When working with clients in therapy, I sometimes ask provocative questions on purpose to “smoke out” different thoughts and feelings. I would like to do that here. Why not just delete all of your social media? I’m not saying that this is the best answer to the question at hand, but I do sometimes wonder: Why not?
Don’t get me wrong, I think there are some people who use social media rather well. Bishop Robert Barron, Father Mike Schmitz and others come to mind as good examples. They engage social media masterfully to bring the Gospel to countless people with seemingly positive results. There are others, though, who use social media … less masterfully.
In my own life, I had to perform the “cost-benefit analysis” of maintaining my social media accounts. The benefits included keeping connections with a wide array of parishioners, friends and family. I could share messages from homilies or retweet pithy spiritual quotes from my favorite authors. On a whim, I could connect with one of my old high school teachers or ask a friend I hadn’t seen for a while to lunch. These were all great benefits.
The costs mounted, though. I found myself wasting inordinate time “scrolling,” which ultimately led to the dissipation of my attention span and reflexively “checking” my accounts for new posts. I found social media becoming more and more toxic — a cheap imitation of serious dialogue and argumentation. Vicious fights — destined only to frustrate rather than resolve — took place in response to seemingly innocuous posts. It became a place of hurling insults, the perpetuation of gossip (celebrity and otherwise), immodesty, overt narcissism and sometimes downright hatred. I met individuals who struggled with comparing their own foibles and imperfections to others’ unrealistic, idealistic presentations of themselves. I’ve heard it put that on social media, we tend to compare our own “blooper reel” to everyone else’s “highlight reel.” This is a recipe for a host of problems including anxiety, depression, isolation, body dysmorphia and even self-harm in extreme cases (here, I’m thinking of the stories of children who have even taken their own lives due to the bullying that takes place on social media).
Morally speaking, social media is neutral. It is like any other public forum in that it can be used morally or immorally, and this ultimately depends on the user. Once again, I think of Bishop Barron and Father Schmitz as examples of virtue here. On the other hand, I personally had to be honest with myself. I came to realize that it didn’t pass the “test of tests.” It wasn’t bringing me closer to the Lord, who instructs me that “if [my] right hand causes me to sin, cut it off,” (Matthew 5:30).
If you take my original question seriously, perhaps you have a very good answer for keeping social media in your life. After performing your own “cost-benefit analysis,” maybe you are among those who use social media rather well. Upon closer inspection, though, you may find that social media wasn’t quite as necessary as once thought. If it is a source of needless chaos, anxiety and outright temptation to sins against charity, get rid of it. After all, there is an “abundant” life to be lived, with or without it (John 10:10).
Father Conor Sullivan is currently in residence at Immacolata Parish in Richmond Heights as he works for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Vocations Office and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary as a provisionally licensed psychologist.