Confronting Hard Truths About Facebook and Myself

Anyone who has been reading my blog over the last couple of years knows that I battle being addicted to Facebook. Yes, addicted. I think a lot of people are addicted, but we don’t like to admit it, myself included. Social media is a part of the post-modern experience. At face value it is indeed a good. It allows us to connect worldwide in real-time and to reconnect with people from our past. It is a blessing to see how people we knew decades before are doing at this point in their lives. All of this is good, but I think we  need to be honest with ourselves about a few things.

We live in a lonely culture.

We are able to connect in real-time, and yet, we are more lonely now than ever before. We can spend hours engaged in discussions, arguments, or reading news feeds, but feel completely and utterly disconnected. A computer screen does not provide the needed interaction of authentic relationship with a person who is present to us fully. We can get a million “Likes” to something and it will not put a dent in that loneliness or sense of isolation. In reality, deep down, we realize that our Facebook friends are more of a type of acquaintance than true friendship. Our Facebook friends may offer us prayers and kind thoughts during difficult times, but only a few of them will walk into the darkness with us. This is, of course, human  nature. We avoid suffering at all costs. As painful as it is, we have to acknowledge that we are in a sort of shadow relationship with our Facebook friends. We are social beings by nature. We need community, but authentic community in which we interact with people in person and engage in relationships with those people.

We have stopped listening to one another.

Listening is something we all struggle to do in our interactions. In our pride, we want to have an immediate response at the ready before considering all of the information being presented. We already have our ideas, preconceived notions, and biases at the ready. We also desire to protect ourselves from any perceived attack, even if it is meant merely as a charitable reminder or correction. We all seem to do this in both social media and in our daily relationships.

The problem with this lack of listening in social media is that it is dividing us even more with each passing day. When we begin a discussion with someone–whether a friend or a stranger–we do not meet on even ground. There is no mutual understanding or defining of terms. I have discovered that discussions go much more smoothly if they are entered into with an understanding of mutual respect and a clear defining of terms to be used. If we enter into a conversation in social media with someone without these two principles in place, the conversation will devolve very quickly. It then turns into a group of people ganging up on one person or one person ranting and raving at the others or a whole host of other problematic situations will occur. Ad hominems, presumptions, misunderstandings, and irrationality inevitably take over the whole conversation.

Facebook and the like allow us to talk, and talk, and talk. We have a platform and we use it. It is hard to admit to ourselves that in reality, nobody cares, or if they do, it is not that much. A passing “Like”, emoji, or thumbs up does not equate to genuine concern or interest. Typically we “Like” and move on to “Like” a dozen more things before shutting off social media for a few minutes and then reaching for our phone again or laptop.

We do not appeal to prudence.

The Queen of the Virtues is prudence. She is the most important of the cardinal virtues for all of the other cardinal virtues flow from her. Prudence means truly discerning how to respond in a situation. Think of prudence in relation to wisdom. For a Catholic, this includes considering God’s will or proper responses in a given situation. We cannot be just if we are not prudent. True justice is founded on prudence and charity. We cannot be truly courageous if we are not prudent, because we may get ourselves killed in the process. We cannot be temperate if we do not first understand prudent choices, because the Passions would like nothing more than to have free run of our lives. Prudence is the crucial habit that needs to be learned in virtuous living and in going deeper into the spiritual life.

Social media is almost the anti-thesis of prudence. We say whatever comes to mind without any appeal to prudence. Yes, we are all works in progress, including myself. We are all sinners, but that is not a get out of jail free card or an excuse. We know better, so we acknowledge our weakness, but we don’t justify it. I often lack prudence and it always gets me into trouble. As Catholics, we do not have a right to do and say whatever we want. We are obliged–through the gift of the supernatural virtues–to learn the habit of prudence. Not every comment on Facebook we disagree with needs to be responded to. I am talking to myself here too. I am a work in progress, so please keep in mind this is not some kind of morally superior lecture. I am right there in the gutters with everyone else. These are merely insights I have gained from my own broken, and at times, sinful use of social media. Not every thought that comes to our heads needs to go out into cyberspace. We do have an obligation to consider how our thoughts and actions will impact the people around us.

Does social media help me on the path to holiness?

All of these insights come down to the main question that I must ask myself as someone who is clearly addicted to Facebook. This is the same question we must all ask ourselves in every moment of the day. Will this X, Y, or Z help me attain holiness? Some people are masters of properly ordering social media and they are able to use it for God’s purposes. I know that I am not one of those people. God has made it plain to me, and yet, in my shame and weakness I persist. Internet usage is a constant in my regular Confessions. Unequivocally Facebook does not help me on the path to holiness. It is a hindrance. It makes me think too much about myself and my own thoughts, which are not nearly as exciting as they seem in my head or in black letters glowing on my computer screen. Nobody cares! I am going to tell myself this again: NOBODY CARES! There I said it. What a relief!

