At 18, I boarded a 747 from San Francisco to Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hours later I find myself eating all kinds of exciting new foods, swimming in waterfalls in virgin rainforests, exploring temples and mosques and staring up at the world’s tallest twin towers. Stunning places. Lovely people. A lifetime of adventure in just a few weeks.
I returned to the States to find I had forgotten to take any pictures. Romantically caught up in all of the moments I had experienced, I had not captured any of them. I reached out to a new friend I met on the trip who had not made the same forgetful mistake. He shared his pictures with me.
He emailed back a link to where he uploaded the photos online. Perfect! I clicked the link and was greeted by a blue website I had never seen before. Facebook, it was called. It asked me for my university email address and to verify that I was over 18. Strange. I was desperate for the pictures of my experiences. I could not wait to show them to my friends and family back home. I wanted to tell them all I had seen and point out the new places and faces that now meant so much to me. So, I signed up.
It was easy to locate my only Facebook friend and download all the pictures from his only album: “Malaysia 2005.” I downloaded them all and was set! That was it.
Little did I know how integrated this foreign blue website would become in my life. I could not have guessed what this “social network” would do to the culture. When I signed up, Facebook was just .3% of its current size. It was benign. It was a declawed cat.
So now I am 28. My wife and I have been married nearly three years. We have a daughter and plans for more. 2338 Facebook friends later, I now find myself searching for ways to remove unnecessary technology from my family’s life. Why? It does not take too much of our time. We are not addicted to Candy Crush. We have dinner together every night and talk about our days. So, why?
Maybe because we are tempted to write quick little messages — short texts. The easiest form of communication is often the shallowest and least costly. Texts and Facebook messages are almost too easy. They are too easy for two reasons. First, they allow us to speak our minds without thinking about what we are saying. Second, they remove value from the message. If someone can fire off lots of little blurbs to lots of people, it is suddenly not very special.
Life moves so fast by its self, do I need to further speed it up? My personality already tempts me to move quickly. My nature struggles to have long conversations or sit down and write a well thought out letter or email to someone. Why should I make it more difficult on myself?
Is that Facebook’s fault? Not directly. Is it the fault of the iPhone? Not entirely. But, it is all of these things. They all play a part. I want to slow down. I want to be more thoughtful.
Those experiences I had at 18 in Malaysia were amazing. I fear my children will be tempted to go to social media not to remember their amazing experiences, but rather go to social media as the experience.
That is sad. Does me returning to a dumb phone and deleting my Facebook reverse a worldwide current? Definitely not. But, as my family grows, I do not want them to look at dad and see the skeleton of a former-dreamer — a grown up Peter Pan who had lost his sense of awe and wonder at the world.
If Facebook and iPhones are the strong river that we are all content to jump into, I want to swim against it. There is a deadly waterfall approaching, even though it is hard to see now.
It is time for me to reconnect and link myself in with my family and be present in experiences. It is time for me to set the tone for my family.