our bodies cannot do it all, and these jars of clay will eventually fade. If we do not slow down, we will soon be forced to. Second, when our bodies force us to slow down, even in our service to God, we are not necessarily reducing our pace in being renewed spiritually, which is the ultimate goal.
It seems our Christian culture has come to believe that overworking and godliness are inextricably bound. If you are not running fast, then you are not redeeming the time. Sometimes, the best path to being spiritually renewed is through slowing down. Maybe it is time to take due care to proportion our fatigues with our strength. In doing this, we find we are redeeming the time more effectively than when we were before.
It is important to remember that doing less does not mean we stop doing difficult work. Much of our most important undertakings are challenging. This is why we often prefer busyness over slowing down. If we are using our frantic pace as a form of procrastination in regard to the things that matter, that type of busyness is actually a form of laziness. In the end, I found during my time of slowing down that I was actually accomplishing more.
A divided mind, one caught between heaven and earth, will never find peace because it is chasing things in two different directions. A heart that is united in the fear of the Lord will be able to slow down and cover more ground because it has only one direction to go. This need to slow down and regain focus, like all battles with the sinful nature, is a daily struggle. Part of what prompted me to write this post is the fact that I have allowed many of these things to begin crowding my life again. We must continually guard our hearts against being pulled away from the Lord and his service by things of little or no importance.
Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth;unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11