I think that far too many Catholics do not understand that our mission is holiness. The meaning of our lives is to become a saint. That is not a goal reserved for a lofty few. It is the end for which all of us are created. If we approach our daily living from this standpoint we would begin, by God’s grace, to order our lives to that purpose. I know this truth, but there are times I fall into habits that take me away from that mission. Facebook takes me away from my vocation and the mission. I have asked God to make me a saint and that means relinquishing my will to His will. He has asked me to cease and desist Facebook. I will not progress, and I may back slip, if I do not take heed.

Facebook can become a near occasion of sin.

Facebook is a near occasion of sin for me because of the incessant outrage. The constant need to be angry or upset about something, anything. The onslaught of news and division can be downright overwhelming. This is a distraction aimed at keeping us from focusing on Christ and the mission of bringing the world to Him. The world has been a horrifying, bloodthirsty, and violent place since the Fall. The Bible and human history are filled with humanity’s evil, stupidity, arrogance, blindness, and depravity. We have been wounded by the Fall and we live in a world that struggles with sin. We still wait for the Second Coming of Our Lord at any moment. That is one of the main purposes of Advent. To remind us to wake up! Christ will come again and we do not know the hour, so be alert!

Spending hours upon hours dwelling on the Fallen world is not good for me and I would argue it is not good for anyone. I worry about some of my Facebook friends. I see their loneliness. I know their loneliness. I see their pain and struggles. They may not realize that I see them.We reach out for human interaction for someone to “see” us and our pain, but Facebook does not provide the needed compassion and charity. My Facebook friends cannot truly see my grief and pain. The tears I shed on a nearly daily basis as I grieve my lost babies and struggle to accept my infertility do not appear in my newsfeed. A crying emoji wouldn’t quite do justice to my struggles. They do not sense the ache I feel at all of their children and pregnancy announcements. Not because I am envious, although I have my moments, but because I am a mother who wants to love more children.

I know deep down most–not all–of my Facebook friends do not truly see me, understand me, or love me as a friend is meant to love. I think this is something we all need to acknowledge and accept. This is understandable. We are no longer in the same place in our lives or geographically. Facebook allows for facades and the pretense of everything is dandy and fine. Nobody wants a “downer” to share what it is really like in periods of intense grief. It is an illusion and that is precisely why so many people are lonely and feel empty in a world of immediate connection.

I struggle like a lot of people to use Facebook properly. I have not mastered prudence enough to be temperate in my Facebook usage. Another sign that I am stumbling up the path with everyone else. Have you considered your own social media interactions and usage? Is it a hindrance or a good for you on the path to deeper communion with Christ? I think we all need to pray for God to help us develop the habit of considering every element in our lives through our eschatological purpose, which is to be a saint, so that we can enter into full communion with the Blessed Trinity at the end of our lives.

The Peace in Leaving Facebook Behind

I have written multiple blog posts about my increased understanding that I needed to give up Facebook. I only rarely used Twitter and saw it as an overwhelming amount of information with absolutely no real human connection. It is a place to vent political ideology in 140 characters, and that largely includes Catholic writers too. Facebook was another animal. I deactivated my account and gave the password controls to my husband 2.5 months ago. I had given it up for months at a time, but always ended up getting sucked back in for some reason, so I told my husband to change the password and that I was done. I was addicted to Facebook. My overly empathetic personality pulled me too close to the train-wreck and I had to walk away.

A lot of people will say to use it in moderation, but I am not one of those people who can use it in moderation. In the beginning I would do pretty well, but before long I was sucked into conversations I didn’t need to be involved in like telling Pope bashers to knock it off and got to Confession. I am a stay-at-home mom, so I am pretty isolated for most of the week. I saw Facebook as adult interaction, but in reality it wasn’t any deep connection and it was not making me a better person. Facebook was an impediment for me on the path to holiness. My husband didn’t like me on Facebook, my daughter didn’t like me on Facebook, and I didn’t like me on Facebook.

Facebook in itself is a good. There are great gifts in technology and the material world which are goods; that does not mean they are good for everyone. Some of us have inclinations towards addictions with certain things whether it be food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, or social media. If we cannot control that addiction then we need to cut it out. If something is not helping us on the path to holiness, then we need to cut it out. It is not a condemnation of Facebook, instead it is an acknowledgement of my own personal weaknesses.

Here are somethings that have happened since I have freed myself from the clutches of Facebook.

