Social Media & Stale Potato Chips

The morning after the party, a half-eaten bowl of potato chips remains on the counter. It was never covered, so the chips are stale. But, as I keep cleaning up my house, I still keep grabbing for one here and there. My fingertips get a little greasy and I think to myself, “Why in the world am I eating this? This doesn’t make me feel good.” But, it’s salty and fatty and — most of all — easy.

That’s how I feel about using Instagram these days — like I can’t stop reaching for a stale potato chip in a moment when one hand is free. It doesn’t give me a sense of health and freedom, joy and discipline.

I have two Instagram accounts — one that is personal/private and one that is public. I don’t struggle to control the personal account. It’s just pictures of my kids that end up getting printed in a Chatbook family series. And, my feed on that account is pretty much just personal photos of other kids.

On the other hand, my account for the Homely Hours (the Anglican liturgical living resource my friends and I started a few years back) is a constant siren call. I suppose it’s because I’m very interested in the people that I follow and, moreover, I’m very interested in what people think of my posts. If I post something new, I want to keep checking in to see how much attention it got (or, even if I can resist, I don’t like that my brain has to put so much energy into that struggle).

I find that if I regularly delete the app from my phone (as in, one day on, a few days off), I can generally keep in better balance. But, on the days I install it, it will still shock me when I look at the timer for how long I used IG — how quickly those check-ins here and there added up.

I know that Instagram (and Facebook, which owns Instagram) pays people to figure out how to make these social media sites as addictive as possible. And then, I read articles like this one which make me wonder if it’s even ethical to be using it.

My reason for keeping the Homely Hours account? I’m trying to be helpful. I’m trying to make it easier, more convenient, for people to access Anglican resources and remember feast days, etc. But, would it be better to be forgotten by most followers on social media and just remain as a blog for the sake of the few who value the site enough to subscribe and get posts emailed to them? This is my constant question.

Marshall McLuhan famously said that the “medium is the message.” Learning the concepts of form and content (and that form communicates just as much as content) was what started leading my husband and I toward liturgy. What is the form of Instagram communicating?

[Now my children are awake for the day, so if this becomes more choppy and less careful, it’s because I’m moving between my laptop and getting them food, etc.]

In these past few days, I’ve become obsessed with reading what Katy Bowman says about natural movement — that our sedentary culture’s compulsion toward convenience almost always means minimizing movement. This applies even beyond physical movement to the way we think. And, in this rambling discussion of social media and blogging, it applies, too. Melinda’s observation about the awkward mechanics of checking all these blogs struck me. It’s not as convenient to check blogs and comment. It takes some internet movement. Perhaps that is a really good thing? Perhaps it gives us just enough inconvenience that we are a bit more intentional?

One more random element I’m going to throw in here (and where I’m probably not being careful enough): I just finished reading Animal Farm for the first time with a little book club I’m in. Obviously, I knew some of the basic plot, but as its subtitle (“a fairy story”) claims, it does stick with you and you find yourself interpreting the world through its archetypes. I’m sure we’ve all heard it said that Communism would be perfectly fine if we were all perfect. But, as time has shown, there aren’t enough checks-and-balances taking account of human sinfulness; corruption inevitably moves into the vacuum and makes the situation worse than even at the beginning.

Instagram used to be great, when it was just photos — no algorithms, not a micro-blog feed. Perhaps the form of it was too easy, too convenient? When Facebook bought it, Marketing and Money took over. And now, it’s so difficult to discern between what is real and what is “influenced.” And, it’s all mashing into one, where people paid to be “influencers” really do influence us. We make ourselves into ‘brands’ and see our children through the lens of marketing ourselves.

Decentralized, local forms– with lots of check-and-balance that make everything less convenient and streamlined– seem to work better since they take account of human tendencies. Perhaps blogging is the internet equivalent?

I was an early adopter of Facebook in 2005 (it came to my college when I was freshman). And, when I look back, I’ve struggled with the place of social media ever since then (well, maybe since around 2007, once they added the photo albums feature). Here I am still struggling. I’ve completely deleted accounts so many times. Then, I come back because you absolutely can’t paint it as all bad — some of the connections I’ve made have been truly invaluable.

