My Facebook feed is a battlefield; a tumultuous air, land and sea melee of conflicting ideas and digital rallies for support. Most days, I log in to see what my friends are up to but what I’m met with are the political ramblings from adults who march their blind biases around like Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. Well, that and attention desperate selfies from men in their underwear. I’m not all that interested in seeing either.
I joined the website when it was still called The Facebook and you had to have a collegiate email address to gain access. One of my girlfriends who lived across the lobby in our dorm told me I should create an account so we could share photos from our new digital cameras. It was a simple site then: A photo of yourself, some interests you wanted the world to know, and messages left on your friends’ pages to let them know you hadn’t forgotten them. MySpace would flame out within a few years and Facebook was the great white hope for internet connectivity. It was for a while, but once the floodgates opened and the now billion people were daily logging on, we’ve become like Noah, trying to stay afloat in an ark of self-preservation.
The way the site decomposed into what it’s become, a Normandy beach of public opinions, is nothing short of incredible. Elections became opportunities to raise your voice over the state of the country, awards shows became a reason to complain about the state of music, and tragedies provided fodder for politicizing the fate of mankind. This is why we can’t have nice things.
This morning, my Facebook feed featured five fear-mongering Christians, two peace-speaking Muslims, three prayerful grandmothers and a dozen bitter twentysomethings. Long past the tipping point to bring it back under control, the site has become an online free-for-all, where we place a premium on oversharing and where a racist rant can nest comfortably above pictures of an uninspired dinner from Chili’s. Sadly, it’s also a place where the worst forms of society are allowed and encouraged to pool, stew and voice their toxic ignorance, homophobia, and disdain for their fellow man.
Still, I log on each day, albeit less than I used to. I enjoy being able to keep up with the accomplishments of people from all phases of my life and I like keeping up with my favorite artists and their new projects. One such artist is a gospel singer I had the pleasure of interviewing on more than one occasion and whose work I genuinely admire. She has won every award, sung in every venue, and sold millions of records. During our last interview to promote her new project, I asked what the biggest challenge was for her in terms of juggling what’s private and what’s for public consumption on social media. Her two word response: “Crazy Christians.”
She was referring to the people who feel it’s their job to critique someone else’s faith system; the ones who self-appoint themselves to police morality as God’s stand-in. The movies her kids watch, the music her husband makes, the clothes she wears – it is all under scrutiny, not from the secular world, but from the people who claim to believe in the same God she does.
This is a woman who believes her life’s calling is to sing about God and to do so unapologetically. A staple on Christian radio, she routinely sings to sold-out audiences across the world and speaks out about the love of God. To my knowledge, she has never tossed her hat into the ring of political discourse, rather she encourages people that regardless of the outcome, God never leaves us. These are the base tenants of her platform, but even that does not discourage the “crazy Christians” from pouncing on her every move.
You might argue that since she is a public figure, it comes with the territory and I agree that’s true. However, I would like to believe that Christians of any denomination or doctrinal persuasion would focus more on the root love of Jesus than they would unimportant fluff like which princess her kids dress up as for Halloween. Looking at the comments left on many of the gospel artists I follow, I’m met with the reality that the root love is often overlooked.
It used to be that the comments section on a website editorial was the gutter where the worst forms of human swill congregated. Now, it’s in the Facebook replies to someone who took their kids trick-or-treating or watched Hocus Pocus. I don’t know why people feel it’s their obligation to flag the things they feel aren’t Christian enough and do so loudly in black-and-white type. Most of the time, Jesus does not live in the comments section.
Our connections have made us divided. We’ve sold out our privacy to the void of social media addiction and become junkies to the updates, the selfies and the ability to hurl our off-the-cuff thoughts at anyone from behind the shield of our screen.
Yet I’ve noticed an exodus taking place among my friends and some are leaving the website behind. Rather than transitioning to a different mode of networking like the Myspace migration to Facebook, these friends are transitioning to the quieter field of disconnectedness.
Over the course of the past election cycle, I’ve found the days I spent away from the internet have felt less murky and less stagnant. The silence of being disconnected was clarifying, like a desktop fan for the mind. Last weekend, I spent my time out-and-about in the city, my phone remaining in my pocket except to take pictures of fall foliage. The world kept spinning, red state voters kept questioning why we’re so scared for our country, football fans kept posting play-by-plays of the game – my not checking Facebook did not change any of those things. What did change was my ability to be present.
It sounds so elementary – the intentional attention to being present – but it’s become such a habit to log in that we may need a patch or gum to stave off the craving. Our brains don’t need to be that full of opinions all the time, but for the past decade, we’ve programmed them to feed off of it. Ellen Degeneres joked in her 2003 stand-up special that one day, sitcoms would be thirty seconds long because that’s all our attention span can take because our attention span is shot. Boy was she right.
I don’t hate Facebook; it’s carved out a personable way for the world to be connected in ways never imagined even in science fiction. Coupled with the space-age rocket ships in our pockets and purses that allow us to talk, text, and email at will, we’re existing in a constant cycle of simultaneously updating and being updated. But I don’t think that’s how we are meant to be.
This weekend, I saw a few movies because I was in the mood to be entertained while eating pack mule-sized amounts of popcorn. While my favorite movie theater in New York is on the Upper West Side, the movie times that worked for me were at the theaters on 42nd Street. Perhaps the only perk to seeing a movie in a Times Square location is that I don’t get any cell service. Once I’m inside the vertical maze of theaters, my phone can’t find itself, leaving me completely out of touch and alone.
This brought me back to the reason we go to the movies in the first place: to escape. Knowing my phone didn’t get service freed my brain from the subconscious expectancy we’ve conditioned ourselves to exist in. Nothing was going to come through – not a text, a call, an email, nothing. I was afforded the luxury of being present; to actually pay attention to who Dr. Strange is fighting or what Newt Scamander is trying to catch.
I think the lie social media has created is that we are connected to the present when in reality, the now is happening outside the pixels on our screens. I think we need to treat our lives more like we don’t have phone service at the movies; totally logged in to what’s happening in front of us, unencumbered by waiting for a text or notification, blissfully unaware of what our college acquaintance ate for dinner. The concept becomes more appealing each day. Less crazy, more quiet.