–The following is a guest post–
Last year, I began a personal discipline/tradition based on the growing influence of social media on our daily lives.
Once a year, I Reboot.
Specifically, I enact the full deletion of my Facebook profile. Poof. Gone. And while for some that may seem insignificant, for me, a bonafide 21st century digital boy, it is significant. And if this recent article (and many others like it) are any indication, then it is significant for lots of you, too. (For the reason why I don’t delete my Twitter or Instagram, see the very end*. Also, see my rant on why Google+ is ridiculous.)
Let me begin with the disclaimer: I am not anti-technology or anti-social media. At all. While I appreciate the neo-monastic or even anabaptist impulse to eschew all artificial forms of human connection and the fast pace that technology often applies to one’s life, I am more moderate. The impulse I feel is to interact intentionally with technology and media, to understand the “message” implicit in the “medium” and, hopefully, to find a way forward that combines engagement with thoughtfulness.
I have seen, for instance, my own tendency to constantly live back and forth between “two spaces.” The first space is physical space with the persons sitting or standing physically next to me. Or the cars driving beside me. The second space is electronic space (better than “cyberspace”), the space into which we enter through electronic portals and within which we find information, communication, and entertainment that is somehow less than physical (although one could argue it’s getting closer and closer to physical everyday). The electronic space, like the physical space, is not bad or wrong in itself; they are both neutral; but no one can deny that the tension involved in living back and forth between them can easily and quickly become negative.
Consider, for instance, these two negative effects of the tension between the spaces:
1. Ill Communication. While this has been an issue with electronic media in general (e.g., email or chat), it is especially true of social media. And it’s one that probably all of us have fallen prey to at some level. In the tension between the spaces, we have a tendency to be more and more shallow in our communication in the physical space, while we become more and more temperamental, reactionary, and daring in our communication in the electronic space. In both of these spaces, the result is negative – inauthentic relationships, marked by detachment (physical) or flame-warring and (sometimes passive-)aggression (electronic).
2. Distraction. This one is obvious. 5 years ago, virtually no one had a smartphone that easily accessed the internet. (Comparatively few had laptops.) Now, EVERYONE DOES. And the result is distraction in the form of every person walking down the street or standing in line or sitting at the dinner table looking down at a glowing electronic portal in their hand. I actually remember the day when you couldn’t do such a thing. But I’m not an old fogie – I look at mine a lot, too; and that’s the problem. My wife has often noted my distractedness from the the physical space because of my attachment to the electronic one. Sometimes it takes three “Honey’s” of increasing volume to get my attention. And now that I have two kids, that just isn’t good. (Quick note: I recently deleted the Facebook app entirely from my iPhone and iPad. The amount of wasted time spent combing feeds has been drastically reduced. It’s awesome.)
But why this Reboot? How could it potentially bring more positivity into the tension between the spaces?
The annual Facebook Reboot works (for me, at least) because Facebook has become the most powerful and pervasive form of social sharing/connection in the electronic medium. 2011′s The Social Network marked this fact, and the demise of Google’s attempts at competing (Wave, Buzz, and now, the slow death of Plus) confirms it. Thus, impacting our Facebook usage has the potential of impacting a greater part of our life in the tension.
The mechanics of the Reboot are quite simple: first, delete your Facebook account (being sure to maintain connection with any Pages you manage**); second, take at least a one-week break from any and all Facebook activity; and third, relaunch a brand new Facebook profile (starting with ZERO friends) after the new year.
1. Mindfulness. Simply, doing something like this makes you think. It makes you think about what will happen if this particular medium is absent from your life for a while, and how much you depend on it, overuse it, etc. It makes you think about negatives and positives – and that’s positive. Even now, I’m trying to figure out whether to delete before or after Christmas – because of not being able to post Christmas updates and photos. I think I’m still gonna delete it before and have no Facebook over the Christmas week! Scary!
2. Intentionality. Building off of mindfulness, being intentional in all of life is a mark of following Jesus, which is what I’m trying to do in everything. I fail a ton, but failure is almost always linked to me not seeing the connection between small actions and their effect on other actions, forming habits, other people, the world, etc., not to mention their effect on myself and my connection with God. Further, Facebook is a tool for sharing and connecting with others. Deleting my account causes me to think about who I’m connected to, how I’m connecting with them, and why I’m connecting with them through FB. I have to be intentional about re-friending, and allow that slow build-up; some folks may not accept the friend request a second time, and maybe that’s good! But positively, I WANT to connect and share with people on Facebook – it’s great! I just want to do so intentionally, and this will help me do that.
3. Identity. Lastly, and most importantly, Facebook and other social media are becoming increasingly linked to a person’s very identity. The recent announcement of “Timeline” in Facebook (which I hear has been delayed because of copyright disputes) confirms this; the claim is that social media is a necessary and valid representation of one’s identity, cataloguing and arranging the major events in one’s life through updates, photos, and videos in order to give a “full” representation of who they are. The Reboot obviously prevents any more than a year-long catalogue, and I think that’s a good thing. Electronic media may help me share my interests, thoughts, longings, etc., but allowing it to be a long-term irreplaceable record of identity is a negative. Further, when one begins to so identify with the online presence that relationships are also defined more by it than by physical interaction, there is a similar problem. As followers of Jesus, our identity is in the Messiah and his community; sharing and connecting ought to flow from there out into other media.
(Update: Facebook Timeline just officially launched for all users!)
On this last point, I will also say that this year was an interesting one for me in seeing the really negative side of social media as it pertains to relationships. Namely, it became a medium of attack and suspicion. It was an unreal way for some who were breaking actual relationships to maintain an aggressive virtual relationship. I found myself deleting a few friends in order to curb any further unreal interaction.
In cases like these, and lots of others, what could be better than a Reboot? And a clean slate?
And maybe starting over will change the way we use it in the future.
So – will you join me in this year’s Reboot?
Bio: my name is zach hoag. i lead in a missional church called dwell in the least religious city (burlington) in the least religious state (vt) in these united states. i also write dexter’s gospel & promote equal shred. i love jesus, kalen, gemma, and pippa, too. you can connect with me on my facebook “page” (non-profile), twitter profile, and blog.