Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Texting, Twittering and Status-Updating Ourselves to Death

I admit I am a rare breed, on my way to extinction in our current culture: I am one of the few remaining Americans who does not have a cell phone, and I am alive to tell about it. (We did have one, but it broke, and we are too cheap frugal to buy another one. We decided we can easily live without it). While I have nothing against the use of cell phones, I am increasingly concerned about a destructive trend I see developing: we are becoming a nation of fragmented people, addicted to writing about every aspect of our lives as if writing about it validates its worth.

To clarify, I am not against a moderate amount of texting, Twittering, Facebooking; however, I am alarmed when it borderlines on an addiction. For example, the other day I was at a business, asking the employee some questions, but much to my surprise, she was only half-there. Her body was fully there, but she had her cell phone and was texting as she was attempting to help me. Again, at a hotel during check-out, the employee was texting behind the front desk while also helping me. Whatever happened to devoting oneself to one’s work during one’s working hours? Sure, there’s break times, but how ‘bout a book?

Consider Facebook status updates. I’m sure you’ve seen some doozies too. How can you be “taking a long afternoon nap” and writing about it at the same time? Or what is very romantic about “enjoying a glass of wine with my husband” when you are taking a quick time-out to write about it on Facebook? Even more importantly, why do you need to tell people about it on Facebook? Just enjoy the glass of wine with your husband, for goodness sake!

All this texting about the details of our lives leaves us fragmented. We are neither able to be fully present nor enjoy life’s simple pleasures in and of themselves without thinking about texting, twittering or “status updating” about them on our Facebook pages. What makes a good sunset? The enjoyment of viewing the breath-taking colors and sharing the sight with a loved one, or marveling in the beauty of creation and saying a quiet prayer to the Creator? Or does it only become good when I can write about it on my Facebook page? “Cheryl is watching a beautiful sunset with my husband.” Why can’t we keep that which is special to us, even sacred to us, to ourselves? When we are constantly thinking about what we will write next on Twitter, or Facebook, or anywhere else, we are never fully able to enjoy the present; we cheat others and we cheat ourselves. We profane the sacred when we must constantly be chattering about the previously-private intimacies that happen within the walls of our homes on a day-to-day basis. We become disjointed people, there but never fully present.

As with any addiction, the first step to fixing the problem is recognizing there is a problem and then taking steps to combat the problem. We live in a wireless age, but I think it does us good to moderate our time online as well as how much time we spend texting or emailing. I think it is helpful to simplify our lives and get back to the basics, for it’s there that we recover the intrinsic value of what we do each day. I don’t do the laundry so I can post a witty status update about laundry on Facebook; I do the laundry because I honestly enjoy it, and my family needs clean clothes on a regular basis (imagine that!). I don’t cook meals so I can brag about what I’m making on Facebook; I cook to nourish my family and fellowship with them around the table several times a day. Can you imagine Saint Paul writing status updates from the dungeon of a Roman prison when he penned these words, as timeless to our digital age as they were to the early church: “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him [Christ] who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11b-13).

So my challenge is—can you be content through your day if you could not text anyone, or check Facebook,Twitter, or anything else on the Internet? Would you like to spend less time online and more time fully present with your immediate physical circle of friends and loved ones? I will be going dark for a few days. Maybe you can join me!


  1. Hey Cheryl,
    great post...I have the most basic cell phone in the world and hate texting....not b/c it's bad but b/c I love talking to people! I believe fb, twitter, etc are great social networking places, but if your site is constantly updated every other minute w/ pictures than it seems that you are truly missing out on just enjoying life...

  2. Amen! I don't have a cellphone, don't Twitter, don't do Facebook, and was very resistant to having a blog--it turns out to be the easiest way to write online, but I continue to resist thinking of it as my diary or even really about ME rather than about the topics I'm writing about. I feel that the whole "connected" culture is a desperate struggle to compensate for the horrifyingly inadequate quantity and quality of our in-person interactions these days. I do communicate online and enjoy it, but I try to spend more of my time connecting in person with real people; it's not as "convenient" but it's a lot more rewarding!

  3. Great points, Becca! Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)