Small circle, clear vision


I saw this image on Pinterest a while ago and thought “that’s sounds about right”, pinned it, and forgot about it until recently.

When I was a teenager, before I had a laptop or a smart phone, before I had Facebook or Instagram, and before I knew what blogs even were, I would get on our family’s desktop computer (which was out in the open where everyone could see what you were up to) and I would get lost down Wikipedia rabbit holes sometimes for hours at a time. Now I have a small portable device always at the ready to tempt me down the far more appealing rabbit holes of social media. Not for two or three hour long blocks (although sometimes after Leo’s in bed…) but as a default for the frequent small pockets of empty time in my day.

A couple things happened that made that Pinterest quote pop back into my head. I couldn’t manage to text people in my life back but I could manage to fill lots of time with glimpses of other people’s lives on their blogs or Instagram accounts. I kept getting ideas for making this blog better or pursuing other projects bound up in the internet, but the idea of any more obligations to social media in my life made me feel sick and stretched thin (and I realize I’m way behind and do far, far less on social media than professional bloggers or Instagram “influencers”).

Instagram can be a really wonderful place. I’ve found so many artists whose work stuns and truly inspires me. I’ve found so many people there that I’m sure I would be great friends with if we met in real life. I’ve followed so many people whose rosy-cheeked, vintage-dressed flock of children make me think #familygoals. And I’ve made connections with kindred spirits who actually have reciprocated warmly. But it’s also a weird place when it starts making you wish you could unrealistically be bosom friends with one hundred other people. And it’s weird when you start desiring to be more like someone based on the fact that their children only have wooden toys rather than for some real virtue they possess.

And blogs are really wonderful and weird as well. They’ve been useful to me–before I had a baby, mom blogs made me less scared of motherhood. And when I first started reading blogs in college, I became engrossed with them. I adored these hilarious, warm, and wonderful bloggers and their families. I wanted to be friends with them. But I have never been able shake a weirdness about blogging: we create spaces on the internet revolving around our lives for strangers to read and look at. It’s always been strange to me how much I know about these people’s lives who know nothing about me.

I know the defense of these things usually has to do with finding or building community and I get that and I think it can be true. But the more I’ve followed and read and liked and commented on Instagram accounts and blogs, the less I’ve actually felt a part of a real community. Because at the end of the day, is simply being one among a sea of thousands of followers of a single person who will never invest the same amount of interest in your life, really being a part of a true community?

I do like the escape to beautiful images that Instagram affords me. But I’ve been realizing more and more how such a seemingly harmless thing as infinitely scrolling through lovely images can fill up your mind leaving little room for more important things. How beautifully styled pictures of bloggers homes and children, these little pieces of beauty from everday life, can in fact create an aesthetic glut. Along these lines, I recently read and was gripped by Maria Popova’s commentary on Susan Sontag’s collection of essays, “On Photography”:

“the social media photostream — the ultimate attempt to control, frame, and package our lives — our idealized lives — for presentation to others, and even to ourselves. The aggression Sontag sees in this purposeful manipulation of reality through the idealized photographic image applies even more poignantly to the aggressive self-framing we practice as we portray ourselves pictorially on Facebook, Instagram, and the like:

Images which idealize (like most fashion and animal photography) are no less aggressive than work which makes a virtue of plainness (like class pictures, still lifes of the bleaker sort, and mug shots). There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera.

Online, thirty-some years after Sontag’s observation, this aggression precipitates a kind of social media violence of self-assertion — a forcible framing of our identity for presentation, for idealization, for currency in an economy of envy.”

There’s nothing wrong with reading a blogger’s tips for surviving the newborn phase or seeing a beautiful image of architecture with some poetic caption or reading a meme that makes you laugh. But dozens and dozens of mildly useful blogposts and hundreds and hundreds of decreasingly inspiring Instagram squares and thousands and thousands of sort of entertaining Facebook statuses and memes can make for a fractured, poisoned attention and soul.

I’m not writing this as an admonition for using Instagram at all or for following someone who has a large following. I don’t think every Instagram account I follow needs to involve a tangible friendship between me and the person. And this isn’t a completely cyncial diatribe about the impersonality of the Internet. I absolutely believe true friendships can arise out of the Internet. And I think those friendships can form without you having to hand over your entire attention to the mercy of social media.

