For lent I decided to take a break from social networking. I have never observed lent before, but after realizing that I had become too attached to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I decided lent would be a good time to learn some discipline.
It started at Jones Coffee in South Pasadena. I was there with the Creative writing club, reading poetry and talking about our childhoods. This led to a discussion on social media and how much we have changed since it was invented.
As college students who grew up in the 90s or earlier, we experienced the rise of the internet as we grew up, so many of us didn’t get Myspace or Facebook until we were in high school or college. When we were children, we spent our free time much differently than we do now. Over that Jones coffee table, we reminisced about how we used to write plays and perform them with our siblings, make dolls out of paper, or turn our backyards into imaginary battle zones.
What happened to our imaginations?
Whenever I have a spare 10-20 minutes, in between classes for instance, my tendency is to click Google chrome, then click Facebook (which is on my most visited website). Maybe there’s that shining red notifications number at the top of my page, or perhaps someone just posted a funny picture. If Facebook is boring, I can go to Twitter, Instagram, or email to just see if there’s anything new.
My friend asked me, “What do you even find so entertaining about Facebook!?” Good question. Sometimes it entertains me, but most of the time, it’s just sort of a mindless mass of information that I scroll through and stare at. Personally, I find Twitter more entertaining than Facebook, but I treat it the same way.
I could see in my social and acedemic life that social networking was a problem for me as a constant distraction from more important things in my life. This is why I decided to do the fast, and a few other Providence students joined me.
The problem is, if I have internet access while I’m writing a paper, I will go to Facebook, Twitter, and email every time I get stuck on a thought. Instead of deeply struggling with my next point, I distract myself. Sometimes I really need to put my work aside and come back to it later, but the nature of my interaction with social networks is often thoughtless and numb.
I see people use social networks in class as well. If class is boring and you are tired, you go on Facebook, Pintrist, Twitter, etc. We pay thousands of dollars on our education to spend our class time on Facebook because we are too lazy to use the brainpower required to pay attention and stay awake.
Humans are notoriously habitual creatures and my brain has been shaped into social networks. Since getting a Twitter my sophomore year of college, I have become excellent at composing 140 character descriptions for what I am feeling, thinking, or experiencing. No joke here, sometimes I will look at a physical picture on a wall and for a second I will “like” it in my brain with that imaginary Facebook thumbs up. When it comes to pictures, what is the point of even taking pictures if no one will see them on Facebook or Instagram? Having an album not on cyberspace seems obsolete.
In the same way that my brain forms 140 character sentences, social networks create a shallow image of who people are, and our brains fall for it. How often have we judged people because of something we saw about them on Facebook? How often do we think people are really cool because of all the cool photos they post of their lives or because they put up a poetic status? Social networks create a superficial image of people and we tend to believe what we see. We know all these facts about people’s lives, but we don’t actually know most of our “friends.”
We spend so much time with these cyber friends on social networks and this can cause us to be the opposite of social in real life settings. For Christmas a few years ago, my Dad bought my siblings and I the iPod Touch 4. He thought that Facetime would help us talk to each other more often from different states. (My family lives in Arizona) That didn’t happen.
What did happen is that we all went into the world of social media which was so much easier to access now that I didn’t need to have my laptop open. I can carry a tiny device in my hand and touch it instead of pressing down keys. At home, my siblings and I will often all be on our iPods or laptops hardly talking to each other when we’re all in the same room.
This isn’t unique to my family. I see people on dates, in the cafeteria, or standing around in groups of people using their smart phones and ignoring the people right in front of them. Social Networks can often be awkwardness crutches where we avoid social interaction because cyber interaction is easier.
I could go on about the problems with social media and include things like texting, iPod or iPhone games, etc. The world has changed since my childhood in the 90s where my entertainment was computer and cell phone free. But now that we live in this world, we have to learn how to live with these technologies without wasting our lives away on them.
During my fast, which by the way only lasted about a week and a half, I did things like read, write, watch TV shows on Netflix, watch Life of Pi, etc to occupy my time that may have been spent on a social networks. I stopped using my iPod, which made me go on the internet less often because using my laptop is a little more inconvenient.
It was hard for me not to replace social networking sites with other websites, like Netflix, and online shopping/browsing. But not allowing myself to go on the internet for the purpose of Facebook, etc, lessened the amount of time that I used my computer. I can’t say that the fast made me way more productive or focused, but it helped a little bit. If I would have stuck with it longer, I may have seen more changes.
But the fact remains that I am addicted to distractions, visual information that doesn’t require a lot of thought or time. If I can’t be distracted by social networking sites, then I will find something else. The issue that I discovered in myself was my need for something to fill my time at all times. It is difficult for me to just sit and think without falling asleep; I crave to be filled with information or some sort of visual stimulus. This is the extent that social networks have reshaped my brain.
However, I do not condemn these new internet technologies as evil or useless, but rather I want us to be aware of how they shape our lives and the potential danger they can be. Think before you go on Facebook during class, while you’re hanging out with a group of people, or doing homework. Think before you judge people based on their cyber-persona and remember that people are a lot more complex than social media allows.
The bottom line is self-discipline and thoughtfulness so if you need to, fast from the internet for a while and be conscious about with what you fill your time.