“I love seeing your posts and watching your family live your dreams.”
This was a message I received on Facebook tonight from an old teaching friend from Arizona. She had just posted professionally shot photos of her lovely family of five on a blanket by a river, and I had commented that they were beautiful and that I missed her. And I do.
This friend and I were only close for a short year or so, but what a year – we were in our early twenties, teaching high school (how is this still allowed?) and dealing with The Man and all his ridiculous meetings and demands. We were in the phase of showing up at our students’ places of work to heroically deliver homework, joking about getting rid of all the desks in our classrooms and showering them with pillows so everybody could just lounge and read and find themselves, and watching Dolly Parton stick it to The Man in “9 to 5” while we ate bon bons. Those were the days.
But Big Country and I, “living our dreams”?!? Oh my. Is that what really comes across on my social media feed? Frankly, I was horrified. And what about this blog? Is my main message one that “tiny house living is amazingly awesome; this is our dream, people, burn your house down and come join us“?!?
If so, I have failed exceptionally in being real. Because let me tell you if it weren’t obvious already: the tiny house is not the dream, it is the springboard. Some days, a capricious, energizing springboard; many, many days, a last-raft-off-the-Titanic kind of springboard from the wreckage of our numerous failures. But moving on.
Hints that I needed to change my relationship status with Facebook began to emerge about a year ago, and not just for the sake of personal authenticity.
Disturbing stories emerged about predators targeting kids through parents’ Facebook accounts. Unknowing parents would publicly share photos, school names, locations, kids’ extracurricular activities, and more. If that kind of transparency fell before the eyes of a disingenuous “friend”, “friend-of-a-friend”, or a plain old stranger who tricked their way into becoming accepted into one’s network of personal info, the results could be disastrous.
As a mother of three helpless toddlers barely able to keep themselves alive as it is, I immediately reached for the “delete FB account” button. Just kidding, they don’t make it that simple, do They?
Then a couple months ago, a friend announced that he was indeed quitting Facebook . . . on Facebook itself, of course. With a transparent mix of trepidation about how this would change personal ties and professional opportunities and fears-to-the-wind bravery, he launched a month-long departure.
Every day or so he’d post articles examining security breaches, the unpredictable nature of artificial intelligence, and how pervasive the social media giant’s reach is, perhaps even exceeding founder Mark Zuckerberg’s understanding.
He then promptly “disappeared,” as promised, on his birthday.
Of course he didn’t disappear. Everything that is him is, I trust, still there. But just not as publicly so. And that’s the real question: who are we really, when no one is watching? Are we comfortable in our own skin, in the digital dark? Can we simply be, just us and our Maker . . . or is it too much?
Opting Out Last Century
This all makes me want to ask the generations before me: was there ever a time when you, too, yearned to opt out? Was some new technology barrel-rolling into your life, and it tugged at you from both sides as a convenience and yet a nuisance? Did it force you to reminisce about when times were simpler, and relationships were what they were at face value? Did you ever detest “sitting by the phone” and yet dare not to live without one?
And where are the people of bygone decades who did actually take the plunge and opt out of TV, public school, phones, cars, power suits, conventional jobs, on-grid homes, and the like? Has anyone ever heard from them again? Or did they all magnetically find one another and have been dwelling in a higher plane of existence ever since, while all the news and consumerism and rat race chatters on below?
The Real Concerns
So with all the nebulous doubts about how good or bad social media is for us, what are the real, specific concerns?
1) Protection of our children. In my mind, any significant compromise in the safety of our children is unacceptable – period. It’s an important job in this new century to shelter children from leading too public a life too early.
2) Security of personal information. We thoughtlessly plug in some part of our personal and financial details in nearly every online business exchange, and we get complacent. But in the wake of the recent major Equifax security breach, we have to ask ourselves, just how much personal information have we divulged, bit by bit, over years of Facebook use? If you ever choose to download all your info from Facebook, you’ll get a sense of the magnitude of the volume: specific details such as schools and workplaces, locations visited and lived, relatives and friends connected with you, political and religious views, events attended, interests and affiliations, and everything you’ve read, reacted to, and shared. In short, everything imaginable chronicling YOU.
3) Time wasting, information overload, and causing an uneasy mood afterward. Occasional major binge-scrolling with a feeling afterward of “what a waste of time!” and “did I really learn anything useful these last 30/60/bajillion minutes?” Life is a vapor; is this how we’re going to breathe it out?
Good Things About Facebook I’d Like to Keep . . . For Now
1) Celebrating and keeping up with friends and family through their photos, humorous snippets, and personal announcements. I have around 125 Facebook friends, and this feels about right to me. These people include close family, extended family, old friends, new friends, a few former students from my teaching days, and a few people I’d like to get to know better.
2) Sharing the pain, the glory, the adventure through Love Liberty Shelter. Creating this blog has been an unexpected joy, a family record, vital tiny house therapy, and perhaps a measure of encouragement for others. It’s an honor to join writers all over the world in this way.
3) Reading intriguing articles on culture, finance, housing, living simply, and other topics, often from a Christian and/or libertarian worldview. I use Facebook as a one-stop shop for viewing friends’ recommendations as well what’s new from my favorite online publications. I’ve been greatly touched, influenced, and emboldened by particular articles and blogs I’ve read over the years. Where would we be without the sharing of intriguing ideas in this way?
How I’m Seeking Peace
So now the rubber meets the road – how to reconcile the good, bad, and the ugly of Facebook.
1) Security measures. I’m going to start by removing most personal information and photos of the kids and avoid posting these in the future. Ruthlessly trimming my account to be bare bones.
2) Using email to share our children’s photos and other brief personal glimpses. Hopefully interested family and friends will feel free to opt in or out. We’ll keep it brief, a few photos a couple times a month, a job update, or an announcement of us moving (again! Who can keep up?). It says something that I don’t even have all my friends’ emails or phone numbers. This step could be a flop, but we’ll see.
3) Limited, but mindful, participation with Facebook: I think I’ll start with a goal of 10 minutes, a few times a week. I’ll post here and there, as I do now, but without children’s photos or personal information. And I’ll start commenting more, reaching out. I want to do my part to make the experience less addictive, voyeuristic and passive, and more engaging, informative, and beneficial.
Making Peace with Facebook
So those are my ideas for now. But it’s an ever-evolving process, as technology and our children’s ages and needs change every year. And it’s ongoing work to effectively shelter and shepherd our children (and ourselves) in the cultural, social, and communicative realms.
Big Country and I, born in the early 80’s, are the last slice of a generation who spent an entire childhood free from social media, and largely without the internet as well.
Moreover, I’m finding that in order to give our children the gift of a similarly unencumbered, uncomplicated childhood, we must first practice discipline over our own digital lives . . . and our own selves.