This is particularly difficult for me because social media and I have been together for a long, long time.
AOL was my first love. Early in high school I didn't have regular internet access at home, so I would ask friends to use their computers. I'd lose time as I checked for new messages and chatted with whoever happened to be around to talk to me online (rather than talking to my actual friends in their own homes, the irony escaping me at the time).
Later, when I had regular access, I would stay up for hours into the night chatting with people from around the country, like Daniel in Florida who shared my affinity for flowers and surfing. I still feel a giddy flutter in my stomach when I hear the creaky modem sound that used to signify signing on, or the friendly deep voice exclaiming, "You've got mail!". Those sounds captured the intrigue and the excitement and the possibility of who might be waiting for me.
I used to say that the internet was an equalizer - you could speak directly and honestly, showing your true self, without being held back by the petty discrimination and judgment that would come with talking to people in person. I didn't yet understand that tone and facial expressions and pheromones add layers that really matter to communication. As a language person, chatting online felt more pure (read: less awkward) and allowed me to leverage my 100+wpm typing skills. It gave me an inflated sense of confidence, and it gave me the courage to be more honest.
In college I used ICQ and AIM to chat constantly with friends, hunched over my desktop computer late into the night. The clicking noise of my frenetic typing drove my early-to-bed roommate to wear ear plugs. I would chat with people across campus or down the hall or next door. My suite mate would say, "BRB, I have to use the bathroom," and a moment later we would wave and giggle as she walked past my room.
I learned to pay closer attention to subtle social cues after spending hours engaged in a tearful online argument with someone I believed to be a friend from high school but who turned out to be his pranking roommate.
During my junior year I ventured into the online dating world with CollegeClub and met a funny and decent guy who I dated for a few months. My suite mates used to call him "www.boyfriend.com". I found this hilarious, although he not so much.
When I moved across the country to attend grad school, Craigslist led me to the house mate I shared my life with for five years, as well as a few other rotating roommates in the third bedroom of our apartment. They are all still some of my favorite people.
During my second year of grad school I received an email on Friendster (pre-Facebook, pre-Myspace) from a loose acquaintance asking me to attend a blind date party as the date of this funny, laid-back teacher. I had enough experience with online profiles and internet personas to see that these were people I would have been friends with if I had gone to college with them. Besides, I hadn't had a good story in awhile. So I showed up to the date party at Dave 'n' Busters and met my future husband. For years we went back to Dave 'n' Busters on our anniversary, playing games and winning tickets which we redeemed to fill our home with junky toys and logo-inscribed shot glasses.
Early in new motherhood I found solace and community in a Meetup group, an online community that facilitated deep friendships for myself and my kids. Wisdom shared on the message board reminded me that I'm not ruining my kids. Play dates, knit nights, swap meets, and meal trains kept me sane, connected, and even loved. Magical mama/kid camping trips allowed us to create that elusive "village," if only for a few days, as we cooked over the fire and let the kids run around and eat dirt. This community was forged online but it was made real, velveteen rabbit style, through tears and laughter and dirty diapers and lots of coffee.
I've always known that the internet provides the opportunity to connect with real people who, like me, feel overwhelmed by the crap shoot of trying to find kindred spirits at a bar. Social media tools have allowed me to forge some of the most important relationships in my life.
Yet this constant social access has not come without cost. I'm suffering from social media fatigue. Specifically, Facebook fatigue.
The desire to stay connected with friends during the long days home with the kids sometimes keeps me glued to the screen of my smart phone, even as my kids throw toys and start fights with each other to get my attention.
I start by skimming for inter-species friend videos and movie dance scene mashups and the first-day-of-school photos and funny stories. Then I get sucked into the rabbit hole of the minutia and dramas of daily life of whoever happens to pop up in my news feed. My already limited emotional resources are stretched thin as I experience loneliness over the birthday celebration that I wasn't invited to attend, and self-doubt in response to the promotion of a former colleague who chose a different path than I did, and unexpected joy over baby photos from an acquaintance I didn't know was pregnant, and grief for a friend who suddenly lost a parent.
The compulsion to make it through as many "news items" as possible means that I sometimes rapid-cycle through these emotions in ten minute chunks stolen from my day. I lurk and maybe click"like" but rarely do I build in time to actually reach out to any of these friends in a meaningful way.
Occasionally I'm even sabotaged by an unexpected graphic news story showing up as a "sponsored item" in my news feed. Once, as I hid from the kids on the staircase for a few desperate minutes of social media binging, I was greeted by the image of a grieving mother in a hospital clutching her dead child, featured by a local Fox news affiliate from somewhere in the country. Her five year old step child and two year old child had snuck outside after bed time to play in the snow. The five year old went back to bed but the toddler chose to stay outside, then couldn't manage to open the door to come back in. The family found her in the morning frozen to death. This devastating story haunted me for the rest of the day. It still brings tears to my eyes.
What kinds of emotional barriers are we expected to have in place to allow us to process detailed and graphic stories of domestic violence and animal abuse and war casualties over our morning coffee? I've been working so hard to be more open, to allow my empathy and compassion to serve and lead me. This state of being is not very compatible with Facebook.
I just emerged from a week-long social media detox, in which I ignored Facebook and other social media so I could focus on my actual life. My family and I visited friends in Albuquerque, where our days were filled with excursions such as a tram ride to the top of the Sandia Peak and our evenings were filled with laughter and roasted marshmallows around their backyard fire pit. The trip was fun and restorative and full of connection. I felt free and clear (well, and maybe a little light-headed from the altitude). This shouldn't be a revelation for me, but I was reminded that I don't need to take everything and everyone in. Life goes on. Facebook doesn't really miss me when I don't check in for a week.
I still truly believe in the power of the internet to bring us together. Facebook may have led you to this blog, and i'm grateful. Truly.
But it's time for me to really be deliberate about how I allow social media to infiltrate my mind and heart and daily life. I'm not sure what this looks like yet.
Maybe you could use some social media detox too.
Wanna get together? PM me on Facebook, then let's shut off the devices and see what happens.