Facebook became so much better when I installed the News Feed Eradicator and only used it on my laptop, making it so that I have to deliberately search to see what people post, but can still participate in Groups. I just don’t know what to do about Instagram. And, I return to the fact that even if I can figure out a way to help me manage it more faithfully, is it okay to use something that is so prone toward addiction and unhealth, even for a good cause?

How do you deal with this? How do you use social media faithfully? Can you use it for the glory of God? Or is trying to do that –like evangelical churches adopting pop culture forms — subverting the content we are proclaiming? Or is that putting the question too strongly, making it too black and white?

20 thoughts on “Social Media & Stale Potato Chips

  1. Very thought provoking. I have a love-hate relationship with social media. It helped tremendously during a period of several years when we were in a grim place and I had no IRL friends. I made friendships, long-lasting ones, and found a community of other orthodox women. I had already learned that some blogs had the effect of making me feel bad about myself, inferior, discontent with myself and my life. I had to consciously stop reading those blogs. Instagram and Facebook take that problem and multiply it one hundred fold. When you’re reading a blog there are no other blogs on your screen. You down time there. You know perfectly well that if you are starting to feel envy or whatever, that it’s directed at what’s right in front of you. It’s like an encapsulated tumor: easily excused. But IG and FB are like leukemia: everywhere, not focused on any one place, difficult to pin down, and difficult to remove.

    Wow, my comment turned into a mini blog post! Sorry about that!

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  2. So many great thoughts and questions here. I would say a couple of things, although I am no expert and wrestle with the same questions myself:
    I would be wary of black and white thinking on the issue. I have been doing some inner work over the past two years (12 step trauma healing, counseling) and black and white thinking can be really unhealthy as well. As an example, I cannot drink alcohol AT ALL bc of family and personal history and genetics. But others can and do partake moderately without a problem. I am opening a small art studio for kids in our converted backyard shed and think I may have to continue using facebook for local business purposes but I just installed the news feed thing that you recommended so I don’t have to see all the other things. Let’s keep this conversation going, it is so important! and thanks again for your blog, please keep writing.

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    1. I’ve divorced Facebook multiple times over the years but kept coming back. Eventually I settled on my current solution: I do not maintain a personal page (although I have one) nor do I accept friend requests or have a news feed. Because I have a business I have a shop page, and there are a couple groups (very narrowly angled ones) that I am in. Most of my shop posts go to FB automatically from IG so I’m not on FB much. IG is more of a problem for me.

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      1. I like instagram better and have made some good connections there, but it can be problematic. I really really don’t like FB, but because my business (which is new) is local, it seemed like the best way to get the word out. It did help, because my first class of the year is full without much effort on my part, but we will see if it continues. I will only use it for the business (I have nothing on my personal page at all) and I am still deciding what to do about IG. Because it does feel like my thoughts are all over the place when I am engaged in it.

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      2. I have a shop page and a personal page on IG. Because I don’t have a bricks and mortar store I have to have as big an online presence as I can manage (which isn’t that big, frankly). However, I’m wondering if I need to back off of the personal page. I have siblings who don’t blog and the only way I see my nieces and nephews is via that connection, so it’s difficult. We only see each other in person every other year or so.

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      3. I completely understand. All of my relatives live several states away and we see each other once a year at best. I am just so glad to be having this conversation with others who really understand, as it is helping me process at a deeper level.

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  3. This is such an articulate summation of the problem. This past summer, because I run the social media platform for our company, my presentation at the annual staff retreat was about the pros and cons, spiritual and practical, of social media use. You’ve touched on the heart of the problem here. I would add that in our case, because we are a ministry, the question of how best to be helpful is perhaps even larger and more complicated than it is already for a single individual.

