Escaping social media

Should I delete my social media accounts right now? That’s the question columnist Oliver Burkeman posed recently in The Guardian. An argument for retreating from social media: According to his summary of a book by Jaron Lanier, they “have sucked us into an addictive spiral of outrage, isolation and extremism, while making it ever harder for those who create the culture off which they leech – musicians, artists, journalists – to make a living.”

But there’s a counterargument, according to activist Jillian York: “Like it or not, people now rely on the network to run a business, stay in touch with friends and family, or even maintain their mental health, thanks to online support groups. Telling them to fulfill those needs elsewhere is unrealistic – precisely because everyone else is fulfilling them on Facebook. Being able to walk away is a matter of ‘privilege.’”

Sorting out those two arguments is beyond me right now, but I’m somewhere between them. There are things I find genuinely helpful about Facebook – one of only two social media on which I’m active, the other being LinkedIn – just as there are things that make me want to follow the Monty Python advice to “Run away! Run away!”

I’m in a season of life that for me is about paring down and focusing. Teresa of Avila wrote, “Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and that there is only one glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.” It’s a season in which I discern ever more clearly the things about which I care nothing and in which I give myself permission to cut them off.

The more difficult decisions are to cut off things I do care something about. But they are things, good things, some of them very good, that subtly distract me from the best things. Merton wrote, “If you want to identify me . . . ask me what I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.” The things to which I refer are the very good things that are nevertheless distracting me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. And I’m learning they simply have to go.

So once again the number of my Facebook friends is shrinking, as is the number of pages on Facebook that I like and follow. Maybe in time I’ll dump the medium entirely, though that now seems unlikely. But already this little exercise in paring down and focusing seems to lighten my load and free my spirit.

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