It’s been 6 weeks since I went off Facebook. If you read my post about it, it was primarily because I was sensing that I needed to focus more fully on my life here in the UAE, and less on people and events elsewhere. That simple description makes it sound like it was easy, but it wasn’t. I explored some of the deeper reasons why it was hard to let go of social media for a season. Mostly, it came down to my longing to be important. I won’t rehash that now, but it was an interesting discovery.
It turns out that a lot of the difficult lessons I’m learning lately are really freeing. Yes, I went off Facebook. Yes, I’ve missed out. People have said things and posted things and experienced things and I didn’t hear about them. And yes, I said things and thought things and experienced things, and because I didn’t post them, my Facebook friends didn’t hear about them. But, here’s the flip side:
I’m so happy here.
It could just be a coincidence of timing. We hit the 6 month mark, and we’re more connected and settled. But my gut tells me that it’s not a coincidence. I have been happier with life in Al Ain since I dialed back my contact with people far away and dialed up my contact with people here.
What’s App remains one of my lifelines. I’m connected with all our family and most of our closest friends on there. But now, when something happens in my life, I don’t throw it up on Facebook for the masses. I send it to the people whose hearts are most connected with mine. And I know each of them will reply. And they will, in turn, share their happenings with me. And if I’m honest, those relationships are all the long distance I can handle. If I give each of those dear, long-distance friends and family a piece of my emotional energy, and use the rest for those who are here in front of me in Al Ain, I don’t have much left. Well, if I’ve really invested well, I’d say, I wouldn’t have anything left. I mean, how many truly reciprocal, authentic relationships can we maintain well at any given time? That’s what I’ve been asking myself.
And yet, there are so many people I’m friends with on Facebook, whose friendships have been significant in my life. For whatever beautiful season God had us together, I was impacted and I’m so grateful. And because social media allows me to stay at least loosely connected to each of these wonderful people, I find it difficult to walk away entirely. And yet…what is the cost to our present day relationships, when we move through life gathering new friends, aiming to maintain each one? It’s a quandary of our age. Simply because we are able to keep in touch with anyone we’ve ever known, we feel we should. If I’d moved to Abu Dhabi 30 years ago, I would have held onto a few very close relationships from home through expensive phone calls and possibly letter writing. But in this technological age, we maintain the false illusion that we can carry on with every relationship we’ve ever had. I don’t know about you, but I can’t. I thought I could. But there is a price to be paid. For every hour I spend on Facebook looking at pictures and reading articles and watching videos and dialoguing on status updates, I lose two hours in my present life: the hour I was physically on the computer, and another hour or more processing and thinking about the people and issues and events I was exposed to.
I mentioned this to Dwayne, who is a man, so perhaps we process differently… This is how that went:
D: Can’t you just scroll through and read and think, “Hmm, that’s interesting,” and be done?
J: (blank look) No
D: (blank look) You can’t?
That’s not how I work. I care about what people say. I’m interested in their lives. I’m curious about what they have posted that is so awesome. I engage. But, here’s what I need you to know, if you are a Facebook friend of mine. I care about you. I am so grateful for the time we had together face to face. But if I engage with you less online these days, it’s because I am trying to honor the people who I’m face to face with now. I will believe the same about you, if you pull away. Go and live your present life. Be blessed and be a blessing.