Ross Douthat suggests we should resist the Internet, and he’s right, at the very least in a narrow sense: what we need to resist particularly is the Internet’s relentless intrusion into our lives—every part of our lives—embodied most purely by the spiritually destructive habits of social media, which have become ubiquitous over the past decade. It seems at this point that social media’s influence on our lives is on balance a net loss: “It helps me stay connected with my friends!” sounds nice, but in practice Facebook ends up being more about posting your own selfies, and liking other people’s selfies, and scanning mindlessly through an ocean of freaking selfies, than it does about “staying connected,” which is four or five steps removed from looking at several dozen selfie-stick photographs per day.
I say that social media is “spiritually destructive,” and you might snicker, but you are wrong and I am right. Websites like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and whatever bizarre post-Millennial website comes up next all mostly function in the same way for many if not most users: it transforms them into simultaneous narcissists and voyeurs, people who desperately seek constant attention from others while at the same time jealously seeking out the goings-on of the very people whose attention they’re after. Social media serves to gratify two of the baser and less helpful desires of the human spirit: to be universally loved and to know everything. But universal adoration and omnipotent knowledge are both the province of God and God alone; human beings are not God, and it does not look good on us when we try to be God, in fact it looks and is terrible.
I got off Facebook years ago when I realized that it was contributing nothing positive to the sum total experience of my life; I got off Twitter for the same reason. On the whole my life has been happier, less stressful and more productive since I dumped both. Yours almost certainly would be, too.
The style of Internet usage that social media websites invariably give rise to—the mindless scrolling, the habitual checking, the incessant desire to always be up-to-date on the latest “status” update—drives a wedge between normal humans and normal human communication, rendering us socially and psychologically fragmented in even the most banal of circumstances. At a restaurant a while ago I saw at least a few couples sitting at their tables, silent, staring blankly at their respective phones, monotonously dragging their thumbs vertically across the screens: scrolling through some news feed, perhaps, or a listicle of some kind, or line-up of useless “food porn” photographs of peach pies and scoops of vanilla ice cream. This—as they were out to dinner with each other. Social media helps us to say “connected,” yes, to everyone except the people to whom we should be most connected.
A gentle word of advice: ditch your Facebook account. Get rid of the Twitter profile that’s never really done all that much for you. Stop looking obsessively at pictures of other peoples’ meals. Remove all social apps from your phone. Live a little—not the fake pseudo-living that the Internet so often inspires, but the real stuff, the good stuff. It’s out there; actually it’s right in front of you. You just have to lift up your eyes and look.