Published March 17, 2018 in the Ames Tribune
By Eileen Gebbie
Early this year I read this passage in the book of Proverbs (chapter 4, verse 23, from the Jewish Publication Society’s translation of the Hebrew Bible):
More than all that you guard, guard your mind,
For it is the source of life.
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
Over the last year, I had felt more distracted and bombarded by information and stimuli than ever before in my life. When I needed to focus the most—writing sermons—I would find myself in a loop of reading what I’d written, changing a couple of words, then checking Facebook, Instagram, my email, or my phone for the latest “news flash.” I’d then return to the sermon, feeling surprised that it hadn’t particularly progressed.
I firmly believe that paying attention to someone is the best way to demonstrate love. Yet, at home I was also distracted from my family, wondering about what I should be posting online next and how many likes or comments I was receiving when I did. I had built up a public Facebook page with about 1,400 followers and a public Instagram page with about 200 (I never really got into Twitter and I am way too old for Snapchat). I read articles about how to hone my online identity so that my “brand” would be distinct, and how to best leverage the technology and audiences unique to the two platforms.
My goal, in drawing users’ attentions to my posts, was to redirect that attention to God and my faith, which is my public role. I wanted to especially be an advocate for fellow women and my queer community, as well as people of color, the disabled, immigrants, refugees, and people who aren’t Christian. The Bible makes clear we are to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger—the most vulnerable members of any society—and these are contemporary equivalents. I wanted to also represent a branch of the Christian family tree that takes the Bible seriously, but not literally, because we do not believe the Bible is the same as God. And, I wanted to represent a church that welcomes doubt and disbelief alongside faith, hope, peace, and love.
But the process left me with anything but faith, hope, peace, and love. I’m not a neuroscientist but I believe the studies that show “getting likes” causes a dopamine response, one that sets us up to seek more, more, and more. And if we don’t get more, we tank. When this happened to me, I would lose the focus and energy that I needed to use those platforms in the first place, and to build beloved community for the healing of the world.
So when the season of Advent began (the four weeks before Christmas), I took a social media Sabbath. I didn’t post a thing.
And I didn’t miss it.