Thursday, April 11, 2013

Social Media: A Manifesto

  Have you read this article about "instagramming your perfect life?" I've seen it all over Facebook lately, and if you haven't read it you've probably read some sort of similar article. Basically, it is a reminder of what we already know: people tend to share pictures on social media of pleasant/happy/exciting things that are happening in their lives and not of frustrating/messy/exhausting/mundane incidents. Thus, if you are bored or lonely and you look and social media, it will probably make you feel worse.

  Honestly, chewing on this whole concept is part of what has kept me from blogging much for the past couple of months (except for Cora's monthly updates) - that along with some unresolved thoughts about privacy issues (ie; to password protect the blog or not? how to respect my children's feelings/privacy as I blog about them? who reads this thing anyway and how do I feel about the potential that counseling clients could Google me and read about my family? is it foolish to spew pics of my little sweeties out into the interwebs?).  So, instead of blogging about my thoughts I've been thinking about my blog. Occasionally I think I should just pull the plug on social media altogether, but then I think of all the ways I feel more connected to people I care about because I read their blogs or see their kids' cute faces on Instagram and I take a few steps back from that ledge.

  A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a woman who has served as a major encourager in my life and was unloading some of my social media angst onto her. Though her words were gentle and carefully spoken, there was enough hesitation and a bit of a look in her eye that communicated to me, "you can chill out just a little bit." I am quick to recognize the signs of that particular non-verbal message, because I need it a lot. I've always been one to pace so many circles around an issue (or non-issue) that I end up wearing away a trench that I have trouble getting out of. I just get sucked into intensity, I think.

  Anyway, I'm still not sure where I land on the whole privacy issue; and I'd love to hear from others how you have decided what to share online, specifically as it relates to your kids. However, when it comes to the idea that we put on our best face for social media, I think I have come to some conclusions regarding how I present myself and my family:

  •   I think I am very similar online to who I am in person: when I leave my house, usually I put on make-up and change out of my pajamas (since kids though, the make-up is a lot more negotiable). Usually when people are coming over to my house, I at least try to pick it up, sweep up the dog hair, and peel the slobbery puffs and yogurt melt off whatever surfaces they have cemented themselves to. Do I do these things because I want everyone to think that I have a perfect house and that I am always perfectly coiffed? Heavens no. It makes me feel better to present myself in a fresh, clean way, and I like to invite others into a home that has at least some semblance of peace as opposed to messy chaos. So, if that's what I do in person, why would I behave differently in the world of social media? Sure I usually have make-up on in pictures I post, and I may crop a shot of my kids to exclude the pile of dirty laundry or the messy kitchen table; but it isn't because I want people to think we don't ever have messes. It's because I want the focus of the photo to be on what is precious or special to me about that moment - the sweet smiles or the silly wrestling - not the fact that my house bears witness to my long chore list.
  •  Don't we usually want to document the good? When I look back through old family albums and baby books, I don't find that my mom took tons of pictures of dirty dishes in the sink or people arguing with each other. Yes, we had dirty dishes and we argued, but I'm guessing that's not really what she was hoping she'd look back on and remember when she is 80. Likewise, when I take pics of happy times, I am highlighting what I wish to remember. It's also a great way to train my brain to focus on what is good and lovely in my life, and isn't that Biblical? ("... whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on such things" Phil. 4:8) I want my life to draw attention to the beauty God has created around me, not chaos and drudgery.
  • I assume that the people I interact with on social media are responsible for themselves, just as I am responsible for myself. There have been times when I have had to stop following someone on Twitter or hide someone's updates from my Facebook feed because of my own sin issues of being judgmental or envious. There are times I have had to take a break from posting things myself because of my own sin issues of pride or desire for affirmation. Matthew 5:29 says, "if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away ..." If reading my blog or seeing my posts on some social media venue causes someone else to struggle, I sincerely hope that they would unfriend, unfollow, or stop reading. I will not be offended. I will not hunt them down and question them. I know that seeing joy when you are hurting can be painful and amplify the discontent. In my "in person" relationships with friends I strive to be sensitive to what is going on in their life as we converse,  but it just isn't possible to be sensitive to multiple life situations when using a more impersonal form of communication. I can try my best to avoid writing stupid, insensitive things; but I can't know when something I post innocently may be difficult for someone else to deal with. For example, when I had a miscarriage just before becoming pregnant with Cora, it would have felt really insensitive if a friend with a healthy pregnancy was constantly inundating me with texts and phone calls about her excitement. However, if I chose to read her blog updates about her doctor's appointments and feeling the baby move, that's on me. (This is a made up scenario, I didn't actually have a friend who did this). We need to ask the Holy Spirit to teach us to notice when we are posting things with wrong motives, or when we are sinning as a result of reading what others post. When we recognize it, we need to remove the temptation.
  • Social media can allow me to celebrate with friends in ways I could not otherwise. I stink at long-distance friendships. I think this is largely because I am not much of a phone person. I mean, I don't hate long phone calls; but especially now, with kiddos, it is hard to find the time (and quiet) to sit down and really get caught up with a faraway friend. Blogs and instagram, in particular, have helped me to stay connected to some friends who I DEARLY love. When I read their blogs there is nothing voyeuristic or comparison driven about it - I care about them and their families and I love hearing about what is going on. I love feeling like I know their kids a little bit, even though I never get to see them, and I'm often so encouraged by what God is doing in and through their lives. Additionally, there have been a couple of times when I started reading a blog of someone I didn't know well and thought I didn't have much in common with, only to find myself cheering them on and later becoming real life friends with them. All that to say, for me social media has enhanced many of my "real life" relationships, as opposed to replacing or damaging them.
  I'm not completely sure why I felt the need to rattle on and on about this topic; but I've thought about it so much that I think I just needed to type it out to free up some brain space. I'm not naive to the ways social media can be unhealthy, discouraging, and addictive.  However, I've decided that I would rather rely on the Holy Spirit to keep my attitudes and motives in check than to throw out the baby with the bathwater. At least for now ... today.

