For over a year I have been praying about changing my social media habits. As a stay-at-home mom, it’s all too easy for me to use facebook, instagram, or twitter as welcome distractions to the more tedious moments of my days. Convicted that my daily screen time is excessive and that electronic connectivity has become an idol in my life, I’ve sought a way to change. I’ve read books (this and this were some of the best), set up boundaries for myself, and tracked the time I spend online. None of it worked. I still craved social media.
But recently, I stumbled across—or should I say, into—something that is changing my craving to be perpetually connected: JRR Tolkien’s fictitious creatures called hobbits. Yes, those three-foot tall, furry-footed, pointy-eared people dreamed up by Tolkien in his masterful book, The Lord of the Rings.
As I recently began to re-read The Lord of the Rings, I was introduced anew to the hobbit’s pastoral homeland, the fictitious land of the Shire, and its simple inhabitants. Hobbits live in a pre-industrial society: no electricity, no motor vehicles, and certainly no laptops or smartphones. But while hobbits lack technological connection, they are rich in connections to each other, their land, and their history. In other words, they are rich in every way that technological addiction makes me poor.
As I read Tolkien’s words I felt my heart being tugged in a new and surprising direction: toward rootedness in the physical world and away from the artificial connections technology offers. I started by turning off email, internet, and social media on my phone in the mornings and evenings, choosing rather to savor the comfort of a warm cup of coffee as the day awakened and the pages of a good story as it drew to a close.
In these simple steps, I found myself delighting in the world I’ve always lived in but have brushed past in my quest for electronic connectivity. I savored time with my daughter and the books we read together. I noticed the mild blue of the winter sky against the grey branches of the tree outside my window as I drifted to sleep for a Sunday afternoon nap. I began to embrace life—with all its messiness—when my grip on my phone loosened.
Though perhaps I shouldn’t, I still find it surprising that the thing that is breaking the spell of social media in my life isn’t a treatise on the proper use of electronics or a tirade against the addictive nature of smartphone apps. It isn’t a rigid new set of rules dictating when I should and shouldn’t get online. It isn’t really knowledge at all.
What is changing my approach to social media isn’t an appeal to my head, but an invitation to my heart. Tolkien’s masterful storytelling paints a picture of a world that, quite simply, I find myself wanting. I want the real, grubby connections Tolkien’s hobbits enjoy. I want more than to spend my days staring at a screen.
Now, of course, a caveat is necessary: social media is not inherently evil, nor is educating our minds and thinking deeply about how best to steward our resources of time and possessions.
But, for all of us who long to change our social media habits but just can’t quite seem to white-knuckle our way to less time online, perhaps a different, gentler approach is what’s needed. Perhaps, we need not more knowledge, but a more beautiful vision of the good life. I am grateful Tolkien and his hobbits have given me that.