Recently I’ve pretty much stopped using Facebook. One event was the tipping point, but the truth is, I’d been increasingly disenchanted with it for some time before that.
I signed up for Facebook in 2007, shortly after it opened up to the public. It was the new and improved MySpace, and quickly became a huge part of my life. Every day, I faithfully scrolled through the news feed, often multiple times a day, till I’d caught up to the point where I’d left off. I updated my status, often multiple times a day, with statements so banal or melodramatic they now make me cringe. Facebook was a good way to keep in touch with far-off family and friends, and be entertained.
However, for some time now, Facebook’s effect has been more negative than positive in my life, to the point where I am now avoiding it almost entirely, and almost always regret it when I go back. I’m convinced it’s an enemy of my soul and well-being in so many ways, and I’m better off without it.
Why? I think there are many reasons, I’ll try to quantify at least some of them.
One is its addictive nature. Facebook is designed to pull you in and keep you there. It’s designed to make you keep scrolling and clicking and liking and commenting, because the longer they have your eyeballs, the more ad revenue they gain. There’s always fresh content, always something new to see. This feeds into the human nature’s proneness to addiction; you’re stuffing your soul with endless novelty that can never satisfy it.
Instead of facing boredom, or loneliness, or anxiety, you turn to Facebook to numb it. It feels better to distract yourself with funny animal videos than to figure out your feelings and take them to God.
And at the end of it, you have absolutely nothing to show for it. You can spend an hour, or half an hour, or five minutes on Facebook, and at the end of that time, have accomplished absolutely nothing. You have essentially wasted all of that time, passively consuming whatever Facebook throws your way. (This can be said of any social media, by the way).
You haven’t accomplished something. You haven’t learned something. You haven’t produced something. You have simply spent that time looking at Facebook.
Now, it’s true that there can be wheat among the chaff; I have friends who post good, thought-provoking, edifying content; sometimes you see an important update about a friend’s life or have an uplifting exchange; but I find that is so rare that it’s almost never worth the sift through endless piles of chaff.
Almost anything you could have done with that time instead would have been more useful. Read a good book. Cleaned. Cooked something. Knitted. Gardened. Exercised. Prayed. Talked with an actual person face-to-face.
Secondly, I found that Facebook was constantly disturbing my peace. I’d see outrageous updates from people on all ends of the political and religious spectrum; or people I cared about making bad choices. It would make me anxious and stressed and angry and fretful. Instead of trusting God and dwelling on his truth, allowing his peace to rule my mind, I’d get riled up by something I’d seen on Facebook.
Worse, I’d often get pulled into commenting, and usually regret it. No matter how truthful or kind what you say may be, online debates are rarely civil or productive. Someone would pile on, I’d feel compelled to continue the argument, and my peace would be disturbed even more. Sometimes it would knock me down for days.
I’m not saying it’s not worthwhile to understand different points of view, or that we should avoid knowing about others’ bad choices. I’m just not convinced Facebook is the best avenue for it. On Facebook, all of that is thrown into your face in a jumble, and there’s little you can do about it. Worse, you’re likely getting it from multiple people with whom you’re not even that close, making meaningful dialogue all but impossible. We all have a limited capacity for controversy and bad news. Narrowing it to what we encounter in real life, and may be able to do something about, might be a wise idea.
Thirdly, time spent on Facebook is time spent immersing ourselves in the world and the world’s way of thinking, instead of conforming ourselves more to Jesus, drawing closer to him, allowing our minds to be transformed by him. John Piper famously said (ironically enough, on Twitter): “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” I know that’s true in my case. To be fair, I can do a thousand things rather than pray; but Facebook is one of the easiest to get sucked into. Any media I’m consuming which is not promoting knowing and being more like Jesus is sucking spiritual life from me, rather than nurturing it.
Finally, this isn’t meant to be legalistic; I’m not saying Facebook is evil and that Christians shouldn’t use it. I do think we should guard against over-use; and question ourselves if it is really a positive benefit in our life, and if not, whether we might actually be better off without it.
I haven’t gone off Facebook entirely; I use Messenger to keep in touch with distant friends; and I still occasionally scroll through it for a bit, though I am trying to do so less and less. I recognize it for what it is: an occasional and brief distraction, not an essential part of my day, and I’m quicker to put it away and do something else instead. I’m seeking to be ever-more disciplined, and to replace this habit with better ones, by God’s grace.
Shortly after I wrote this, I read Ross Douthat’s call to digital temperance. He says it better than I ever could; it’s an idea well worth taking on board.