This past January, I received a “death threat” via Facebook… my first. Ironically, it was issued because I am pro-life. I laughed it off, because the authors were some middle-aged Northeastern women from the so-called peaceful “Women’s March.” I brashly thought, “Go ahead, make my day.” Being a marathon runner, I figured I could at least outrun them.
Now, six months later and not having blog-posted since then, I must admit… it got to me. I’ve encountered that sort of ugliness while standing in front of abortion centers, but having someone invade me personally, on my home computer, is different. It froze my creativity and the will to speak publicly, and it’s taken this long for me to throw it off.
It also pretty much spoiled the fun of Facebook for me, and I’ve cut my time on that app by about 90%. I didn’t close my account (I’m not even sure Facebook allows for that), but I removed it from my devices. I’m out of the loop on a lot of things as a result, but the dividend paid in peace of mind has been worth it.
Which brings me to the topic of this post: social media.
At TOBET, we believe in the body. We know you can’t disregard or discount the body. The body matters. So the very concept of living in a “virtual” world makes our TOB antennae vibrate.
Take this little test:
- When is the last time you read a real book (made of paper and ink)?
- What is the last piece of art you contemplated?
- When did you last write a personal letter with a pen and paper, and send it with a stamp?
- Has your prayer time decreased over the last few years?
- Would you find it hard to keep a Holy Hour (60 minutes) of prayer without any electronic devices in your pocket or purse?
- Do you have a library card? When did you last use it?
- How long has it been since you sat still and lost yourself in a piece of great music?
This is not a matter of nostalgia, of thinking that things were better back in the day. This is about quality of life.
“I Used to be a Human Being.” That’s the title of a 2016 New York magazine article that urges readers to look critically at their social media habits:
“I began to realize, as my health and happiness deteriorated, that this was not a both-and kind of situation. It was either-or. Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world. Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online, or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time.”
That is so theology of the body!
St. John Paul II said that we best image the love of God when we are in a “communion of persons.”
Is social media a communion of persons? It seems so, as we see our friends’ lives in more detail, their vacations, pets, pet peeves, anniversaries and other important life events. That must all be to the good… but what if you have hundreds of contacts on social media? Can you actually enter into personal communion with that many people, given that you are one limited body with 24 limited hours in a day?
Further, what is your accountability to those people? Where there are no responsibilities, there is no relationship. There’s nothing wrong with having acquaintances with whom there are no mutual obligations, but it would be a mistake to count that as a friendship. True friendship costs something.
Here’s an example. On Facebook (or Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat) you learn that a friend is ill. You send back a cry-face or sad-face or a personal message “I’m so sorry.” Within the parameters of social media, that is about all you can do. But ask the victim of a disaster or tragedy how much sad-faces helped when what they needed was a hug, baby sitting, a prepared meal or a ride home from chemo. A sad-face can become an insult in the face of genuine need.
True friends respond the hard way. It costs. And most people are going to have a fairly small group of true friends who can and will respond at their own cost. Certainly not 500 or 1,000 friends who take off work, drive over and do the real work of friendship.
There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the hundreds of virtual friendships we have don’t use up the time it requires to maintain real friendships.
I will never forget the friends who called regularly when my dad was dying, who showed up at the hospital with dinner for the family, who came to the funeral and hugged and prayed with me.
One concept we’re working with at TOBET is the limits of the body. No one wants to admit that their body is limited, when we are so inspired by the likes of Dick and Rick Hoyt, a father and son with cerebral palsy who do Ironman triathlons together.
Or Diana Nyad, who swam from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida at age 64, on her fifth attempt.
Or Gene Gomez, who lost 300 pounds to become a runner and triathlete.
Of course we push the limits of our bodies! That drive is part of our humanity, always going forward.
But the body, as a physical entity, does have limits. You can’t be in two places at the same time. If you go without water, food, or sleep for long enough, you will die. With training, you can push your limits out farther than you might imagine, but at some point, you will run into a limit. It’s the nature of being physical in a universe governed by physical laws.
Your body has 24 hours to use each day. You have to sleep and eat, which probably means you have to work. That leaves, what? maybe 6 hours of discretionary time each day, at the most. Take out family time and physical exercise and you’re left with maybe a couple of hours a day. Do the math.
If you spend those couple of hours a day on social media, then you have crowded out your available time for real-life friendships. And guess what? A 2015 study showed that we are spending an average of 5 hours a day on our mobile devices.
There actually are Americans who have never created a social media account. Ever. And they’re not old, either. Other Americans have “gone dark” and shut down their social media presence. It is possible to live without social media… and perhaps to be the better for it.
Check out any of these links, all from the secular viewpoint. It is being done, this “social media absence.”
Sheryl Collmer M.T.S. works and writes for TOBET in Irving, Texas. She’s been reading more books since her Facebook disillusionment.