I broke up with facebook last December.
He hurt my feelings and I just couldn’t get over it so I had to take a break, spend some time apart, try to see if it was really me, not him or if we had just grown apart. After the break-up, I sort of thought in the back of my mind that I’d have to give him up for good. It would be hard, but I could do it.
Come January though, I decided I wanted him back. I missed him- the way he made me laugh and smile and remember the good times. The way he encouraged me and inspired me and helped me build new relationships and deepen old ones. The way he introduced me to new things- things I’d never dreamed or heard of- and how he had the power and potential to make my life better, richer, fuller. So I called him up online, said “Hey, it’s me. Can we try again?”.
The difference this time is that I knew how to keep from getting my feelings hurt, knew how to be strong in this relationship, how to not lose myself in the allure of the pull to the screen. I took control of him- let him know who was boss of my life and words and that it WASN’T him.
During our time apart, I spent a lot of time thinking about the pros and cons of deleting my account. We’ve all seen the people OB-SESSED (seriously, like crack-snorting, pill-popping, alcohol-binging addicted) and we’ve heard the rants and (sometimes snobby-ish) reasons that some people HATE social media. Still, if you are like me, while you understand their points at times, sharing a picture from say, Bali, (real-time no less) with your family here, just sort of tips the scales to the “good” side.
I thought of all the good things that had come into my life through social media. I started reading blogs that gave me the final push I needed to actually consider changing the direction of my life. I met some amazing bloggers and authors and inspire-ers and learned that I can be a writer too, I just have to call myself one. I watched flash mobs take over shopping malls and streets and cried through my laughter at the beauty and power of words and positive actions. I sponsored kickstarter projects for people I’d never met (and subsequently traveled around the world with one of them). I met a whole pile of instant friends in the Miami airport, all of us on a life-changing trip to Guatemala, made possible through social media. We’ve kept in touch through tweets, blogs, facebook groups and emails and in one month from today- a bunch of us are reuniting in the Guatemala airport. I keep up with friends across the globe much better than I would if we had only “snail mail” to rely on (not that I don’t treasure sending and receiving said molluscal items). I’ve gotten to watch my nieces and nephews grow up and feel a little more connected to their lives than I did before this century and for all these reasons and more, I am admitting it- I love social media.
BUT: here’s the flipside. There is a dark side to all the access and information sharing as well, and that’s the part that causes the struggle in me. I read about thefts and crimes and deaths and I get sad. I read rants about everything from guns to laws to wars to religion to rights to marriages and lots of bigger and smaller things that fill my mind with unease. I read the same (granted horribly sad) stories that are re-posted, re-tweeted and re-discussed across the spectrum of internet access platforms and I find myself thinking about them, making assumptions and decisions and strong opinions, often without taking the time to really read any one piece or do my own research. I’m literally horrified to read about people who’ve actually killed themselves because of social media gone bad. (I just “googled” “facebook bully death” and had over 17,000 hits. Oh. My. Gosh.).
I’m sad about a world in which the power of words to kill has at times over-ridden the power of words to heal.
I read with fascination about the increased likelihood of negative things to be reposted and about who parents determine to be most influential in decisions of utmost importance (that I propose shouldn’t be made based on what your high-school teacher’s cousin says). I cringe as friends and grade-school acquaintances share things they probably shouldn’t and will one day wish they hadn’t. I find out too much about things that aren’t meant to be “headlines” and I sometimes feel ashamed, envious, exhausted, anxious, scared or downright mad.
As a doctor, and one who is interested more every day in ALL the ways our lives relate to our health as a whole, I read with interest and agreement that all these negative words are bad for us!
What I realized during my December deliberations is this: I don’t want to be a part of the dark side, and that’s a choice I can make.
So today I present to you my manifesto, a la Jerry Maguire and invite you to join me in taking control of your relationship with social media and in using the power of words for good. (I’m sure I’ll read this in the morning while drinking my coffee and think “Thank goodness I set that up to send last night or I would have NEVER hit “publish” this morning”).
We can choose what words and feeds and updates and announcements appear in front of our eyes and that’s just what I did. I un-followed people I don’t really know or have connections or relationships with, not because I’m a snob but because I simply cannot read everything everyone writes. (I’ve tried. It’s not possible). I un-followed people who consistently (more than 25% of the time) post or share negative, hurtful, depressing, mean-spirited, angry or hateful things. I am careful with my “likes”, and have determined not to become a social media prostitute “liking” and “thumbs-upping” everything in sight for whatever reason someone may have for asking me to “like” them. I choose to post encouraging words or positive updates only and I am careful to remember that my happiness may highlight someone else’s sadness and to be sensitive to that. I am aware that our facebook selves have the danger of being a place to create ourselves the way we wish we were and in so doing, turn us into really bad digital versions of the amazing people we are. I determine to only post things that are congruent with who I really am and to know when I’m tempted to do otherwise that it might be time for some more “time apart”.
In the end, it’s not really that hard. I know that Sunday school is sort of a thing of the past, but maybe the old adage “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” really does sum it up. Sure, maybe it’s a bit cliché’, but in the end what’s a cliché’ except something with some truth in it that’s been “overused”? I think if we all commit to “overuse” niceness on social media, there are worse things that could happen.
And maybe I’ll get to see what you wear to your Christmas party this year.