My best friend is my phone: rethinking social media

My best friend is my phone. Or atleast, it would appear that way, considering how often it is attached to my hand. On a daily basis, I pay more attention to my phone than I do to the actual people in my life. When I am bored, I pick up my phone. When I am anxious, I pick up my phone. When I am lonely, I pick up my phone. When I am tired, I pick up my phone. Even when I am surrounded by people, or have important things to do, I often finding myself picking up my phone. This is not just descriptive of me; almost everyone I know is permanently attached to an electronic device at all times of the day.

In recent times I’ve realised how greatly my communication skills have depleted. I no longer call friends where I once would have; instead, I send them a message, and hope that they will receive it. Instead of taking the time to meet with a person, face to face, and actually have a conversation, I find myself instead sending long, essay length messages detailing my thoughts, emotions and activities. I do this, despite knowing that I am the type of person who needs proper communication. I am a ‘quality time’ person; if I am not able to give and receive love through spending time with and talking to people, then I suffer emotionally. Too often I have important conversations with people via messenger, where words are misunderstood and intentions are not properly conveyed. I’ve seen relationships break down because healthy communication was not established.

This obsession with technological communication goes far deeper though, than poor communication. I feel the need to update all my friends when I am doing something…anything…out of the ordinary, instead of just enjoying the moment. A friend, who I hadn’t seen for months, once said to me, “I don’t need to ask you what you’ve been doing because I’ve seen all your pictures”. This both shocked and saddened me. When did it come to the point where we don’t need to talk about our lives because our instagram and facebook feeds tell everyone for us? Another friend told me today that when she comes home from a trip, she doesn’t feel like she can tell her housemates about it because “we’ve already had that conversation virtually.” Yet behind every picture of a sunset or roadtrip or mountainscape is a story that cannot be conveyed in megapixels. If sharing our lives through social media is stopping us from actually sharing our lives, why do we use it?

What deeply concerns me though, is the reasons behind why we use social media. Most people would say that they use social media to be connected to each other. Yet, are we really connected to each other? Does liking a person’s photo of their Bali holiday really count as connecting with them? Do any of us really feel connected to the faces that pop up on messenger? While social media may act as a means to deepen healthy, face to face communication, if it is the only type of communication we have, and what we rely on to be “connected” to our friends, is it really healthy?

The questions that I’ve raised in writing this blog post are ones that I know many of my friends are also asking. I deeply fear that my relationships have become ingenuine. I want to have deep, meaningful friendship with people who are willing to talk, to meet up, to see beyond the glossy photos I share on social media and ask me about my life, and vice versa. I want to invest in real relationships, in supporting and encouraging and walking alongside my friends through words and interaction, not characters on a screen. I fear that I use social media to communicate because I am afraid of real interaction. I can depict my life as perfect through Instagram and Facebook, yet in reality I daily struggle with fatigue, depression and sin. I want to be real.

I also want to break away from the constant stream of data that has invaded my life. A friend, who is currently on a ‘social media fast”, told me today that she has never been more productive in her use of time since she began her fast. She has more time to write, to read, to see people, and most importantly, to pray and spend time with God. She described it as a season of “restoring intimacy”. I’ve realised that I need to break the addiction I have to picking up my phone, and restore intimacy with my friends, family, with God, and with myself. I need to re-learn how to be alone, to embrace silence and rest, to use the gifts that God has given me – in writing, music, art – instead of being fixated with a screen.

I’m challenging myself to spend the next 30 days rethinking how I use social media. First step: deleting facebook, messenger and instagram off my phone. I will still use them, but I want to do so in a more healthy, God-glorifying way. I also am challenging myself to foster healthy communication with my friends, starting by calling one friend each day for the next 30 days. Hopefully, by the end of this time, I will be able to say that my relationships with people, and with my phone, have improved. I challenge you, if you are feeling the way I am, to do the same.