But because it feels like I have been handing my entire attention over to social media and have come out exhausted by the aesthetic aggression of it all, I’ve been making a few resolutions for a smaller circle and a clearer vision:

-Cutting back on the sheer amount of instagrammers I follow and the amount of blogs I read no matter how harmless or even helpful they are. If I’m not really compelled to what the person is saying, I need to silence that source of noise in my life.

-Delete Facebook. I’ve deactivated it for now but I think I really need it dunzo. I know people who have either completely deleted their Facebook accounts or have never had one and their lives don’t seem lacking in any way.

-Carve out a specific block of time each week for writing letters and thank you notes.

-Actually work on some sort of prayer life.

-Read or clean or memorize poetry or do Slovak language flashcards while Leo’s playing independently instead of being on my phone.

-Write, paint, or practice self-care during Leo’s naptime or after bedtime rather than just vegging on social media or watching Netflix.

-Become more involved at my parish.

I’ve been listening to Emma on audiobook these days and I’m so struck by smallness and the intimacy of the communities Jane Austen creates. There’s certainly more occasions for annoyance or frustration with a small community of flesh and blood people than a wide community spread thousands of miles apart hidden behind or filtered through smartphones. But there’s also so many more occasions for growth and real affection for one’s neighbors. And that’s the sort of community I want to be more a part of.

So since I like to pick other peoples brains: has social media improved your life or has it been more problematic? Have you developed worthwhile friendships through it? How do you keep it from being an energy-sucker? And do you think there’s something necessarily artificial or aggressive about it?

Small circle, clear vision

12 thoughts on “Small circle, clear vision

  1. I’ve been having lots of these feeling as well of late. Not having 24/7 access to social media while I was in China gave me a good idea of the negative effects it was having on me. Around Christmas I realized that Facebook, specifically, was only adding negativity, anxiety, and anger to my life so I’ve been refraining from daily use. Today I decided to take a scroll and once again: anger, anxiety, bleh!

    I love the beautiful images and snapshots of other people’s lives I can see on Pinterest or Instagram, but I find myself needing to be careful of falling into a pit of “comparison”. Maybe the rule of thumb for social media is purpose and intent?

    The idea of Regency England sounds divine right now. But, ya know, with a little more feminism, haha!


    1. Purpose and intent definitely defines my experience. When it just becomes my default activity for any and all spare moments of my day, I just get drained.

      And yes to feminism in Regency England. Reading Emma this time around has made me hyper-aware of how helpless socially disadvantaged women (like the Bates’ and Harriet Smith) are and can only hope to either marry well or rely on the generosity of other.


  2. While reading I was scared that you are just going to disappear from the web at the end of the post. PLEASE DON’T, I need you.

    Social media has been always important in my life and I mean in the best way. I started my first blog about 10 years ago, it was about felting and handcraft and a little bit about my faith. I have never been good in handcrafting, so I felt not so talented as my friends from our handcrafting discussion board and was tired of the comments and the spirit that was developing around that. So I quitted blogspot and went to wordpress which wasn’t so popular and decided to concentrate it on my faith. On January 1st this year I got a message from wordpress that it has been 7 years since that day. During this time I was thinking about quitting the writing, but I felt that God wants me to do this (He also gave me a name for it, which I think is brilliant 😉 ). I wasn’t satisfied with my blog, I am not “cool” and have never had any large amount of readers. Through this blog I developed my faith and met wonderful people. I went on Twitter, which I thought is stupid, but I –again — felt, that this is the God’s will. Twitter helped me to develop many of my opinions about faith and world, I made connection to a friend with whom we meet sometimes in real life (but she is now 400 km away) and I met the love of my life (and we hopefully will continue this as a married couple, but we need prayers). Instagram and Pinterest lift up my spirit when I’m blue. I am unfortunately very emotional and it is very easy to depress me — not very Catholic, but it just means I have to/something hast to lift me up. I like watching beautiful photos (which I will never take, not so talented) and watch/hear/read like other people pray. I moved from another city 1,5 years ago, so I left my firends behind, some of them are completely offline people and this online community (here I mean mainly BIS) asures me that I am not alone and gives me inpisration how can I deepen my faith and develop my personality. If it wasn’t for social media I would have never learnt brush lettering/calligraphy (I am not done yet, need a lot of practice, but still). I see Facebook as an art of opportunities board – I search there mainly information about events that take place in my city (we had good value for money holidays at the seaside last year thanks to Facebook). Thank to Fb I have a contact with my cousin who lives 600km away and we were never able to develop any relationship because we are so different – we started it after our grandpa’s death as adults and it works.

