Several years ago I bantered with a friend over why I should or shouldn’t be on Facebook. At the time we had taken a pause from all social media which he found shocking. Aside from needing precious reconnection with our children, I also reasoned that these platforms are inherently shallow so 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. 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, a career airline pilot, left for a trip. Beyond that it’s time with Shannon and the kids that that is an itinerary that suits me fine. I would presume, however, that most rather enjoy the barrage of Facebook birthday love that comes to them annually when their name appears in the birthdays list of their friend’s Facebook experience. I offered a challenge to my friend that he accepted. He was to go into his Facebook profile and change the birthday from his real birthday, which at the time was months away, to a fabricated date just days away. Half-jokingly I told him we would now see how shallow his friends really were, as was social media at large.
On the big (fake) day I began receiving text updates. By early morning nearly a hundred birthday wishes. By lunch time an offer for a free birthday lunch. By early afternoon an offer for a free tattoo and a highlight of the day: one of the wishers even included his own step brother who he had grown up with nearly his entire life! He received hundreds of birthday wishes, all for a day that was truly months away. At the time when we paused our Facebook presence, 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 we didn’t see with regularity. Shannon shared with me that each time a new friend would discover she was pregnant it opened the door for real conversation and reconnection. For many moms to be, news news like this is shared to their audience on social media. It’s certainly a convenient way to communicate but after the 15 minutes where a post permeates everyone’s feed for them to comment or like, the news is replaced by the next headline or the moment and ultimately forgotten. What were once moments of face to face celebration after often now just sound bytes.
Obviously we don’t advocate against social media. 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 virtual world and virtual relationship. 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 at a theme park or restaurant, 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!
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 have been “no and never”. 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 locally and I purposely took her with me to complete the sale. Driving to the rendezvous 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.
Virtual connection is a wonderful way to stay connected with people around the globe. Still, 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 from this virtual world of managed identities where everyone is always looking beautiful, at dinner and/or on vacation. Better yet, it’s okay to disconnect.