Connection Error

It’s been heavy on my heart recently that our world is much too connected. Instead of wondering all day who was that I saw in the home décor section at Target, I can grab my phone and search until I figure it out. It usually doesn’t take any time, but, while it seems convenient to an annoyed brain, it’s kind of creepy. And it’s actually not very healthy.

Social experiences have been forever altered by social media. Instead of letting friendships at work or church naturally progress, we know by our own countless scrolls through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. what our friends had for dinner, how sweet their husband was to bring them flowers, the items they didn’t find valuable enough to keep or use in their yard sale…

We keep up with the lives of ex-boyfriends, ex-best-friends, that girl who let us borrow a crayon every single day in kindergarten, friends from college and old jobs, neighbors, family members we’ve never met, and a few weirdos we still see too often in real life to delete.

It occurred to me that we are much too connected when the first response I had to a potential boyfriend was to check him out on social media. Make sure all the right boxed were checked and no red flags waved me down. Believe me, I understand the value of this. By this system, we are able to eliminate- for the most part- the creeps or the losers who post shirtless selfies. I only noticed something was fundamentally wrong with this system when all of my many boxes did check off and no flags snagged my attention. What’s a girl to do then?

I found that the guy I was deeply interested in didn’t have many things to tell me as we got to learn each other that I wasn’t already aware of. In under three minutes of social media searches I figured out his religious affiliation, who he backed in the 2016 Presidential election, his dog’s name, what kind of movies he liked, what his last girlfriend looked like, his sports record, and so much, too much more. Amazing, right? It’s like I should be a private investigator or something. But this isn’t a talent specific to me.

I realized that our lives were too interlocked with people we don’t really know when I had to unfollow a friend on Facebook because the constant reminder of their face and the updates of their life’s work stressed me out. I hadn’t seen this friend since elementary school. Why did I need to know the intimate details of their day?

If we were truly close, truly connected, wouldn’t we have more contact that the posts I inadvertently absorbed? It’s freaky that our minds process the things we see so much that this person made guest appearances in my dreams. Wakeup call: I needed to fill my eyes with something a bit more meaningful. I needed to work on myself. I needed to move forward, not dwell on people in the past who weren’t a part of my present.

We absorb so much of what we see on social media that it influences our perception of ourselves. Body image issues are hard enough to tackle without the constant reminder that Becky really does have better hair, or that girl you did cheerleading with as a child has obviously kept up her physique a little more than moi. Comparisons aren’t fair to our bodies.

I knew that connection error was a problem when my niece was born. My brother and sister-in-law refused to put any pictures of her on social media, and people freaked out. Full disclosure, both of them are darlings to all around them, and, naturally, everyone wanted to see their darling, too. They wanted instant gratification, almost like they deserved. But that’s weird, right? Like, come to the hospital or visit them at home. Don’t take the easy way out. It isn’t natural. Don’t expect real-life emotions to hit you the same from a screen. It isn’t fair to the people you love.

It occurred to me that we are much too connected when I found out through social media that a cousin of mine got engaged. Let me rephrase that, when I watched my cousin get engaged because they shared the proposal video. I haven’t seen or talked to my cousin in five years. I have never met his fiancée. But I know his proposal story. I have a visual of the pretty setting, the nervous energy, the sweet reactions, the sizable ring, all of it. Too much of it. This isn’t natural, is it?

I knew that our connectedness was a problem when on a recent vacation I was more concerned with getting the right lighting for a picture of a live oak tree in Savannah than putting my phone down long enough to watch the Spanish moss sway. The Lord’s beautiful landscape, and I didn’t think to thank Him. I used his creation for my own purposes, and that’s pretty selfish. I know I’m not the only one.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been guilty of this. Every summer, fellow Tea & Rebellion author Juliet Wilkes and I take a girls trip to enjoy a bit of history, the ocean, fabulous food, our favorite books, brainstorm story ideas, hopefully find some nice tea, and recap our personal growth from the previous year (really, everything our blog presents you with). We try to take as many pictures as we can for references and for you, fellow rebellious tea enthusiast.

I often fuss at Juliet for always catching me at my worst moments. You know the ones: triple neck out, cheeks overstuffed with food, bad angles of my backside, etc. Inaccurate representations, obviously (hopefully), but social media has influenced me so much that I can’t even laugh at myself or see how pleased I was with the food in front of me in the photo.