    A turning point for me was realising that I don’t have to compare my life to the Instagram/Facebook/Pinterest lives I follow — I actually can’t do this. I am who I am and I like being myself — I got many gifts from Above and also didn’t got all the gifts God can give a human being, but it’s ok so. I see the social media as an inspiration and I am careful who do I follow — I just quit when I see somebody is somehow agressive or artificial. Social media motivate and inspire me — of it’s not the case, I go away from that person.

    Thank you for being here, Dominika ♥

    (that’s for sure the longest comment I have ever written on a blog :D)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww I’m definitely not quitting any time soon. I feel like blogging provides me with a good outlet for figuring out my thoughts about so many different things (i.e. social media, style) and I really love the kindred spirits I meet such as yourself :). At the same time I have such a hard time creating boundaries around addictive things like screen time that I easily spend 90% of my time mindlessly scrolling and 10% actually doing things that feel truly gratifying like blogging and having real conversations with other people. I listened to an interview once about the internet and about how it just developed so fast that it’s this powerful, huge thing we haven’t figured out how to handle. And that’s how I feel a lot of the time–that the Internet and screen time control me, not the other way around. So I just need to figure out what boundaries work for me so that I feel like I’m actually getting valuable things out of the time I spend plugged in rather than just being inundated with everything that’s out there and ending up feeling tired out.

      Also, this is totally random, but I’ve been meaning to ask: have you read this book– I started reading it and for some reason it made me think of you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t read this book, thank you! I will definetely look at it. I’ve been developing a rule of reading 10 pages of some spritual readings every day lately and this sounds like a good material for it (now I have “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World” by Henri J. M. Nouwen on my night table and it works great). It’s been a (long) while since I read Little Thérèse, so maybe it’s high time to recall her thoughts.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Just found your blog! I am feeling all the same ways right now. I loved your point about the violence of self assertion, and being exhausted by investing in relationships that are not 2 way streets. I mostly sit around and think ‘who is taking all these pictures of this person?’ And then realize they must have Instagram husbands (or someone else hanging around all day). My main takeaways in my resent pulling back from IG (I only go on FB to wish people happy birthday or give family pics of our kids) are 1)There is something about the reality of how big IG people with lots of followers live their life (posing, framing, cropping, filtering, dressing up, distorting, thinking about a good shot, and a witty remark, and then eventually, making their posts little commercials) that I know deep down doesn’t interest me or jive with my dreams. I have learned to appreciate good photos through food blogging, and I also know how much work it takes to get a good shot. I think I would rather spend my time talking to real people, reading, writing, and praying then doing the things it took for them to get their shots. 2) none of my writing Heros are on IG. None. Everytime I discover a good author or thinker and look them up they are not there. I wonder if I should find them on Twitter but then I get exhausted. Can’t handle multiple social media platforms. 3) I read more books if I am not reading social media. And my goal is to read and write good books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could have written your comment! This is exactly how I feel!! I’m always wondering how big time instagrammers and bloggers actually feel–is it possible to have real peace when you’re constantly arranging and curating yours and your family’s life for affirmation and money? It seems so exhausting. And it’s the same for me and the writers and thinkers I admire. If they’re on social media, they use it sparingly and judiciously, never navel gazing or being exhibitional about their private lives. I can’t handle multiple social media platforms either. And I have the same goals: reading and writing good books. It seems that to be successful in this day and age as an artist, you have to have a branded online presence, and it’s unfortunate because being plugged in all the time takes away from the vital solitude that’s necessary for creative work. Ugh I don’t know what the answer is.


  4. Jovannah says:

    I feel like it can be both good and bad. In the past year this whole new world of young catholic women opened up to me and it has really revolutionized what social media (especially instagram, which is pretty much the only one I spend a lot of time on) is for me. Before, I would almost say it really was just a waste of time, but not it is really something edifying, useful, and beautiful. While I haven’t made many connections or friendships, I have gained SO much inspiration and vigor to carry out the work that God is doing in me. It has been truly invaluable. All that being said, it is still a dangerously easy way to have your time and energy be completely consumed, which seems to happen to me a lot. But really, that goes with anything. Anything can be overused and over-invested in, it’s all about having a proper response. it’s a recreational and sometimes practically helpful thing and as such shouldn’t demand all of our time and attention.
    So yeah, there are my thoughts!


