I'm at home in the world of social media. Facebook, Twitter and other networks help me do my job, stay in touch with my friends, and fulfill my daily dose of manatee memes. But constant connectivity has consequences. The writing is on the Facebook wall: social media can impact our lives in ways that conflict with our values.
The speed of the social stream outpaces the joys of slow conversation. Outrage culture (not to be confused with justified anger) makes me more reactive. When I consume clickbait, I find myself engaging with people in ways that are less compassionate, nuanced, and appreciative. I act in ways that run counter to who I'd like to be, having an impact that’s different than I hope for.
This doesn't have to be the case. We can make social media a catalyst for generation and impact rather than something that controls us. Here's how I've stepped back from the brink and found balance in the world of social media.
A life of significance
I know you’re serious about living a life that’s meaningful to you. That’s why you’re here! But a life of significance doesn’t happen by accident. Even those of us who are living a life of shining strength can deepen our impact, elevate our craft, or sharpen our focus, with some intentionality and awareness.
So, what guides you? How do you know whether you’re on track?
For an organization, that kind of focus comes through mission and vision, implemented through a strategic plan (here’s ours). For a person, it starts with values.
Values are the foundation
If you don’t have a set of clearly-articulated values, then I’m so excited for you to take the important steps of figuring them out. Here are our values at YNPN-TC.
One way to identify what drives you is to think of a few times you were bothered by something—the kind of thing that sticks in your craw. For me, that feeling comes when people are left out. That translates to my value of connecting with and welcoming people.
My other values include joy, hope, authenticity, and learning. Critical thinking is important to me. I seek to value every person as a unique individual with strengths, potential, and their own story.
Ask yourself these questions to explore your values as they apply to social media:
- What are my values?
- How does it look for each value to be fully expressed through my use of social media?
- How far is my current social media engagement from this ideal?
- What first step can I take to move closer to the ideal?
Here's how I'm living out an exploration of values in the context of social media.
First of all: I’m recognizing that it’s complicated.
Social media brings a ton of benefits: we can coordinate events, share resources, make recommendations, check out cute photos.
But I realized last fall that social media was, for me, more of a hindrance than an asset. I was seeing conflict with my values, particularly in connection, critical thinking, and joy.
People I connected with only via social media began to seem two-dimensional, as though they were the sum only of their viewpoints. I noticed my reaction to ideas that I disagreed with was reactive and emotional. It was increasingly challenging to take the time to understand people’s perspective, recognize their right to hold it, and appreciate the mind, values, and spirit behind their words. And it was harder to feel joyful. I had less time for restoration and rest.
So I dropped all non-essential social media.
In the space of rest and retreat, I'm re-affirming my commitment to give myself time. I’ve determined a few checks and balances that will guide my interactions. I am deciding, based on my values, when I will invest in causes and relationships, and how.
Tools to support values-driven social media
My journey led me to engage social media more intentionally. However, it took a while to figure out what that looked like. For example, social media is critical to my organization’s work and since I manage our social media, it would have been impossible to do my job without it. Beyond that, I’m part of several communities that communicate primarily via social media (that gets at my connectivity value), and I want to stay up to speed with the news (that’s the learning value). Those competing priorities inspired a journey to find the best tools to carve out my particular vision of a life that welcomes the best parts of social media while leaving the worst behind.
The main takeaway: There are things you can do to still be engaged, but not overwhelmed, in social media. Here are some of the ingredients in my current values-driven social media mix.
Facebook: I use apps and extensions to participate in Facebook groups, send and receive messages, track events, and decide when and how the Newsfeed will appear. Our organizational account follows the pages I’d like to stay up to speed with, and I manage the page itself via a workaround. I stay up to speed on trends for my job by reading blogs.
Notifications: After experimenting with different notification levels for my smartphone, I strategically disabled nearly all of them. Twitter only gets to push notifications when we have an event or I’m livetweeting. Otherwise, I check the apps manually or on a computer.
Tech sabbaths are also a regular part of my life: days or hours set aside to rest from social media, tech, and connectivity in general. This might be one day, one afternoon, or the hour after I wake up. Planning the time in advance gives me something to look forward to and makes it easier to stick to the commitment. The inspiration for this came, in part, from a local media professional who unplugs each weekend and catches up with the news on Monday morning. If a guy who analyzes the news for a living can unplug, I can, too.
No matter when or how I’m using social media, I make sure to bring an intent when I open the stream. The goal is to stay mindful about the experience. If I notice my thoughts becoming more reactive than responsive, it’s time to consider how—and how much—I’m engaging.
Social media is a boon and a resource—if we take the time and do the work to give it a proper place in our personal and professional lives.
Give yourself the time to reflect and figure out whether the things that social media leads you to feel, experience, think, say, are in line with who you’d like to be and who you believe is your deepest, truest, best self. If that kind of introspection is hard to conceptualize, maybe that’s a signal to rest and let your mind recharge. Then, re-engage and find the balance that’s right for you.
Please Note: The YNPN Twin Cities blog is an opportunity for YNPN-TC members (and others) to share their opinions about issues of importance to young nonprofit professionals. Each blog is written by the individual author, and the views expressed may not be shared by all YNPN members.