Several years ago I challenged a friend to one of the worst schemes I can think of, yet one that still rings of brilliance in retrospect. As we argued over why I should be on Facebook, I joked with him that I could do without the hundreds of birthday well-wishers who, sans Facebook calendar, would have had no clue of my special day. Now, I must confess I am no big fan of birthdays, personally. Every birthday at exactly 9:50pm my mom calls me up to tell me my birth story: a story that includes egg rolls, an unexpected early birth and an extended hospital stay while my dad, then an airline pilot, had to leave for a trip. Other than that the festivities are limited to little special moments and activities Shannon and the kids have planned, but otherwise just a few texts from family and close friends. This suits me just fine. It’s about all the attention I can stand! Nevertheless, I’ll concede that most rather enjoy the barrage of Facebook birthday love. Nevertheless, I challenged my friend to go into his Facebook profile and change his birthday, which at the time was months away, to a time just days away. Half-jokingly I told him it would now be time to see how shallow his friends really were.
On the big (fake) day he texted me updates. By early morning nearly a hundred birthday wishes. By lunch time an offer for a free birthday lunch from another friend. By early afternoon an offer for a free tattoo (which he happened to be in to) and one of the wishers even included a step brother who he had a close relationship with! All in all, he received hundreds of birthday wishes, all for a day that was truly months away. Certainly any one of us could fall prey to this trick, yet I shared with him an interesting contrast. Just after we closed our Facebook account about a year prior, Shannon was pregnant with our fourth. Even nearing 7 months into the pregnancy she was still breaking the news for the first time to friends who we simply hadn’t had the time to catch up with, yet saw with fairly regular frequency. Shannon shared with me that each time a new friend would discover she was pregnant it opened the door for real conversation. Typically news like this is shared on social media in mass. It’s a convenient way to communicate but after the 15 minutes where a post permeates everyone’s feed and they comment or like, the news is replaced by something else and ultimately forgotten. What were once moments of face to face celebration after often now just sound bytes.
We don’t advocate against social media. We have an Instagram account that auto posts most of our web site content and doesn’t get used for much else. We do realize, however, that many people use their accounts to stay in touch with friends and family, sharing pictures and news. Unfortunately these services seem to carry an unfortunately side effect, however: an over engagement in the the virtual world. The next time you go to a sit down restaurant, see if you don’t notice a young couple who should be discovering each other and engaging in meaningful conversation. You may instead see two people with smart phones in their hands, killing time before the food arrives. The same effect can be found theme parks and places of recreation. How often do people post about their line cue experience or kill time by consuming the sound bytes of others on their Facebook page, all the while neglecting friends and family standing right around them who are available for real conversation! Perhaps this point can be best illustrated by YouTube creator Gary Turk’s 2014 video, “Look Up”.
When our oldest was a little over 5 I found myself a regular consumer of media, mainly in the form of articles and commentaries that I would read from my iPad. One morning she came into my bedroom to find me reading when she asked “daddy, do you want to play a game?” Hardly acknowledging her, I responded with the muttered “just give me 15 minutes” that might as well just say “no and never,” since in all likelihood it was a promised destined to be broken. As she left the room Shannon asked her why she wasn’t playing a game with me. Her response broke my heart: “he’s on his iPad. He’s always on his iPad.” One hour later that iPad had been both listed and sold on Craigslist and I purposely took her with me to complete the sale. On the way I told her that I was heartbroken at so missing the mark and would never want something so silly to come between she and I.
We need to play games. We need to meet new people. We need to tell our latest news, again, for the first time, face to face. We need to disconnect. Whether you have an account or not, this new world of managed identities where everyone is always looking beautiful, at dinner and/or on vacation, I suggest regular breaks in this new monotony. Just go outside.