    1. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying here, but I’m not sure whether I’d say social media platforms are simply neutral tools which can be used for good or bad. I think Instagram is actually set up in a way that works against real interaction and connection: the ability to scroll though a succession of infinite posts vying for our attention (with more and more ads thrown in) makes it harder to focus on a single post or person, the vast amount of (even legitimately inspiring and authentic) people you can follow becomes overwhelming, the option to like just becomes a hollow kind of affirmation when we’re all just double tapping over and over again, and just the fact that works like a drug and taps into the addictive responses in the brain. It’s a lot to work against to create real community. And of course social media platforms are corporations so they’re intentionally designed to try to keep you engaged on them.

      But you’re right–despite all that, people do succeed in using social media well and inspiring and connecting with other people and going out into the world and really living perhaps even better because of social media.

      I think when it’s most effective it turns us out the screen and into the real world. I like that communities such as Blessed as She offer physical journals and “real life” get togethers. I have a really hard time even reading some of the reflections they post on my phone, just because screens are so distracting for me.

      Sorry for the crazy long response–I have a lot of thoughts on this haha. And sorry for the crazy late response! I’ve been traveling and am finally getting caught up on blogging stuff.


  5. I very nearly wrote almost this exact same post at the end of last year/beginning of this year, and actually I was emailing my mom about this last week. I realized that two years ago I had set content goals for my blog, but I’ve largely missed those (postpartum gumbo aside) due to my social media consumption.

    That said, I do think that I’ve gained some great connections through social media and blogging, you included of course, BUT I’ve found that I need to readjust and reevaluate who all I follow and interact with it — and I’m doing what has probably become a cliche this lent and giving up a lot of personal social media. When I’ve logged into Facebook the last week and scrolled through my groups I find myself asking “do I really benefit from being a member?” and keep culling the list – I’ve also unfollowed the BiS groups. Not because I don’t think they’ve been beneficial, but because I found myself getting wrapped up in making sure that I prayed for EACH and every prayer request. Same with IG — I recently started an account JUST for the blog, and decided that any brand-type or larger accounts will be followed there so my personal account is JUST those I really do want to keep up with on a daily basis.

    I think the other line we walk as mom bloggers is how much is too much — which has been an interesting transition for me since mine was originally started after I got married, and sharing what you and your husband are up to is vastly (or at least it feel like it to me) different than sharing about your kidlets. I know a couple years ago I made a whole bunch of people upset when I kept pictures of B offline for the first month. Everyone wanted to see the baby! Why was I denying them seeing pictures of my sweet baby?! And then they were miffed when I opted to post the first public picture to the blog instead of Facebook.

    I feel like a lot of social media makes people feel entitled to YOUR life, which I’ve caught myself doing occasionally and results in me giving myself a mental slap – I’m not entitled to reading or seeing anyone else’s life, just like I shouldn’t feel like I’m obligated to share every detail of mine online. Like you mentioned in another comment, I have no idea how the bigger bloggers, and I’ll readily admit I follow some, handle that pressure!


    1. That’s interesting about the stress of needing to feel like you have to pray for each prayer request. I often think of the differences in vocations and how members of contemplative orders have specifically given up having a spouse and children so that they have the time to pray for the world and for every specific intention that gets sent their way. It’s just not feasible in our vocation to consciously pray for dozens and dozens of peoples’ needs. Of course we can offer up our daily works and trials and by God’s grace that works good far beyond anything we’re capable of on our own. But to feel beholden to so many strangers online can take away from the work of our vocation. And I think that’s really my whole point–that maybe it’s unnatural and not good to follow or connect with alllll the people we can online. Even if they are really all kindred spirits.

      Oh gosh the whole entitlement to other people’s lives on the internet is a whole other can of worms and drives me crazy. Especially when it comes to children. I’m not even sure how I feel about posting pictures of children online–they are their own people and I think that so often gets forgotten in the quest for likes and followers. (Or in the demands of relatives to see them and share them without permission). I think it all echoes our culture’s belief that children are possessions. And I really wonder how all these children whose lives have been documented online are going to feel in ten or fifteen years.

      It is strange though that bloggers and instagrammers offer strangers parts of their lives (sometimes very intimate parts!) seemingly inviting them into a claim on their lives but then demand privacy. I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m not sure whether microblogging about one’s personal life is an objectively good or neutral thing. So many questions–not many answers haha.


      1. I totally think interacting with social media leads to more questions than answers!

        As to the whole beholden part — I’ve found that it isn’t the only instance that it’s happened to me before. My husband jokes that I need to learn not to care so much, but there are too many times I find that SO hard 😉

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s