January 03, 2010

Constant Contact

I receive emails from a few sources (businesses, charities) that make use of a service named Constant Contact. Though I haven't tried it for my own home business, I know enough about it to understand that its goal is to help clients quickly and easily keep in touch with their growing lists of people interested in their products or services.

Over the past week, I've been thinking about this phrase..."Constant Contact." And, being in the middle of a 10-day "fast" of sorts from a popular online social network, I began thinking about "constant contact" as it relates to our current culture.

You see, I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I got involved with it just about a year ago, fascinated by how quickly my "friends list" began growing. I was writing on virtual walls and receiving messages from people I haven't seen in years, even decades. (Doesn't that make me sound old and wise?!) It was amazing, really, to quickly catch up on people's lives, learn about their spouses, kids, jobs, ministries, and passions. I could find reason for inspiration, encouragement, wisdom, and laughter while reading status updates. I found myself praying for people in other states as they posted details about sicknesses, pregnancies, job losses, and so on. Each day I wanted to "tune in" and read the rest of their stories.

More than that, I wanted to share my own stories. Like making 3 trips to the hospital before finally being admitted for real labor with Lucan, or waiting for orders for our next assignment, or finding Kenna sitting in a mop bucket spreading bubbles on her head. It was fun to read people's comments about my updates and to know other people were interested in my mundane, daily life.

Soon I began thinking of life in status updates, wondering how best to phrase my witty observations about our activities. I updated my status several times a day and followed everyone else's status as well. I also wanted to view videos and photo albums, and of course I had to add my two cents' worth to everything that caught my attention and made me laugh...or think.

The positive aspects of being a Facebook junkie include quickly and easily sharing photos, videos, and updates with family and friends. As a military family, we live far away from many of our loved ones, and digital pictures and videos help us reach across the miles and keep them involved in our lives.

But there's definitely a downside to all of this Constant Contact...how quickly it can turn into an obsession, an addiction, a distraction. I began realizing that if I didn't log into Facebook at least 2-3 times a day, there were going to be more status updates, photos, and videos than I could possibly keep up with (gasp!). And somehow I felt obligated to read what everyone else was posting. I'd even follow links to articles or blog entries posted by friends whose opinions I valued. And slowly I began to realize that while I was keeping "in contact" with people in other states, my contact with my own family was not all it should be.

Let's face it. Keeping up with 300+ people is a daunting task. (Keeping up with my own family of 7 is a daunting enough task!) And really, do I need to know what everyone on my Facebook list is doing every minute of the day?

Constant contact. It's too much. Too much time and (often) too much information. Why should anyone outside my immediate family need to know what I'm doing at any given moment?

The fact is, we're living in a Constant Contact culture. I never saw a single episode of Jon & Kate Plus Eight, yet I somehow know more about the sordid details of their lives than I ever wanted to know thanks to society's obsession with their family. I don't follow golf, either, but...you guessed it...Constant Contact through a variety of media outlets is responsible for ensuring We the People can form strong opinions about the actions of Tiger Woods. I haven't jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, and I don't plan to--frankly, I'm getting sick of all this Constant Contact.

In taking some time away from Facebook, I've asked myself some hard questions, and I have to confess I don't really like the answers. One thing I wondered was, why on earth do I feel so compelled by this Constant Contact? And really, is it so wrong to want to keep up with old and new friends? What about family?

I prayed about it, but not as much as I should have, because I could sense where God was leading me with this. The answer nagged at my heart and soul, and I didn't like it. No one likes to see him or herself unfavorably, but the light of God's truth shines so brilliantly we can't help but see what needs to be changed when we hold the mirror of His Word up to our souls.

The ugly truth is, I wasn't obsessed with Facebook simply because I wanted to keep up with family and friends. I was also obsessed with Facebook because...well...I was obsessed with ME. This came out in a variety of ways, such as wanting to see how many people commented on one of my status updates, or how people liked the video I posted or the pictures I uploaded. If someone posted something interesting, I felt they should know what I was thinking about it, too. And so on.

Furthermore, I felt I had a right to enjoy some down time (I am, after all, the mother of 5 children who are with me 24/7), which basically boiled down to spending more time keeping in Constant Contact with people I don't live with than I did in connecting with and training my children in righteousness. I used Facebook as a quick escape from Mom-duty...only all too often it became a long escape as I hopped from page to page, doing my own thing and ignoring what was going on all around me.

This article really convicted me. I just read it yesterday, and it was a God-ordained culmination of all the thoughts God has led me through over the past week or so. Oh, Lord Jesus, this Disease of Self running through my veins has got to go!

So what is the answer? I can't speak for anyone else, and I'm certainly not declaring Facebook or any other social sites evil by any means. My purpose in posting my thoughts on this topic is not prescriptive, but descriptive of what my experience has been and where I think God wants me personally to go. Certainly I could go to the extreme of saying I will delete my Facebook account and never log on again, but I don't think that's the answer.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul wrote, quoting a popular saying from the time, "'Everything is permissible for me' --but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible for me'--but I will not be mastered by anything."