  1. I enjoy the moment.
    Yep, that’s right. I am more present in each moment throughout the day. I am more available when for my daughter and my husband. I no longer spend hours on my phone. I don’t think of clever status updates through out the day to garner as many likes as possible. I only take photographs I truly want to save as opposed to those I would put up throughout the day on FB. Once again, I am more present in my own life. True story!
  2. I no longer worship myself on Facebook.
    Now this does not mean that I no longer battle pride, I do, daily. Facebook has the real risk of sinful pride. We post pictures of our families, our articles, or things of interest and can run into the tendency of either knowing better than everyone else or thinking we are better than everyone else. “Likes” are an homage to pride. The more likes the better we think of our pictures or updates. It’s gotten so bad that we post pictures of our meals and way too many pictures of ourselves. Vanity is rearing its ugly head in multiple generations right now through social media! If we are really honest with ourselves, we will see how pride is infecting us through our use of social media. This does not mean that there aren’t people who use social media in humility, but for most of us sinful beings, pride is a real battle and danger in social media, that is, social media centered around ourselves.
  3. I am a lot less stressed out about the state of the world.
    Let’s face it, social media is a train-wreck we cannot seem to look away from. I have been watching the news since I was 8 years old. Yes, 8. I have always been in the know and up-to-date on current affairs. It was wreaking havoc on me, but I didn’t want to admit it. I am a very empathetic person. I get sucked into the evil of the world and it is compounded by own experiences as a relief worker during the 9-11 aftermath. Certain personalities cannot handle an onslaught of the evils of the world. My leaving social media does not mean I think we should put our heads in the sand. We should be aware of current affairs, but social media is obsessed and addicted to it. We should know about it and then get on with the business of evangelizing the world and serving others in charity and truth. Obsessing and talking about current events incessantly is not evangelizing or living the Christian mission. We have to get up from our computers and serve. I think for people who struggle with anxiety and depression massive social media use is very bad and exacerbates symptoms. I say this as a fellow depressive and anxiety sufferer.
  4. I have time for important things in my day.
    We are obsessed with our smartphones! Our smartphones are a major impediment and distraction in our day. As an experiment I suggest you write down every time you go on your phone to check social media. The number and amount of time you are on your phone, tablet, or computer will be stifling. That is time we could be spending with our kids, spouses, reading books to help us in the spiritual life or even just great books, we could be writing a novel, helping people in need, focusing on a hobby we enjoy, going for a walk to enjoy God’s creation, and praying more. There are so many better things we could be doing with our time. I do those things now that I am off of Facebook for good. We have to decide which good is greater and chances are social media is not the greater good in our lives.
  5. My life is quieter.
    I know this probably terrifies some people. It terrified me when I was contemplating the final deactivation. For the first few days it’s difficult. You might feel disconnected at first, but then you come to enjoy the quiet and lack of needless distraction. You will find more peace and focus. Is it the solution to all of your problems or mine? No, but it’s a step towards peace and real connection with God and other people.
  6. I can focus on the real relationships in my life.
    If we are truly honest with ourselves we will admit that social media is not authentic connection with other people. It is the illusion of real connection. In reality it does not require any of us to step into the real lives of our Facebook “friends”. We might pray for them and interact occasionally, but we are not sitting by hospital beds, bringing needed food, money, or items to them. We are not there to hug them or have a real conversation. We do not have to truly step into the Crosses of those friends. As Christians, this is an essential element of authentic friendship. There are countless people in our lives today who need our love and support. We meet people and have them in our lives for a while, but then we move on whether physically or developmentally. I am not the person I was in high school and I barely remember most people I went to high school with, or even served with in the Navy. I wish them well, but a superficial Facebook connection does little towards our real call to charity.

There are people who use social media in moderation. I applaud those people, but I think we should truly examine our consciences in light of our social media use. How often do pride, anger, envy, lust, etc. boil up inside of us as we use Facebook? Are we truly using it to connect with other people on a real level or using it as a distraction from our own pains, monotony, or loneliness? Is it helping us grow in holiness? Are we addicted to Facebook, honestly? How are the relationships in our lives, our spouse, children, etc.? Does Facebook impact those relationships in a negative way? Do we spend our evenings on our phone or tablet while our family members sit in the same room with us doing the same thing?

We are made for happiness, greatness, and holiness. If Facebook is not leading us to sainthood we need to decide if we can cut back or cut it out. I can honestly say that I don’t miss it at all and I can see the world around me much more clearly. I pray for the people I have known and those I connected with on Facebook through Catholic circles, but my vocation calls me to people placed right in front of me.  Remember the issue isn’t that Facebook is evil, it is about whether or not it is a greater good in our lives. Pax Christi.

I am not the only crazy Catholic writer to abandon Facebook. Check out Matthew Warner’s “radical” piece on leaving FB.