In his new, thoughtful, helpful book, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction (IVP, 2019), Justin Whitmel Earley talks about five things he has started doing to retain some sanity when it comes to social media.
First, I try to open a media site only when I have need to post or respond.
I don’t open it because I’m bored or have a spare moment. Those spare moments are reserved for staring at walls, which is infinitely more useful.
This is to say, I try to treat social media like work. I go to it once in the morning, once in the early afternoon, and once in the evening to put out content that I think will help someone or to engage with someone who is responding in a healthy way.
Second, I avoid unplanned scrolling.
Unplanned scrolling usually means I’m hungry for something to catch my eye—and plenty of strange, dark, and bizarre things are happy to catch the eye on social media.
Planned scrolling can be very different. If you carefully curate what is in your feed and when you will scroll, the dynamic radically shifts.
But in general, I believe we should be wary of the flicking thumb notion. The restless thumb often correlates to the restless heart.
Third, I turn off notifications.
There is no good reason I (or any human being) needs to know in real time who is liking my posts when and how much. There are some useful purposes for these stats, but not as an every-moment affair.
Fourth, I don’t use social media in bed.
Beds are most useful for rest and sex (and sometimes reading a book).
Social media is many things, but it is not a place of rest and should not be a place of sex—even though there are colossal temptations to use it for both.
Mixing social media and bed tempts me to confuse these lines and there is an easy way out of this unfair fight: throw the phone out of the bed.
Fifth, when I come across mean things said about me or someone I love, I employ the timeliness strategy of any veteran parent: ignore the temper tantrum.
Words are not nearly as useful as silence. Social media is a useful medium for some things but anger is not one of them.
Earley goes on to write:
The more I use social media, the more I realize that the great danger is not in simply overusing social media, it is in living through social media.
The problem is not so much the way it wastes time, it is the way it frames time.
Without limits, we begin to see our whole life through it.
We see our whole day through a possible post.
We look around, wondering what in our field of view is worth taking a picture of.
We listen to every conversation for a tweetable quote, instead of trying to understand the human being who is talking.
We avoid disagreement in public, yet we express our most ardent emotions in carefully crafted Facebook replies or all-cap tweets.
This is no way to live.
In fact, it’s a miserable way to live. There is no love of neighbor in it, and there is no solution for it outside of becoming formed in the love story of Scripture.
If we wake every morning to social media, we will be formed in its lens on life and all the envy and self-righteousness that goes with that.
But fortunately there’s a different way.
The Bible tell us a story of us, not as people who were made to see and be seen or judge and be judged, but as children who were made to love and be loved. Only when we feel that in our bones can we use social media to love neighbors instead of trying to get their love.