After 10+ years, I decided to get off of Facebook. I’ve walked right up to the edge of quitting on a number of occasions, but always ran back, rationalizing any number of reasons for staying. (i.e. It is a great way for my family in Canada to keep up with my life in Austin. It is a great way for me to keep up with my families’ lives in Canada. It is a great way to network and build up an audience for writing. It is a great way to streamline my news and keep up to date with current events…etc…etc…)
These are legitimate reasons to remain using Facebook. But still, I decided to jump. Actually, I felt encouraged to jump by a number of people. One of these people is Andy Crouch. (I’ll look at other people in different posts)
Andy Crouch is a public speaker, editor, and insightful cultural critic. During Lent, he cut back on his screen time and wrote a beautiful reflection on this season in an article entitled Small Screens, Big World. In this reflection Crouch showed me that getting over Facebook requires getting over myself and attaining “a sense of my own smallness.”
Having reduced digital distractions from his life, Crouch took up hobbies with renewed attention. He read, wrote, and played piano more often. He developed “an ability to calm the noise enough to read and cry over a story, or to listen with a friend to one short passage of Scripture read over and over, four times with long silences in between.” In these moments of sustained attention, Crouch noticed that the non-digital or unmediated world did not pay attention to him in the way that his devices did. “Flattery,” concludes Crouch, is what our devices promise us when we give them our attention, and this is the “deeper danger of our screens.”
Our screens, increasingly, pay a great deal of attention to us. They assure us that someone, or at least something, cares. The mediated world constantly falls over itself to tell us, often in entirely automated ways, that we matter every bit as much as we secretly hope we do. They tell us we are liked, retweeted, favorited—that we are significant, useful, and urgently needed. Every generation of devices gets better at this, becomes less a persnickety, recalcitrant technician (does anyone remember the exacting syntax of command-line interfaces?) and more and more an utterly dedicated, ingratiating concierge for our preferred future.
When we pour attention into our family, career, colleagues, or fitness regimen, we cannot expect a flattering return. Often we are more aware of our shortcomings. We are reminded of our smallness, and brought to our knees in humility. It is this smallness that Crouch believes is a necessary prerequisite to true attentiveness.
We all long to be loved, and more often than not we look for love/approval/identity in the wrong places. We look for them in places where we are flattered, and where our ego is stroked. It may not be the case for you, but Facebook is one of these places in my life. It offers the quickest way to get a fix of the approval I know I crave. Too much of my time is spent flattering myself over who is paying attention to the things I am doing, and honestly, too little of my time is spent humbly thinking of how I can focus my attention on things of greater importance. My hope is that a greater absence of others’ attention proves to be a similar gift in my life as it was to Crouch during this season, when he concludes that…
…nothing was paying attention to me.
And in the absence of that constant digital flattery, feeling much smaller and less significant, I was more free to pay attention to the world I am called to love.
Please take time to read the entire article. It is worth your attention.