Social Media & Virtue

After my uncharacteristically bold (brash?) post yesterday, I’ve been wanting to write more contemplating virtue and social media. What does it mean to love my neighbor — both those in front of me and those that I’m following — in the context of social media? (When I refer to social media in this post, I’m not just including Instagram and Facebook. Blogging is also social media, and — while I probably won’t get to it tonight — I’d like to also think about what aspects of various social media encourage virtue or vice).

In terms of loving those in front of me, here is some of what I aspire toward (though often fail). With my children — I’m not watching them through the lens of social media. I’m not always saying, “Freeze! Right there! I need to get a photo so that I can post this.” I’m not oversharing about our family. I respect privacy. I don’t always feel the need to publicly record every lovely moment. I want to cultivate beauty in our home and sometimes keep it hidden.

As an overarching principle, I aspire to be attentive and grateful for my real life. That means not using Instagram as an escape hatch, so that I can avoid dealing with problems. I want to be intentional and not at the mercy of my impulses to avoid boredom or discomfort

In terms of loving those on the other side of the screen, I aspire to take the people behind the photos/posts seriously. I want to respect the amount of care and work inherent in each photo/post and give the dignity of my full attention. For some reason, even though Instagram is full of “creatives,” it’s too easy to forget the work and care behind each square and just scroll, scroll, scroll.

On both sides of the screen, I think that virtue here comes down to self-control and gratitude. Self-control makes me intentional. Gratitude makes me see what is here before me in my real life, bestowing clear eyes and heart to also see what is before me in social media, without jealousy, comparison, envy, etc. All that means greater attentiveness.

And with that, here are few things I’ve noticed about this #bloginstead experiment that relate to social media and virtue: a responsibility to comment on others’ blogs radically changes things for me — in a really good, humane way. It feels more like real life. Thoughtfully commenting takes energy. My introverted self gets tired. I can more easily identify in myself the fact that I need a break from my laptop/phone. On the other hand, receiving comments from others is just wonderful. I feel such gratitude that others would take the time to read and respond.

Today, I was in my backyard with my children and had many of your words (blog posts and comments) at the back of my mind. But I didn’t feel cluttered or vague. I felt more clear and attentive.* I don’t attribute that to the medium of blogging; I attribute that to the words of you writers. But, I do think that this medium and this way of using it encourages intentionality, encourages attentiveness, encourages virtue. And, with that, I need a break.

*Featured photo results from attentiveness to berries with rain droplets on my fence.

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?