I’m not a social media enthusiast. I know it is a fact of modern life, but I resist the trend. Perhaps it’s my tendency to introversion, but I feel no impulse to share with friends, distant relatives, and the greater world the results of my latest shopping trip, or hike in the woods for that matter. I’ll embrace your request to see pictures of my children and grandchildren but am hesitant to post those pictures online. (I do greatly appreciate the posts from my grandchildren’s schools, especially if my little ones are featured. So I know, I’m part of the problem.)
While I say this knowing that I cannot allow myself to be judgmental about those who do have the posting impulse, and I often enjoy viewing what others have posted, I do have reservations about what the social media frenzy does to us, and particularly to adolescents, as social beings. Popularity has always been a driver of some human interactions. In pre-social media eras, this tendency was balanced and offset by another human impulse to develop one, two, or a small handful of stronger, more intimate friendships. There’s a good deal of evidence that it is those deep, lasting friendships, rather than being the “most popular in high school,” that tend to be harbingers of future happiness and success.
One reason I advocate for substantial periods of time when we put our cell phones aside, and even turn them off, is that looking to see how many people have liked our latest post is self-defeating. Even more ominous is the news that social media companies program their apps to train us to check in frequently, giving us mini endorphin rushes when we see multiple “likes.”
That our children are being controlled by programmers at corporations whose object is to drive more traffic to their sites and who give no thought to the greater good, let alone the appropriate developmental needs of children, must give us pause. Our job as adults is to teach children the appropriate use of social media so as to help make it a force for good.
So what are we to do? An antidote to social media absorption is serving others, particularly those in greatest need. Since the recent hurricanes, I have been reflecting on what we can do. Seeing images of my recent home and school in Puerto Rico, I am left feeling rather helpless. The magnitude of the disaster in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is only heightened by the immense difficulties inherent in getting and distributing supplies to islands far from the mainland.
What seems to be needed most, besides swift governmental action from Washington, is private funding. Among the many wonderful charities that provide and distribute these donations is OneAmericaAppeal.org, which is the work of the five living former presidents who have come together to support the efforts to send relief to areas most in need. In an age when moderation, understanding, and bipartisanship is sorely needed, I encourage you to turn on your cell phone to make a generous donation to this organization or an organization of your choice. Then you might want to take a break and turn your cell phone back off.
I would suggest that an even greater antidote to social media is in seeking balance and, for me, deep reflection on the words of our Saints, Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal.
“Learn of Me for I am gentle and humble of heart” is the foundation of Salesian spirituality. Additionally, simplicity, liberty of spirit, joyful optimism, patience, peace, and perseverance are key themes in our charism.
In today’s world, these are largely countercultural virtues. More often than not, we are hard-pressed to find these virtues in practice. I’d suggest that we do witness these virtues here at Viz. We’re not perfect, but then Saint Francis does not ask us for perfection. He asks us to take a virtue at a time, reflect on it, and apply it to our own interactions and behavior.
The gift of this charism is the greatest gift I’ve received in my association with Visitation. I thank the Sisters for this gift and those others I see living the virtues. I hope and trust that others also hear this call, and that greater numbers will seek to live these virtues one at a time.