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  4. All of these comments are so thoughtful and helpful. Thank you! I wish that the place of social media did not consume so much of my mind — I think I come to a different position or strategy on it every day. And, I generally conclude that it’s just a grey issue: we have to come to it as individuals seeking to be faithful before God. However — and this is what gives me pause — I think it’s important to acknowledge and remember that Instagram and Facebook are not neutral platforms. All social media is not created equal. Instagram and Facebook, particularly, are designed to make us addicts. They are not designed for our good or our virtue. So, to use them faithfully, we are going against the design and intent of the media. I may keep posting on this topic, because well, I feel like I threw caution to the wind in this post and I’m very thankful to have your interaction on it. I’d like to discuss what you think characterizes virtuous social media use — what we aspire towards. Melinda, I’m thankful to hear that you all are discussing this at Ancient Faith. It would be a very complicated topic as a ministry…. Have you all heard of the Center for Humane Tech? (https://humanetech.com/) They created the News Feed Eradicator; I’m interested in their work.

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  5. I just read this last comment and wow, it does give me pause thinking through what you wrote. This is why blogging and these types of conversations are so good is because I think they really help us slice through the layers. I am going to investigate Center for Humane Tech as well. Thanks for opening this very interesting and important can of worms, lol. I look forward to seeing where it takes each of us.

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  6. I definitely get it. 3 years ago I stopped using Facebook. I do use Instagram though. It’s a more positive place, for me. Nothing is perfect though. And the time I scroll through could really be used better….

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  7. I haven’t got enough time or thinking space to say much here except YES THIS ME TOO. On the easiness of social media (and also potato chips, frankly), even when I know it leaves me dissatisfied, if I enter the mode of endless scrolling and not engaging, just to DO something without having to work at anything.

    I have really appreciated the Center for Humane Technology’s podcast “Your Undivided Attention,” I will take a look at their news feed app too.

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  8. I think you’re right about the medium. I have had what I optimistically call a radical disillusionment with social media over the past two years as I have had occasion to observe how its format can be used to spread vitriol and unsubstantiated libel with ease. I think I let too much of the Big Brother is Watching You feeling from run-ins with bullies to seep into my attitude about public communication in general. I stopped blogging essays except to leave them in drafts. But then I noticed something. The bullies never—not once! — pointed people to a single thing published on my blog/website. If they had, people would have seen the truth about me right away. That’s what blogging gives us: the freedom to speak our truths. Blogging isn’t a competition or a place for posturing and arguing (unless one wants it to be, which I don’t). It’s one step away from the lignin air of the library.
    I’m glad you’re writing.

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  9. HI there! Lol, I am one of your IG friends, actually! A friend showed me the post for Blog Instead and I thought “YES.” I miss old school, circa 2012 blogging so much. Nothing was slick, nothing was monetized, it was just “I did this today, what did you do? Oh, thats cute! I made this!” now its so…..its like stale potato chips laced with MSG or something 😉 I’m wanting to blog more too. And stay away from a loop of social media. I like IG better than Facebook because FB can surprise you with political stuff that sets your hair on fire. I took it off my phone and completely signed out of it on my desktop (even if I didnt have the FB page open, my computer with ding and bing with notifications unless I was totally signed out. Not to mention how creepy it is to get on there and see ads for sites you’d browsed earlier. Anyway….all that to say….lets get this blog stuff going again!

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    1. Yay, Heather! I saw that you had commented on the original IG post and that made me happy because I remembered you, at some point, writing about missing the old way of blogging. I agree about liking IG better than Facebook (although, the News Feed Eradicator chrome extension was a huge game-changer for me.) But, it’s seriously been so lovely just to write and process while writing (i.e. I’m normally paralyzed by editing) because I’m not here to offer or create “resources.” It’s been SO refreshing. 🙂

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  10. Fellow Katy Bowman fan here! I think of her analogy about a big cat walking in circles in its zoo enclosure as I move from Facebook to Instagram to email to maybe Twitter? Am I still on there? Then a quick game on the phone, then back to Facebook. Et cetera. Sometimes I put the phone down to get off the hamster wheel and I sit at my kitchen table, uninspired, wondering what it is I used to do before the internet stole all of my attention. Now when I carve out a spare moment I cook because cooking is real and can be used to create actual community with a real human being at the same table. I need more of that.

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    1. That’s an amazing image. I just discovered Katy Bowman’s blog and books this past week and I’ve been so intrigued! I’m glad you’ve joined the “blogtown!” Speaking of cooking, have you read Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon? I absolutely love it.

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