A few weeks back I had the incredible opportunity of getting to travel to the nation of Israel and experience this cultural epicenter with my own eyes. Not only was this a chance for me to come face to face with some of the most meaningful historical sites in the world, especially as it relates to Christianity, but I was going to be able to go there with some of the nation’s most influential young Christian leaders, many of whom I happen to be close with. For over a week we traveled the world together and had experiences that I could never dream of having. However, not all of those experiences were ones I was anticipating.
As we drove from historical place to historical place and village to village, I began noticing a trend surface within myself and many of those around me, that we were so connected to the digital representations of our lives we became somewhat disconnected with what should have been our main focuses. As I reclined in my faded greenish tour bus seat, sweaty from the hot middle eastern sun, I quietly observed the conversations that were taking place all around. They weren’t conversations seasoned as much with experiences and encounters in the holy land as much as they were around social media, our perceived audiences, brands we’ve worked with, and how to gain more followers. There seemed to be more discussions around what caption would best fit a certain image and how to gain more engagement through geo-tags than there were about the machine gun fire that we literally experienced at Israel’s northern border with Syria. I began to wonder why I was even there at all, or why anyone else was for that matter. I started feeling that it was all an end to making our lives seem more meaningful on the internet. Talks ensued around divulging less of a person’s personal opinion within a photograph’s caption as to not lose any followers or offend anyone. I began to really lose heart when I overheard someone say, while sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane one morning, “I can’t wait to get back on the bus so I can get on the wifi before everyone else jumps on, so I can post to Instagram before people in the US go to sleep.”
I’m no foreigner to the world of social media. Some of the coolest and nicest people I’ve met have come through Instagram. Heck, I even planned the majority of my engagement trip and proposal to my wife entirely through Instagram itself (If you don’t believe me, feel free to read about it on Instagram, Mashable, or Huffington Post). My intent for writing this isn’t to be the guy with the pitchfork who’s out to condemn anyone and everyone using Instagram or social media. I’d be a hypocrite if that were the case.
I remember the first time I used a social media site. I joined Myspace when I was about 15 years old to meet other teens in Billings, Montana, where I was living with my mom during the summers. My first experience with social media was purely to meet other people in real life (which I did). I’ve always used social media to interact with people, but I never really considered the long-term impact and influence it had on my life until the last couple years, especially the last year or so. Everyone I know is on social media. It’s inescapable. It’s so much a part of culture now that it’s abnormal to exist without it. We are a society that has found itself subtly gripped by the soft hands of our digital onlookers, unable to breathe without their approval and consent.
I never really considered the long-term impact and influence it had on my life…
I understand that there are legitimate reasons people need social media now for businesses and maintaining certain relationships. In fact, I still use a decent amount of it every day for both personal and professional reasons. It’s not lost on me that there are many pros to it all. For me though, life without Instagram now, and soon to be other social media sites, is worth removing if it allows me to become the person I know I am supposed to be. The pressure to perform and present a curated version of our lives is unbearable and unrealistic, and engagement based services have greatly altered how a majority of people in today’s world perceive their own value and worth. I’m not talking about the value & worth of their work, but the value & worth of their humanity. Beyond this, the time spent on social media for me could easily be more deeply invested getting to know my wife, or my friends, or exercising or you fill in the blank.
A lot of people have recently asked me why I chose to delete my Instagram account, considering most assumed my online presence and identity was directly tied to it. I’ve received questions like, “Are you worried you’re going to become irrelevant?” Or, “Do you think that was a smart move? You had a decent following and could have really used that to your advantage.” It’s questions like these that further ground me in my decision. When we remove something from our lives that has such a tight hold on our actions that it causes others to respond with things like, “I wish I could do that, but I don’t think I could live without it,” or, “It takes some serious balls to do what you did,” then perhaps that’s a great indicator that it shouldn’t be a part of the routine anymore.
“Are you worried you’re going to become irrelevant?”
If at the end of my days I amass influence, followers, praise, and accolades through the internet, what does it truly gain me? What does being connected to everyone at all times really do for my soul and relationships? Why spend time stressing out, waiting for a quick response to a DM or figuring out how to respond to a bad comment? Life is too short to have it lived for the applause and gaze of those whom might not even exist. So in conclusion, why did I delete Instagram? I deleted it because I don’t believe it was healthy for me to have it anymore. Plain and simple. Also, I believe if we let it, social media as it currently exists in the mainstream could become more detrimental to how we as a society come to value, define, and interpret our worth as humans than we think.
“15 Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk — not as unwise people but as wise — 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” — Ephesians 5:15–17