Social media has become a way of life for a large percentage of Americans. According to data collected by Statista, 79% of people in the U.S. have a social media profile. That translates to 244 million social media users in the U.S. in 2018. It has become one of the most popular ways we communicate with each other.
Pros and Cons of Social Media
Social media can be a great blessing as a method of keeping in touch with others, transmitting information, and, in the missionary spirit of St. Paul, spreading and receiving the Good News of the Gospel. Technology has put us in touch with each other like never before. Who doesn’t love being able to keep in touch with and see pictures of friends and family near and far and exchange information with the click of a button? However, as we are probably all aware, there is the danger of technology and social media overuse. Good things can be abused, and this applies to our electronic devices and social media accounts.
The Most Important Relationship
We are well connected to our internet family, but aren’t the most important connections, the face-to-face interactions with our family and close friends, suffering because of our preoccupation with social media? Sometimes we are so distracted by Facebook posts and Instagram pictures that we are missing out on the richness of genuine relationship with those around us. More importantly, is our connection to our Creator at risk because of excessive internet use? Our pastor at our home parish recently reminded us in a homily that being Catholic is primarily being in relationship with our God who loves us. He desires that we spend time with him, both listening and speaking to him of our needs, worries, concerns, and also giving thanks for the blessings he has given us. St. Teresa of Avila, who, though she struggled with prayer earlier in life, became an authority on it. She defines prayer simply as “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” We may have amassed hundreds or even thousands of Facebook friends, but our most important connection should be with the indwelling Trinity, which is God in our souls. As Catholics, we are taught from a very young age that God dwells in our hearts. Through faith we believe this is true. If we know that he dwells within us, shouldn’t we be attentive to his presence in our souls through prayer and contemplation?
Is it True? Is it Kind? Is it Necessary?
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. (Matt 12:36) Because of our connectedness via technology and the ease with which we can communicate, we can get caught up in idle talk and unnecessary chatter via social media and other digital avenues. There is also the temptation to be thoughtless and unkind in the words we speak to one another. When discussions about difficult subjects such as politics and religion become contentious, there is a temptation to say things from behind a keyboard that we may not say face to face. I like the true/kind/necessary test for speech, especially these days online speech. If it doesn’t meet this three-part test, then perhaps we should leave it unsaid.
Experiencing God Through Nature
Taking a hiatus from social media, whether for a day or long term, is a constructive and beneficial practice. Putting our phones down and having conversation with our families and friends or taking a walk to enjoy the beauty of nature is healthy and can bring us much-needed peace and contentment. Pope Saint John Paul II speaks of the benefits of contemplating nature in silence: “In this oasis of quiet, before the wonderful spectacle of nature, one easily experiences how profitable silence is, a good that today is ever more rare…In reality, only in silence does man succeed in hearing in the depths of his conscience the voice of God, which really makes him free.” When we take the time to be alone with God’s creation, we can observe its beauty and majesty. Through that beauty, and in the stillness, God speaks to our hearts and we come to know his great love more intimately. We encounter the reality of creation rather than digital images on a screen. We can actually use our five senses to see, hear, touch, smell and even taste the goodness of creation all around us, as in the delicate touch of a cool breeze, the sweet smell of flowers, or the gentle song of the birds. All of these experiences remind us of the goodness of God and the joy that comes from encountering nature and help us to hear his voice.
Making Time for Prayer
Silencing our phones for prayer time is also necessary to tap into the Source of life and listen to what Our Lord wants so much to tell us. Although we often postpone prayer because we believe there is not enough time for it in our busy lives, it is actually the most important part of our day. It is often suggested that we schedule prayer at a certain time each day, such as early morning before beginning your day. Many people find that rising early to pray sets a positive tone for the day and enhances all of the works and actions that you will perform during the day.
Using Social Media Wisely
With social media there is also the temptation to reveal too much personal information to too many people and to forego discretion when it comes to sharing online. Thomas a Kempis in The Imitation of Christ advises us to avoid too much familiarity. “Open not thine heart to every man, but deal with one who is wise and feareth God.” (Book I, Ch. VIII, 1) He also states, “We must love all men, but not make close companions of all.” (Book I, Ch. VIII, 2) It is important to be prudent in what we share online and to instruct our children to be cautious as well and to use social media and all online communication wisely and responsibly.