Social media: can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Or that’s how it feels. Facebook, Twitter, blogs–I think most of us have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. While we enjoy the benefits they bring to us, we also see how they seek to dominate our lives. Many of us now live much of life through the lens of our social media, as if we haven’t actually experienced something until we’ve tweeted it or blogged about it or posted pictures of it on Facebook. It’s a strange phenomenon. And it’s a phenomenon that can quickly and easily dominate our lives.
The big question I ask in my book The Next Story is this: do you own your technology or does your technology own you? It’s an important question and one we would all do well to wrestle with when it comes to our social media. So let’s talk about how we can own our social media habits.
One very helpful place to begin is with quantifying your social media usage. It is far more likely that you are underestimating than overestimating the scope of your social media usage. For some reason we seem to have a kind of blindness to the reality of how much we actually use our devices and browse our favorite web sites. It is difficult to accurately measure it, but it is good to at least make the attempt. All of those 15 minute visits to Facebook may add up to several hours a day and many hours a week. When people begin to quantify their television habits they typically underestimate by a couple of hours per day. I’m convinced the same is true of social media time.
It’s also useful to ask your spouse or your children or your parents. “Am I using my computer too much? Am I on Facebook too much?” Ask them to help you quantify your usage. Even if their assessment is subjective, it is still useful. If your wife says you are using the computer too much, you probably are.
There is no objective answer to the question “How much is too much?” But simply looking at the data can be shocking and revealing–perhaps even humbling and humiliating. So quantify it and ask if you are faithfully redeeming the time given to you.
One of the main reasons I wrote The Next Story is that I realized I had a woefully underdeveloped understanding of media and technology. I was not thinking about these things in a distinctly Christian way. It was my own search to remedy this that led me to begin writing a book. The research I did gave me a very helpful understanding of why technology is the way it is. Suddenly a lot of things made a lot of sense. I began to understand why every good technological gift seems to come with an opposite problem. I began to see how even something like a blog or a Facebook account could subtly change me.
So invest the time in seeking to gain a little bit of theoretical knowledge of technology and invest the time in beginning to form a theology of technology. Both of these will pay dividends.
(I know may be a bit of a pitch for my book, but I do think you’ll get some benefit. Plus, for the next month you can get the audiobook for free)
Create Some Boundaries
You can only have true ownership over your technology if you are willing and able to put some boundaries on it. If you are constantly reacting to your devices–compulsively checking email or mindlessly surfing from blog to blog, your technology has too great a grip on you. So discipline yourself–find ways of putting boundaries on it–and then force yourself to live within these boundaries.
One of the most helpful suggestions I’ve heard about social media and other technologies is to create a “technology basket.” At certain times everyone in the family needs to put their favorite digital device into this basket and for a couple of hours no one is allowed to access any of them (Be clever about this; if your device is a computer, just put the mouse in the basket–not the whole computer). Another great idea is to plan media-free times. Plan on taking a vacation this summer during which you and your family will be free of all media.
But don’t just plan the times you will be free of media; you should also plan when you will use them day to day. Give yourself a specific amount of time in the morning, at lunch, in the evening–whenever!–during which you can use Facebook and read your blogs. And when that time is up, walk away. Without this discipline it is almost inevitable that you will use them more than you should.
Be Realistic & Get Smart
The Internet is not going away. Neither are Facebook or blogs or Twitter or our other social media sites. Not any time soon, at any rate. So don’t just wish they would go away and refuse to learn to use them responsibly. Hiding your head in the sand or surrendering to the inevitable is not living like a Christian.
Realize as well that each of these things brings a never-ending stream of information; you will never be able to read and digest it all. The best plan may be to spend more time on fewer sources of information. Read a few blogs and think about them deeply or interact with them by leaving comments. This may prove more beneficial than skimming a hundred blogs. But through it all realize that you will never be caught up and the information flow will never cease. That feeling of never really being on top of all the information will never go away.
Jettisoning all social media may be the solution for some people. But most of us will want to continue to enjoy Facebook and Twitter and all these other media. And there is plenty of room to enjoy them. Believe it or not, Facebook is a good gift of God that we can use to his glory.
But you will be able to enjoy it most when you enjoy it best.