Restoring Social Media Balance

In an effort to clear my mind by refocusing and reprioritizing some things in my life I deactivated my Facebook account two weeks ago. I didn’t announce to friends that I was going to do it, though I wrote about it on this blog. I never meant it as a permanent move and plan on coming back at some point. But I needed a break. A sabbatical or retreat, if you will. And that’s exactly what it’s been.

Working as an IT professional I am already inundated with a plethora of information each day, whether in my work inbox or in meetings. The flow of information never stops. Add to that the news/commentary/blogs that I read each day and it quickly adds up. I was starting to suffer from IOS and become like Little Billy here:

The truth is that despite my intense love of quiet time and solitude, I am also a very social creature. It’s a constant battle for balance, and the scales had slipped much too far to the social side. When you find yourself constantly checking your smartphone for updates, or logging on from work in between meetings and relying too much on your ability to catch up later, you just set yourself up for a lot of unnecessary stress. And so like anything else in this life, you must have balance, something Pope Benedict recently alluded to while discussing social media:

Even brief posts and viral tweets can carry potent messages when people use those tools – not for spamming or for scanning the latest gossip – but for sharing a real part of themselves, he said.

“In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.”

[snip]

Words without reflection and silence without meaning result in confusion, coldness and communication breakdown, he said.

Silence builds meaning, clarity and creativity since “we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth;” and people have the time to choose how to best express themselves.

I was amazed by my experience in the first few days of my leaving. If you want to be totally honest with yourself and find out how engrained something is in your life, do without it for two weeks. In those first few days I would find myself habitually reaching for my phone to check in before realizing I had nothing to check. And by habitually I mean every 15-30 minutes. It’s embarrassing really, but as a friend of mine referred to his similar habit, your phone becomes a “crack pipe.”

I also found myself getting way too bent out of shape by some things, mostly political. Normally this has never been an issue, but with the heightened awareness of that world due to it being an election year it’s going to reach a fever pitch. Add to that the fact that we are currently enduring an administration hostile to people of faith and one that once again last week told Catholics to go screw themselves. Change we can believe in? Well, so far the God-King has made our First Amendment rights revokable. How’s that for change? How many more Constitutional rights will he erase if allowed a second term? As Fr. Z writes: “I’d vote for a frozen orange juice can in 2012.”

(And now you see, in one paragraph, why I needed a break from Facebook. I fervently try to avoid posting about politics there, and here for that matter. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult.)

I have little patience for the populist and uninformed knee-jerk things I would see sometimes. Times are very serious, as are the issues. But I was getting too serious. Again, losing my balance as well as my sense of humor. Oddly enough it wasn’t anything political however that cemented my decision, but the frequent posting of one of the most inane and ridiculous YouTube videos to go viral. I’ve written about it as have other much more effectively so I won’t digress here.

So I’ve gone on retreat. And it’s been very cleansing. I miss my friends and family that are online, of course. I was about to type “that are there” in place of “that are online” but stopped myself. Because that’s the problem with the pretend world of social media. For those people aren’t “there”. They are here…in the real world. Just as available, just as accessible, by using the tools we have that have worked for centuries or even the past decade. Letters, phone calls, or emails…all of these options work and work well. Perhaps we don’t receive the same happy pill of instant gratification this way, but we also deepen the pool of thought involved with any communication that passes between us. The brief Facebook status or 140-character Tweet becomes a (hopefully) well thought out email. Or a ten minute phone call. Or, and this is a challenge I know, it can become a personal or intimate letter composed on a few pages.

Or is intimacy what we’re protected against by social media? Hmmm…I’ll save that for another post on another day.

This sabbatical has also allowed me to stay in the moment with those who matter most: my family. I have been able to make strides in my spiritual life. And I’ve spent time catching up on some reading. I am currently 700 pages into Michael O’Brien’s latest book The Father’s Tale. O’Brien is one of my favorite authors and he’s a master storyteller, creating characters with whom you completely lose yourself. Until this book, a modern retelling of both the parable of the prodigal son and the Good Shepherd, I had considered his book Island of the World the best I’d ever read. And it may yet remain in that category, but if the last 300+ pages of The Father’s Tale are as satisfying as the first 700 were I may have a new champion. You know how sometimes you get a real empty feeling for a few days after finishing a book that has a main character or characters with whom you identify? I sense that feeling coming in a few days when I finish this book. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve already found myself weeping out of the blue while propped up on my pillow late at night reading this book. It has a deep heart, and as a father it has touched mine.

The other event that has occurred during this break was a very pleasant surprise. A book that has been gestating in me for over five years and one that I’d outlined has suddenly opened up to me. I began writing a week ago and have already drafted the first few chapters by dedicating 90 minutes each night before bed to its writing. (Incidentally, this is the period of time I spent partially on Facebook prior to the break.) I’m very excited by the progress and would hate to destroy the momentum I’ve attained by going back to Facebook, so for the time being I’ll remain inactive. I’m on pace for 60,000 words and have several chapters to go, but I’m genuinely happy about the progress. Whether it ever is published in book form or in serial form on my blog I cannot say. I won’t jinx myself by saying anything about it, but this photo is a hint. Neener neener.

The involvement necessary for writing this book also means I will not be blogging every day and may be erratic for the next 1-2 months. I’ll be around though with hopefully something meaningful to write or say.

So I will stay on this self-imposed retreat for awhile longer. It really is like going on a weekend retreat that I’ve experienced so many times before at our local Catholic retreat house. When you make a retreat you are doing so to leave one world behind while spending time with God and focusing inwards for a time to rejuvenate yourself before once more engaging the outside world. The initial hours of such a retreat can be jarring as you feel cut off from all the noise and busyness of that outside world. You miss your friends and feel like you’re missing out or even that you’re being forgotten. This last phenomenon is pretty self-centered really, but a common thought. My “retreat” from Facebook has been like that. No longer getting instant feedback or insights into the daily lives of friends I felt cut off at first. I miss them. I wonder if I’m missing out on something. I wonder if they miss or have forgotten about me.

I think I’ll sit down to write a few emails and a letter. And I will, right after I finish up this latest chapter in my book . . .

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