Applying this to my situation, I realize that Facebook is permissible--but not necessarily beneficial. In fact, as I've already learned, it's something that I can easily allow to master me. If I can be a Facebook user without being mastered by it (obsessed by it, addicted to it, distracted by it), then Facebook is permissible for me. Otherwise, it becomes an idol in my life and must be torn down so I can put my focus back where it belongs.

More on this later...


JenTiller said...

I don't think I've made but 2-3 phone calls to any of my friends on my FB friends list in the past 10 years much less in the past 10 days. The other night when I went out dancing, I saw one of my friends. It was a rather ackward moment because as I asked her, "How have you been?" she replied, "I'm going great! I kinda already know how you are because I read your FB status lines all the time." Then she walked off. That was my first moment, well the first one I've really paid attention to, that I was allowing FB to take the place of person to person, voice to voice, etc. contact with my friends. I wasn't quite sure I liked it. What was the point then, in seeing or talking to anyone when all I could do was to loggon and find out what they were doing on FB? The 2nd time I realized that my status posts were out of hand is when I shared with the world the day my garbage was going to be picked up and the day my Christmas tree was going to be picked up. Seriously Beverly...WHO CARES?! LOL I had to stop and think about what I was doing. I don't want to delete my account because I have found friends going back to 2nd grade -- and when you moved around as much as I did growing up, friends were hard to come by. I don't want to lose them again. I am going to take into consideration what you have written and also pray about my "ME" obsession. I will pray also for you and your decision. I think God has used you as a tool to catch the attention of others. I am quite grateful for that. :-)

anno said...

I left Facebook a few months ago. *My* being on Facebook wasn't a problem, but it was going to create a problem for other people that I love and care about. So under the principle of looking out for the interests of others, I left.
I feel like the world is divided into those who Facebook and those who don't. It feels like I was a part of the Cool Kid's Club, but I am not anymore.
I'm not sure that something that creates *that* kind of atmopshere is a good thing, especially for a believer.
Just my 2c worth.

Flogger said...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on our society of "constant contact." So much so that I have linked to it from my blog! I am also glad that I didn't have these distractions when I was a young parent!?! Cannot imagine having to say "No" to the computer? Seems like hubbie and I are on it all the time!?! Hmmmmm .....

Melissa said...

I read a post about a woman who was able to set her parental controls on her computer to only allow her access for certain times of day (like an hour before her kids were up, and maybe 2 hours in the afternoon while they were having quiet time). That allowed her to be able to still do work on the computer, but she didn't feel like she was having to sacrifice her family for her "virtual friends".

Debi Joy said...

If Facebook had become an addiction, then it is best to cut back.

Beverly said...

Debi, it's not exactly that it was an addiction...it's so much more than that. Perhaps I shouldn't have used that word--it conveys the idea that I was on it 24/7. The problem was that it was distracting me from God's BEST for me AND my family. If I totaled the amount of time I was on FB, I'm sure it would have been way less than most people spend on there. But in MY life, it was still too much.

taylordi said...

Great piece Beverly, it made me think. I to spend too much time on the computer, not always on FB and sometimes it is for work. However other times it's an escape. This constant contact doesn't just apply to the computer, we only have one cell phone because we don't want to be in "contant contact" with work and other people. I also don't care much for talking on the phone so I don't want to have one glued to my ear all the time, I don't want electronic stuff to run every minute of my life. As the girls get older and start going out on their own more than, yes I will want eveyone in the family to have a phone and be able call us whenever they need to. But while they are little their is no need. My falther in-law gets calls all the time from work while he is on vacation. It's not just FB we need to take breaks from.
Remember though to take time for yourself not to be selfish but to take time to recharge and breathe with out someone needing something or asking questions, that's important too.
And a last note, I love being able to see pictures of you all and see what your are doding, it make us feel closer and helps the girls to know their cousins.
Thank you for a thought and discussion provoking post!

Beverly said...

Thanks for your comments, Ski! And everyone else, too! I agree--it's certainly not isolated to Facebook. And one of my homeschooling mom friends NEEDS her FB time for down time away from her kids. :-) I feel that I need to turn to exercise, reading, and other activities that will engage my mind and body better...I've become more lazy than I'd like to admit, both physically and mentally!

Lots more to think about, that's for sure...I'm so thankful that I was able to spark some thoughts for others, too, whatever their opinions may be on the topic.

Natalie said...

I definitely understand. With my four little boys at home, I started having the same problem with my blog. I started thinking of my life in terms of blog posts, checking often to read any comments. Rather than just writing as an outlet or a way to document my thoughts or activities, I began seeing comments as a validation of my life and if I didn't get comments it would make me cranky, and I have a great life! nothing to be cranky about. I have made some great friends through my blog and I do enjoy the creative outlet, but it's taken it's proper place lower on my priority list. I loved this post. It's a really good reminder.