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Getting a smartphone on my last birthday changed my life–but not necessarily for the better.  Sure, some things are better: when I travel, I have tools such as Google Maps to deal with my chronic tendency towards getting lost. When I forget my camera, I have one that is nearly as good and connects easily to social media.  If I want to listen to music or an audiobook–or even read an ebook–it’s all there on one device: no more lugging around a camera, an mp3 player, an e-reader, AND a phone. Life is good–isn’t it? I know I’m fortunate to own a smartphone, but is the smartphone beginning to own me?

Love/hate is a good way to categorize my relationship with my smartphone; the very fact that I am in a dynamic relationship with an object hints at the problem. How can a thing have such a hold on me? Yet it does: I find myself checking Facebook and Instagram numerous times each day, despite the fact that there are only a handful–well, maybe two handfuls–of Facebook friends whom I know well enough to phone. Sometimes I call family members, and I text my older children fairly often, but it has been a very long time since I picked up the phone to call a friend for–well, just for conversation.  When I pick up my smartphone, I pick it up to connect to my “Friends” via the curiously indirect and yet direct medium of Facebook.

My intent is not to bash Facebook: far from it! I love the fact that, on a daily basis, I’m interacting with my sisters, with my parents, with one of my brothers (the other is a hold-out), with my nieces and nephews and children.  This daily interaction wasn’t happening a few years back.  My family was famous for its emails, which have mostly gone by the wayside: aside from being a better vehicle for extensive conversation, the emails were a record of our lives while most of us were busy raising young children. Two of my siblings put together what they called the Ebook–a record of our family’s emails over a period of several years–and it’s a fascinating chronicle of our past. Emails were time-consuming to write and time-consuming to read, though, and the quick response that one gets from Facebook was lacking with the emails. It could be a day or two before anyone wrote back.

While even now a good family email will get some momentum going, particularly if there are events or updates of a personal nature, the emails peter out after a few days. Facebook has an immediacy that email lacks: nine times out of 10, I log onto Facebook, and, bingo–I’m connecting to someone, in some way.  Old friends, new friends, just-barely-friends: anyone can become a confidante on Facebook, anyone can share something that we “like” or that intrigues us. Through Facebook, I have come to appreciate old acquaintances whose value I scarcely realized, back in the days of junior high and high school when I hardly dared to put a toe out of line. I have come to see that the “perfect” people I was too scared to talk to have their share of problems, too. Who knew?

But Facebook has its dark side. It brings out my inner voyeur, that despicable part of myself that is curious about how others live their lives. Particularly with people whom I don’t know well or whom I once admired or envied, I find myself scrolling through their photos and posts, trying to discern where life has taken them. (That admission may well lose me a Facebook friend or two.) There is also the “Oops!” factor of Facebook: not infrequently I happen upon photos of my peers festively attired, arms about the host or hostess. It’s not that I should have been invited, but, had it not been for the public display on Facebook, I might have been blissfully ignorant. (That knife cuts both ways, and I have probably been the offender as well as the offended.) Much has been made of this lately, but Facebook can leave one feeling depressed: why don’t I ever get to go on lovely vacations? How come my child isn’t the lead in the play, or the star of the swim meet? When will I ever lose all this extra weight?

The worst aspect of Facebook–for me–is that I am now addicted to connection. I’ve spent years as a loner, and now I’m addicted to social media? Huh? It’s been a whole 20 minutes since I checked my status, but I find myself reaching for my phone again. WHAT IS UP WITH THAT?  I don’t live alone: I share a house with three other people, all of whom are intelligent and articulate.  I also have a lot of work to do, but, somehow, that urge to connect trumps everything else as I gently click my phone and punch in the passcode. (I hoped that the necessity of punching in a 4-digit code would slow down my status checking, but, so far, it has not.)

The other day, I googled, “How do I wean myself off Facebook?” I wasn’t pleased with the results, most of which viewed regular checking of Facebook as the eighth deadly sin. It is NOT a crime to want to connect to other human beings. While virtual, the Facebook connection is also real. Feelings can be hurt on Facebook, but consolation and encouragement can be given via that avenue. I have sorrowed and prayed for others because of Facebook, and I have rejoiced and given good cheer because of Facebook. Now if I could only discipline myself to master Facebook, rather than allowing Facebook to master me. . . .