7-point Plan to Keep Sane on Social Media
Every year, one of my colleagues gives up Facebook for Lent. The rationale is quite simple; she wants to use the time she would normally spend on social media to make more time for prayer, and to build her real-world connections with family and friends.
One year, I tried to do the same, but it just didn’t work for me. Not because I had some compulsive need to scroll through my newsfeed. For me, that newsfeed is a source of (real) news, or links to thought-provoking content that draws me into thinking, talking, and praying about the things happening in the world, the Church, and in the lives of my friends who live on the other side of the country or the world.
To me social media is like anything. Used in excess, it can have damaging effects.
Gyming is good, but too much of it puts a strain on the body. Going for a drink with a friend is a wonderful social activity, but drinking too much is anti-social, has harmful impacts on our health and could possibly endanger ourselves and others. Every South African loves a good braai, but braaing every day of the year is probably a bad idea for your body and your pocket!
Moderation is the key. For social media use as well.
Equally important is to consider why we are on social media, and when we use it.
Young people have often told me that they can’t live without their Instagram accounts (that’s when I realise my age—teens tell me that Facebook is for old people!). But at the same time, they feel huge pressure to be constantly online.
A complex social etiquette system governs young people’s relationship with their social media accounts. To be cool, you need to post frequently, like your friends’ posts and comment on them. Posting on Instagram is stressful. You have to post selfies of yourself looking good and having fun. Multiple takes are needed to create the perfect selfie.
You also need to be tuned into the social media accounts of all the famous people who matter, so that you and your friends can talk (online and in person) about what they’ve posted. Social media is the gateway to news about whatever is trending on the music and celebrity scene.
I’ve had a teenager tell me that these necessary social norms stress her out and that she wishes she had more time to do other things.
Moderation—we all need to learn it. Whether we’re teens or belong to that old, almost pre-historic Facebook generation!
Here are seven things that have helped me:
- When I wake up in the morning, I do not log on to Facebook or Twitter until I’ve done my morning prayer.
- I refuse to follow celebrities on social media. Their lives only make me feel dissatisfied with mine. Instead I follow credible, balanced, news websites and respected thought leaders who allow me to stay in touch with what’s going on in the real world and the Church.
- I stay away from rabid left- or right-wing politics or debates about religion. It only makes me angry. There is no point engaging in conversations where people listen only to their own echo chamber and refuse to acknowledge that there is often a middle ground.
I also cannot tolerate mean, vindictive and uncharitable comments on Catholic websites.
- I unfollow friends who never post anything about themselves but share only cheap humour or demeaning memes and videos. It adds zero value to my life.
- I try, as far as possible, to share content that is uplifting, celebrates human achievement, and stimulates thought-provoking (sometimes robust) conversation.
- When I do post something that is controversial or upsets me, I explain why. Those posts often generate great conversation.
- And yes, I post personal stuff too. Rarely selfies, but I love to share photos of this beautiful country we live in and wonderful moments shared with family and friends.
The bottom line for me is authenticity: Does my newsfeed reflect who I am in the real world? Is my online content consistent with the views I hold in my everyday interactions? Is the language I use online the same as the language I use in my daily life? Do the things I post mirror my beliefs and my efforts to live a Christian life?
On Sunday, March 17, the Schoenstatt Movement in Cape Town will be holding a workshop for 15 to 25-year-olds.
The workshop will look at how young people can develop a healthy relationship with social media.
Anyone who is interested in this or a future workshop, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.