Teach Balance Rather Than Zero Tolerance

I ran across a new movement, advertised via social media, advocating “unplugging” during certain times of the day. Evidently, more and more people are choosing to disconnect for specified periods of time to see what it’s like to go without and then musing about it on the web, once they’ve reestablished connection. Most, amazingly enough, found productive things to do and were able to resist the urge to tell everyone else via the network.

I was reminded of two things: the “turn off the tv week” that I used to sponsor in the late great days before the Internet and the actions many schools are starting to take towards social media. These disconnect movements–whether done in the name of personal challenge, family togetherness or student safety–all seem to suggest that there is something suspect about our relationship to social media just as, in earlier generations, we worried about our television viewing. So I find it particularly ironic that the Good 30-Day Challenge folks who are unplugging at 8 PM do allow you to use your computer as a television.

I like all their ideas about the other stuff you can do: talk to people, write letters, and eat good food. In fact, I can’t fault these people at all, being a perpetrator myself as an advocate of avoiding television, which I felt was something of a wasteland punctuated by the occasionally witty program or funny advertisement. But, as I read their list, I realized I had done all the things they suggested sometime during the last month, including writing two lengthy letters to old friends, hanging out with family and friends at a summer picnic, and eating lots and lots of great meals of fresh corn, tomatoes and potatoes on the front porch of the farmhouse. I also tweeted, facebooked and blogged, talked on the phone and text messaged. I did some of all of them throughout the day. So, maybe I’m simply not addicted enough to social media to need to break the habit?

For those who are, maybe a complete break is a good idea, but I fear that, like a diet or the annual Lenten denial, once the time period is up, the repentant simply return to their old ways without finding any balance. Having lived through the nothing, they are now back to the all. Similarly, students who are banned from these media at school have no chance to really explore their uses for personal growth except on their own, and we miss the opportunity to guide them along the road.

One lesson I remember from my leadership course is that zero tolerance policies never achieve their objectives. And, an even more powerful lesson came from my mother who was outraged when I sponsored Turn Off the TV Week all those years ago. Telling everyone to do the same thing, she said, overlooked the diverse uses people make of media like television. If you think you watch too much TV, that’s your problem, and you are welcome to turn it off but she watched a couple favorite shows as part of her daily routine and she had no intention of giving them up because other people were worried about being addicted. Everything doesn’t have to be a movement, she said, because everyone doesn’t need to deal with the same issues. Learn to balance your life in ways that made sense to you.

My mother (of course) had it right: The real objective should be balance, looking for ways to use social media in meaningful ways to support all our aspects of our lives, including our relationships with others. Do some people tweet too much or share one too many pictures of their dinner on Facebook? Yes. And some people dominate the conversation or plant lampshades on their heads at cocktail parties. Want to get away from them? Don’t stand so close…find someone else with whom to chat or leave the party for awhile. But don’t condemn the party and don’t try to convince everyone else to go along with you. In the words of my mother, “Everything doesn’t have to be a movement.”

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