Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

Speaking Out: Social benefits to Facebook shutdown

  • October 13, 2021

It was 10 years ago at Tony Romo’s Steakhouse Restaurant in Calgary.

My parents were in the city that day and offered to take me out to dinner. Microwave meals were pretty close to the extent of my culinary ambitions during my first year as a broadcasting undergraduate at Mount Royal University, so I immediately took up their proposal.

While the half-rack rib special was tasty as usual that night, this meal is seared into my brain for a different reason.

My parents and I quickly took notice of a family of four at a nearby table upon sitting down and their etiquette captivated us for the rest of the outing. The father, mother, teenage son and daughter had their heads buried in their phones the entire time.

Out of the corner of our eye we watched them not even make eye contact with their attending server when the food was brought to the table, and we witnessed each of them make no attempt at initiating lively face-to-face dinner conversation. Each was enraptured by their own digital universe.

My parents and I chuckle fondly about this happening in the years that followed. We comment how this type of conduct is now the norm, while sustained attentive dinner table conversations with the people sitting beside or across from you is more of an exotic exception.

Ask any decorum expert and they will tell you that scrolling through your phone at dinner time is a social no-no, but we are seeing an increase in that behaviour nonetheless. Some hosts try to pre-emptively curb this behaviour by encouraging their guests to turn their devices off while they are together. That’s great, but it’s too bad that he or she would have to issue that mandate. It should be instinctual.   

While I’m sympathetic as to why some young people may feel more comfortable talking online — no anxiety about body language and you can edit or refine your thoughts before sending — I feel we are not being well served by this continuous shift away from face-to-face interactions.

To be honest, I was delighted by the recent global outages of the Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp social media platforms for several hours. It may be an unpopular position, but I would not have minded if those blackouts lasted longer and if sites like Twitter, TikTok and YouTube went down too for a spell.

While hardly a long-term tonic for our increasingly detached world, I think a few days of being “de-plugged” would have worked wonders on the societal health front. We need to break away from the societal programming that compels us to invest so much energy into garnering a particular subscriber rate, follower threshold or blue checkmark status in the case of Twitter.

At the end of the day, accruing a dynamic online brand will not go far into helping you to achieve a meaningful life. Going against the grain by seeking out meaningful friendships and relationships that enrich your relationship with God is still the ticket to making the best of our fleeting time on Earth.

As a film buff, I sometimes enjoy watching clips of previous awards ceremonies. A few weeks ago, I watched a snippet of Jane Fonda accepting her lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institutek in 2014.

Instead of regaling the crowd with stories of her impressive career, she spoke about her regrets in not taking the chance to have meaningful conversations with her acting idols Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn when she had the opportunity. She felt she could have learned so much about her profession and life in general.

She then imparted the wisdom that it is better “to be interested than be interesting.” I think all of us should follow this advice and start recapturing authenticity in our relationships again.

(Amundson is Youth Editor of The Catholic Register.)

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