A little over a year ago at this time, I had three cell phones (one for personal calls, two for business) always on my person. I had three active e-mail accounts (one for personal, two for business) teeming with messages. I lurked on Facebook for more hours than I care to admit.
Today I have no cell phone of my own; I rarely use the cell phones available for the brothers' common use at St. Michael Friary. I am down to one e-mail account, and I have unsubscribed from most of the mailing lists I was on. My combined inboxes daily used to deliver several dozen messages. Now if I am lucky I get about ten messages a day.
My time spent on Facebook has declined sharply since the discernment retreat. After one week off the social grid, I found out that I did not miss it. My participation is much reduced: I update my profile less often, even omitting the daily status update that used to be a constant; and I comment far less on my friends' content.
Around the new year I resolved to leave Facebook, and I am preparing to jump off the social network by weaning myself from it, as I have weaned myself from electronic media more generally. (The big exception is this blog.)
One of my friends, who would be sad to see me go, asked me if this is as a permanent move or a limited measure of detachment for Lent.
This is a good question for discernment because I want to make choices, great and small, for the good of my initial formation. For the moment let's say both/and. Facebook is no longer the most appropriate platform for the kind of social networking I want to do. I'd have left by now except for a few dear friends whose profiles I continue to read regularly; and because occasionally I do learn significant things about my brothers and sisters in spirit. But the way Facebook works now is not the way it worked five years ago, and the joy of connecting this way is gone. Furthermore, I am appalled that Facebook is going to capitalize to the tune of $100 billion because it "owns" our personal information. It has collectivized, commodified, and monopolized the act of socializing. And it has devalued the desire for solitude. That's a big negative in my book. (I recommend this essay in Sunday's New York Times.) If I had firmness of conviction, I would have deactivated the account already, as some of my seminary friends have done.
There was a time when Facebook enhanced the quality of my friendships. It doesn't anymore. It's time to find other, better ways to build up those important relationships. It will take more work, but I know it will be worth it! I will make use of any medium that benefits my vocation and discard the others. Those of you who are religious and/or social media-savvy, I welcome your advice. And I promise you, my intimate acquaintances, that our friendship will prosper because of it. For I am weaning myself from social media, these particular extensions of humanity, for a time, to better know myself; I will never wean myself from the love of God that invigorates us and unites us one to another.