Ironically, one of the most complicated relationships I’ve ever had is my relationship with my phone. You all probably can relate to this same story: the one that involves the itch to scroll Instagram during family dinner or leave snarky Facebook replies late into the night. I’d like to say it took me just a few hard days to fully comprehend how unhealthy my relationship was, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In all reality, it took a few hard years and 30 days of complete absence from optional technology (AKA a “digital detox) to start making real changes in my life.
So, what did it? A book and a whole lot of pent up frustration.
Much of what I learned during my “digital detox” came from Cal Newport’s book “Digital Minimalism.” At its core, what Newport’s words gave me was not only the reason for WHAT is wrong with social media. Rather, it was a discovery of WHY this relationship has proved difficult. And, more importantly, HOW do I make it work?
Knowing full well I’m not alone in this struggle and the burden it can place on our ability to foster true sources of refreshment in our lives, especially as a leader in ministry, I wanted to share a few learned takeaways I will be holding close in the years to come:
- It’s OK For It to Be Hard. So often, I think what kept me from actively making changes was the absurd belief that just because I knew it was unhealthy, I shouldn’t be struggling. There was great freedom in realizing that app developers design these apps to KEEP YOU ADDICTED. It’s not your fault that you struggle; the system is designed to make you struggle.
- Know Your Purpose for Using Each App. Losing sight of why you are in these online spaces, to begin with, can easily lead to unhealthy use. For example, utilizing an app to stay in touch with your family looks much different from using it to grow a small business. A small business might need to use the likes and comments as markers for increased interaction and engagement, but using social media tools to connect with family has no need for those numbers. The end goal of “connection” will still be achieved even without those shiny red alerts. Remembering the purpose of these apps in your life will keep you grounded.
- Boundaries are Important. In order to keep your feet firmly planted in that purpose, boundaries are really, really important. Some examples of boundaries I’ve implemented are as follows:
- I set a 30-min-a-day app limit on my phone.
- I use the “like” button intentionally (only liking the posts I’ve actually read and really do like — what a concept, right?).
- I don’t let the “social media standards” (e.g., creating posts just so people will like them, caring about my follower count) dictate the meaningful content I choose to post.
- Scrolling ≠ Quality Leisure. As human beings, we benefit greatly from quality leisure. Social media scrolling may masquerade as something “leisurely” to do in your spare time, but do not be fooled… it is NOT quality leisure. Without limits on time spent and specific objectives as to the purpose for these tools in our lives, they can easily become misused and lead to burnout and dissatisfaction.
In the end, it comes down to how we view our social media use. So often, our bad habits lead us to feel as though we are being used and manipulated by the tools we’ve chosen to employ in our lives. When we remember that social media tools are the tools themselves, we recognize that we have more power over them than we may realize. When we can sort out our purpose for social media, reign in our boundaries, and properly put them in their place, we will be better rested and equipped to serve our families, friends, teens, and faith communities — in person.