We live in a very ME-centered world, and while we may think that sharing the highlights of our trips and lives with all our friends isn’t self-interested, it is. Listen to me, it is. Maybe you’re not like me, but doesn’t it bother you if your posts don’t get any likes? Maybe even if someone specifically doesn’t recognize it, because maybe that’s proof that they don’t recognize your worth.

That brings me to the bigger point. Why have we let the convenience of technology consume every aspect of our lives? We’re never truly unplugged. It’s a crazy horse, an addiction we can’t stop. But why? I am so connected to my phone. It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I see before I fall asleep. I replace meaningfulness with mindlessness. If you’re like me, you need to work on some gaping hole in your life that you’re filling with this time. Connectedness is the iceberg lettuce of your life. It’s a filler meal with surprisingly little nutritional value.

I’m not suggesting you give up social media accounts or even your smartphone. I understand that these technologies are part of the fabric of our modern society. I understand that it’s hard not to answer your phone immediately or check it every time it buzzes. But I challenge you to be less connected to the outside world and grow yourself and spend quality time with the people you love, not the ones you look at all the time on a screen.

Any progress in this area has been hard for me, and believe me, there are setbacks. It’s such a habit now to click the icons on my phone and connect with everyone else. Is this healthy? Nope. The only way I’ve seen any headway in my progress is to take Sundays off from my phone. I will still answer calls in case someone truly needs me, but otherwise, I have been trying to dedicate this time to rest. A recent Bible study has motivated me to remember that Sundays are meant for worship and rejuvenation, and I challenge you to try it by giving up your connectedness. If you’re like me, Facebook won’t be so enjoyable come Monday morning when you return to it.

Juliet has deleted the apps from her phone as a way of avoiding idle social media scrolls. I took a week off from my accounts during Lent, and I wish I had continued the whole period. It’s freeing. It refreshes your spirit. You’ll see that you have more time for other things, and you might be able to finish that book that’s been lying around or start a new miniseries on Netflix with your family. Maybe even more realistically, you can start a load of laundry.

I get it. You’re tired after a long day. You don’t want to talk or cook or clean just yet. All you want to do is flip on the tv and rest a minute. What’s so wrong with getting on your phone then? You’ve definitely earned the right to do what you want with your time. But, remember, the iceberg lettuce of your life is just a filler. You’re not getting any more rest looking at your phone than you would be doing something else. You’re not improving your mind or your relationships with those you love. You’re not going to get relaxed getting briefed on your neighbor’s cat’s first trip to the vet. Pick up some new habits. Maybe even close your eyes for a minute. Enjoy some peace. You deserve it.

Don’t feel guilty about unplugging. Don’t worry about missing something or offending someone. People will get in touch when they need to. Human interaction is a natural thing, and something we should get back to. Enjoy natural, honest-to-goodness reactions. Be surprised when that date tells you he likes Bruno Mars too. Let your cousin be the one to tell you he’s engaged. Visit a newborn baby in the hospital.

Get out there and enjoy the world around you. Take pictures to remember, not to impress. But always, always take pictures. Go outside and hike without chronicling your friends with every step. Or for girls like me, stay in under a cozy blanket with a candle burning and a steamy cup of tea, and catch up on some Audrey Hepburn movies. Or bake an intricate cake that expends way too much of your energy with your daughter without sharing the recipe or a picture of the final product with your friends.

Enjoy things for your own benefit. Adventure without the stress of perfect angles and lighting, or making some rando take another picture of you because the last one captured that last bit of holiday weight a little too accurately. Do what makes you happy. Don’t be so involved in what makes other people happy.

I will leave you with some insight far better than my own from 2 John 12:12 (NIV):

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

I encourage you not to let the new norms of our social-media-centered society hinder your progress of self-care and meaningful relationships. The world is at your fingertips, but so is the ability to make your joy complete.

With Love,
Willa James.

Published by

Tara Cowan Author

Tara Cowan is the author of the Torn Asunder Series, including Southern Rain and Northern Fire. A huge lover of all things history, she loves to travel to historic sites, watch British dramas, read good fiction, and spend time with her family. An attorney, Tara lives in Tennessee and is busy writing her next novel. To connect with Tara, find her on Facebook or follow her on Instagram @teaandrebellion_

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