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No Regrets After Leaving Social Media

About a year ago, I wrote about my decision to leave behind social media. I can say that the decision has been unequivocally positive. To be honest, there is nothing I miss at all.

Looking back almost a year later, here are some ways  this has changed my life and ministry.

  1. I am less anxious.

I don’t understand the science behind all of this, but, as Cal Newport has pointed out, research shows that taking a break from social media is better for your mind and body. I can’t speak for anyone else, but this has been my experience. I have found that I feel more at ease in my day-to-day life.

Since I am less anxious, I can also be more present. I can be more present to myself and to my family. And when I am more present to myself and my family, I am better grounded to be more present to the folks I minister to.

I still have a long way to go with this. I still find pesky emails and texts keep me distracted from time to time, but removing social media from my life was a major step in the right direction.

  1. I am exposed to less information.

Another benefit to not using social media is that I have access to less information.

This is a good thing because much of the information I spent time consuming was either useless or damaging.

I think most of what people share on social media is banal. It is not necessarily bad to know what is happening to my friend’s neighbor’s dog, or for me to learn my what my cousin’s kids did at a friend’s birthday party. But this information doesn’t improve my relationships with anyone. And it certainly doesn’t add value to my life. It is useless information, and I don’t feel the need to collect it anymore.

Some of the information I consumed through social media was damaging. I think this had less to do with the content of the information, and more to do with the outrage or anger with which it was shared. I felt like knowing more about the world and the ways it (usually) angered folks I was tangentially connected with didn’t help me to love them more. It most often made me roll my eyes or think I was better than them. Now that I don’t know what everyone thinks about everything, I feel a kindlier disposition to everyone.

Not knowing about every bad thing happening in the world does not diminish my life. Knowing the details of political scandal or global convulsion doesn’t help the people who are harmed by them. Now, I seek to know enough about what’s going on in the world to pray about it — and, if possible, to be helpful to those in need, but without feeling drawn into darkness over which I have no control.

  1. The information I take in is curated.

Since I spend less time scrolling, I’ve had time be selective about the information I receive and the art I enjoy.

There are so many benefits to this: I can filter out junk news and overly biased reaction that is so prevalent or X or Facebook. I can think intentionally about my blind spots and seek out interesting scholarship and sound reporting to enlighten me. I have more time for what Newport, in his book Digital Minimalism, calls “high-quality leisure.” I can read the books I need to read and enjoy those I want to read.

No doubt algorithms still play a role in the articles I search for on Google or the books I seek on Amazon. To some extent, I remain enmeshed in a digital system, and I suspect there is no viable way for me to be free from this. But I think I have far more autonomy than I did before, and leaving behind social media freed me, if only a little bit.

  1. I have more time for the things in life that matter.

This relates to the first point, that having more time and less anxiety has freed me to be present to the people I live with and see every day.

I also feel like I am a more attentive pastor. I can talk about politics or faith or any number of things with friends or parishioners in a way that feels constructive and healthy, because when we talk we sit down and face each other. I understand their points of view not as discreet snatches of information, but as part of the story of their lives, and the whole web of reasons that led them to a particular opinion.

And I feel closer to friends who live far away too. Instead of trolling their walls, now I send them email or give them a call. I have started catching up with a few good friends once a month or so. We talk for an hour while I am on a long drive, or swap news while I am taking a walk during my lunch break. These relationships are far richer, and leave me feeling far less alone than distant, digital-only connections that I fostered online.

I’ve also become a more productive writer. Instead of expending time curating a digital persona, I can write meaningful things. This includes scholarship and magazine articles, but I’ve also turned to Substack, where I can share books, interests, and experiences with a small group of people who are interested in my work. I write these epistles once a month or so, which means I have time to think about what I want to say, without feeling I need to drum something interesting every few days.

There’s one last thing I wanted to share about this journey.

A few weeks ago I preached on Mark 1:21-8, when Jesus is confronted by a man with an evil spirit while he is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. I was struck by the way the evil spirit knew exactly who Jesus was. He had all of the right information about Jesus, but still rebelled against him.

He “knew” Jesus, but only in this intellectual way, without any love, obedience, or relationship. Knowledge extracted from the context of relationship in this sense is demonic.

I think this is one of the temptations we will face with the continued advances in technology. When using social media especially (and the internet and phones and so on more generally) we have limitless information at our fingertips.

It’s easy to think we know all kinds of things about others or God or the world. But this knowledge is divorced from love, from being with, and thus it can lead to unfettered hate and destruction. It can become demonic knowledge. That’s why so much of what we see online on X or Facebook or on the internet more generally can be so toxic.

As I stepped away from social media, I’ve tried to cultivate knowledge that is couched in love, in relationship. I want to be the kind of husband, father, and pastor who is wise, not just knowledgeable. And I know wisdom has far more to do with the love and fear of the Lord than mastery of information.


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