February 17, 2015

Why I'm not giving up Facebook for Lent

It’s starting. Friends are posting their Facebook farewells, signing off until Easter, promising to spend more time in the “real world” with their families and their hobbies and nature and the important things.

…And it always stings a bit. Am I not important? Is our friendship not real?

I’m not giving up Facebook, but I think I understand why so many people do.

When I fell in love with social media, I saw it as the antithesis of watching television. There’s a great book, Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky, all about the human creative potential unlocked by social media. The hours we used to spend sitting and passively watching our televisions can now be spent creating, responding, connecting. We could be at the start of an intellectual golden age – all we have to do is tap our fingers and start typing.

And yet, all too often, we don’t.

Earlier this week, we brought nearly-8-year-old Evie to church with her mini iPad. We don’t usually bring the iPad out of the house, but Evie had 15 minutes by herself before Sunday school, and it seemed like a safe and easy way for her to pass the time. An hour later, Sam was startled to find Evie sitting in the same place, just outside the classroom. She missed Sunday school because she had been so absorbed in her iPad that she didn’t notice the crowds of kids and adults walking past her, entering the room, having the class, and then leaving when it was over.

When Evie said she didn’t mean to skip Sunday school, I believed her. (Although her iPad is still in time-out.)

I have seen her eyes glaze over in that state where she’s staring at the iPad and the rest of the world doesn’t exist. I am often in that state myself. At the end of a busy work day, I sit down for my 45-minute bus ride, intending to return important messages or read a novel. I start playing Candy Crush or surfing Facebook, and the next thing I know the driver is calling out bus stops and I haven’t done a single productive thing.

I hate that social media, the place where my friends live and my career calls me and my heart resides, is complicit in all this. I hate that what was meant to be a creative and vibrant and human space to talk about our ideas and feelings and the important moments of our lives is just becoming one more dull distraction from the lives that are passing us by.

But I don’t think that stepping away is the answer. I think the answer is to step up.

For the next 40 days, I’m going to actively embrace my creativity. My new rules for Lent:

1. No more games.
I’m on level 829 of Candy Crush. Does that serve anyone? Perhaps the friends to whom I send bonus lives, but I think they’ll be OK without me for 6 weeks.

2. No more passive Facebooking.

New rule: Every time I access Facebook, whether from my phone or computer, I have to write at least one thing. Status updates are fine; posts and comments to friends are better. Social media is about human relationships; I say this at work all the time, and I need to remember it in my own life. Absentmindedly scrolling through my news feed without interaction isn’t socializing; my friends deserve better.

3. Dedicate at least 30 minutes every day to creativity.

Last year, I wrote 40 blogs during Lent. I’m not trying that again, but I’m likely to write a few. The important part is that I spend at least half an hour on a creative task: Writing, playing the piano, drawing, recording a podcast with Sam, whatever. I know that I have the time for this; I spend much more than 30 minutes vacantly staring into screens.

So, there you have it. Lent starts tomorrow, and you'll soon be seeing a more interesting, more engaged version of me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go crush some candies.

She'll get her iPad back on Sunday. 

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