An open letter to the internet/social media lovers and haters


Dear internet/social media lovers and haters and everything in-between,

Today on facebook, I saw a number of things. There was a funny video about hashtags, which made me laugh out loud. Mostly because I just figured out last week what a hashtag is (I am sometimes a slow learner with these things). There were articles and commentary on news and current events and politics and, because of my friend’s list, on religion and art and breastfeeding and education and gay marriage as well.  There were status updates that included emoticons and pictures of people doing fabulous things and fun things, and there was some bitching going on, and some faces of babies that made me happy. And then there was the steady stream of links to articles and videos, and the commentary that followed, in which the basic premise being presented and discussed was this: the internet (and social media, and smartphones) is bad. It is ruining our ability to connect in any meaningful way, spiritually bankrupting us and making us all miserable, the source of our suffering, and is all around toxic. (I am guessing similar conversations are happening on twitter, but I don’t know because I never figured twitter out so I don’t have an account.)

This letter is written to both the lovers and haters of the whole thing. It is my response, to social media and to the backlash. If you don’t care to read it, I trust you will just pass on it, and no one’s feelings will be hurt, and we will all keep moving right along.

Today, I am outing myself and saying it. Right now, I greatly enjoy the good of the internet and social media, and my phone makes me quite happy. But mostly, I am tired of social media bashing, and of the sense that the issue is turning into a morality lesson where I am being in some way reprimanded. It doesn’t set right with me.

The videos and articles about how bad social media is, and how dangerous or disturbing smartphones can be, are primarily created and shared and discussed on, you guessed it, social media and smartphones. This is what makes the article or video such a success, so well known, so praised. And so, the whole thing feels a little suspect to me. I would go so far as to say there is serious scapegoating happening, as well as this strange peer pressure creeping in where, while sitting there spending time connecting with your close friend who lives miles away, or while looking at pictures online, you are supposed to be hating yourself for doing it, or at the very least being critical of it to others. I don’t care to. And I’m tired of it. 

I have also been tired of social media and the internet itself before too. So I left. For the day or the week. I have even left for months at a time, once for two years. I had a lot going on I needed to tend to. I just wanted to be quiet and alone. I chose other things. So, I simply dropped off the social media radar and no longer emailed, and did my own thing, without sharing any of it, with anyone. I just deleted all my accounts. And no one really missed me, or if they did, they got over it. It was good for me. Because it was just what I needed to do. So I did it. End of story.

But there is a huge difference between not spending time online, and spending time online telling other people they shouldn’t be spending time online. I call bullshit.

If facebook makes you sad, or lonely, or angry, then don’t be on facebook.  And I mean that. Do what you need to do and take good care of yourself. Love yourself well, whatever that may be for you, because this is what it's really about, no? This learning how to be kind to ourselves.  But please, if facebook makes you sad, don’t then get on facebook and tell other people they are not living the lives they should because of social media.

And if you do choose to be on social media, this is what I have learned, and take it or leave it as you want to.

You are not required to believe everything you see or read, and you can choose to participate however you’d like.

It seems to me that part of the criticism of social media has to do with people presenting a false, often glamorized, version of their lives (that then by default "makes" other people feel inferior). I am not in disagreement some do such a thing. I simply think that what someone else does is up to them, and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to take part. So no, I do not really believe that someone’s posed and arranged photos are what life looks like as they are living it, and I don’t believe gratitude lists represent the wholeness of what a day felt like. And I think some people probably share these things because they enjoy sharing and some do it to try to make themselves look better or cooler than they actually feel inside, and whatever their reason, it is honestly not mine to worry about. And I don’t believe that what you choose to pin on Pinterest is what your home or wardrobe or child’s birthday party or weekly meal plan really looks like, and if it is, then wow, I’m not sure what to say, except, can I come borrow your clothes and eat whatever you are making for dinner. I don’t hate any of these things, but I certainly don’t feel compelled to compare myself to something that is so clearly an incomplete, if lovely, window into someone’s world. It is ok that it is incomplete. Incomplete does not necessarily mean untrue. It’s just the confusing of the two, mistaking windows into a life with the fullness of a life, that that messes with people.

If, however, what someone is sharing pushes all my buttons and annoys me endlessly, or their political views make me froth at the mouth, or I have that uncomfortable feeling when you sense that what someone is saying isn’t at all true, is directly incongruent with reality and is just a big show, well then, I don’t read or follow them. No one is making any of us be here. And we can be here however we’d like. And really, how wonderful is that? We get to choose.

If I feel like I am participating in my life less because I am recording it more, well then I can simply stop, take a time out, and change courses. And if I am using my phone or Instagram to distract myself, and I would rather not distract myself in that moment, then it entirely up to me to just turn the damn thing off.  And if I want to love every minute of hearing the details of my niece’s first day of school or reading a movie review by a friend in San Francisco or playing some candy crush or sharing daily lists with my friend, then I can, and I can enjoy it fully. Which I do.

I believe there is a rhythm, a cycle in life that I have come to trust, this sense of ebb and flow, wax and wane, and a tension of polarity that keeps things interesting. And I love this about life. It may be one of my favorite things. So I go inside, an internal space of growing things in the dark, and I do what I need to do. And I feel fed here. And then I love the coming back into the world, being in the world and feeling at home, the home I carry with me, as I engage and reach out and connect and enter into the public life. Both are good, to me. It is the movement between the two that feels like trusting life, because that is just how it goes, and trusting myself, knowing how to listen to myself, to know what I need, when I need it. And then do whatever that is. Social media, the internet, smartphones, it is all part of this. And it is personal, every one responsible for doing what works best for them, at any given point in time.

For me, I can honestly say that I have never confused someone "liking" what I post with them liking me, and whether or not they like me is really none of my business, and certainly not something I confuse with love. For me, how wonderful, to have connected with so many interesting people, and to find my high school drama teacher, and to share things throughout the day with those I love. How wonderful, to have a place where my family who lives spread apart across the country can come and share with each other and connect all together. How wonderful that my son, who lives with his dad half the time, sends me pictures and texts me when I nag him enough, and we facetime each other and see who can make the most hideous faces. How wonderful, when it comes to conversations about things and ideas, that a sometimes hermit-like introverted homebody like me gets to come and go, and no one really takes offense, like they do sometimes when you are at a party and abruptly leave. So if you too find parts of this online world to be one of the things in life that has opened doors for you, or connects you to things you care about or that interest you, or makes your day have color and texture to it, well then cheers. I’ll toast to that.

And, when or if it’s not so wonderful anymore, or when I am just tired and choose to, how wonderful that I can just turn it off, for as long as I choose. It’s that easy. Really. You don’t need to cite morality lessons on how we have all lost touch with what matters, or to make public announcements about how you are leaving or taking a break because (insert why social media is bad for all of us here). You can if you want to, but you are not required to do so. Instead of talking about being quiet, you can just be quiet. It is possible. And it can be a wonderful thing. At least, it is sometimes for me.

If you want, whenever you want, you can step away. And if you want, whenever you want, you can come back, and show up however you want, on your terms, and enjoy it all, and use what is useful to you. And if it happens to be during a time when I’m in the online world, then look me up, and we can connect. You will find me here, writing what feels good to me to write, and celebrating the beautiful parts of this crazy web of connectedness, and refusing to apologize when I don’t get back to you right away because I had silenced my phone because, well, because I just wanted to.

Yours Truly,