  I'd love to hear feedback on this topic, though. How do you keep your mind and heart healthy both in viewing and posting things on social media? Do you ever realize you are attempting to portray yourself in a particular way? What decisions have you made regarding privacy and why?


Melissa said...

thank you!! that article didn't set well with me and you totally out my thoughts on paper!! I think I am sinful in person and on social media and have written things I shouldn't have, but I'm also in love with Jesus in both fronts, and have actually had privilege of bearing witness on both fronts, too. I as well have struggled with envy/ judgement of dinner posts... even amazing Christian people... that for my OWN SAKE had to not follow... not because they were bad... you know? so yes, I feel ya and I know ib personally write about things ( like money) that might make people's skin crawl, but I also know there are people out there who have identified that I've been able to walk through this with. anyway, I'm always on the fence with posting these days. it's hard to be in guidance and decipher own motives

Elizabeth said...

I've asked all these questions too. I don't blog anymore, but other social media outlets like facebook and Instagram give me a lot of angst. It's mostly about ME, not about others ("What Jack says about Jill says more about Jack than it does Jill"), but they can still create some pretty intense feelings for me.

That Shauna Niequist article you referenced has a new title! I'm kind of glad because Instagram is really fun and my life is nowhere near perfect.

Devi said...

Great post and lots of great thoughts, Stef.. Thanks for sharing. I have a lot of thoughts about this topic, and I've blogged about it a bit in the past.

I personally think the whole "does my life look perfect? No it doesn't! Yes it does!" debate is one we used to have at JBU, but it wasn't about social media then.. It was about "do we have masks or not, do people really know us, are we being REAL" etc. Social media changed the way we have the conversation, but it's still the same conversation. Which is why I don't think much of it. There is no way to share everything, and not everyone has to know everything about our lives, not even a smaller circle of friends is entitled to know everything/a lot/anything about our lives.

I think for me privacy is the real issue when it comes to the Internet, blogging and social media, which is why we have some stringent family rules about photos on my blog and facebook, and it's also why I don't use instagram.. A long time ago I read a Rage Agains the Minivan post (by Kristen Howerton) about how a 13-year-old had created an identity as the mom of a famous Disney channel (or something like that) star on Instagram and had over 400 followers, except this girl was using Kristen Howerton's photos of herself (as the mom) and her daughter, India, as the celebrity girl.. and Kristen's blog post was all about why children should be monitored in their internet and social media usage.. I read that an thought, "blogging mom's should be monitored about how they use their children to get followers on Instagram and build their blogging brand and make money" - I realize that sounds harsh.. but the lack of reflection about her own contribution to how this happened sort of amazed me.. But I think every parent who blogs, uses social media, etc. needs to think about this..

This is way convoluted.. and long.. sorry, I hope you don't mind.. just a mind dump here very late at night!!

Carol said...

I've thought a ton about this and have my own mini code of what I will and won't write about, as well as what pictures to show. One thing I think about is that I do want my kids to have their own story and not feel like I shared their stories with the world. I especially think about this with adoption. My kids are a big part of my world right now, and I share many things about them that relate to me, but I try to filter it through whether or not it is my story or theirs. Not sure if that makes any sense, but it does help me. I plan on asking the girls for permission to share things as they get older and able to make some of those calls.

I'm so glad that you blog, because it is a great way to keep up, and I wish everyone that I love would write about their lives and let me in. I know it is not for everyone, but I love the way you can get insight into people's world. I also very much take the same approach of not following or reading people that I have a hard time with for whatever reason - taking responsibility and claiming the problem as mine is really helpful.

As someone else that can overanalyze - I appreciate this post. There are so many layers, and I do believe that I have to be constantly re-evaluating what I put out there and my motives for doing so.

kaw said...

I love you Stef. You're a great thinker!