For Lent I gave up Facebook. As the season drew to an end, I began reflecting on my experience. Here are some observations and insights.
- I noticed the world around me more. Prior to the fast, it was not uncommon for me to check Facebook whenever I stood in line. Smart phones can be a blessing to introverted folks like me, allowing a bubble of personal space that others tend to respect. They can also be a curse, feeding those isolationist tendencies that prevent me from engaging others. During Lent I actually looked around at my neighbors in the grocery store and had a few conversations.
- I missed hearing about the goings-on in my friends’ lives. At the same time, I learned that I have mistaken the broadcasting of information that happens in status updates for the actual interactions that friendships demand. Something in my mind had convinced me that because I knew where a friend in another town was eating dinner that I was involved in his or her life. During the fast I took the opportunity to have long telephone conversations with friends whose voices I missed and they were extremely rewarding interactions, full of the good stuff that never makes it into a status update. I realized that when I was on Facebook, I did not feel the same need to connect with them because I had settled for trading blurbs instead of seeking real engagement.
- The fast confirmed some things I already knew about myself. For example, I am a terrible long-distance friend, as many others can attest. I therefore appreciate Facebook as it can help me stay somewhat in the loop and and keep others to a small degree in my loop, even if we don’t live in the same town. I also saw how dependent I am on Facebook for certain types of information, such as the dates of friends’ birthdays. I realized weeks later that I had missed some birthdays of people who are very important to me. (Perhaps this only further confirms my lack of long-distance friendship skills.)
- Significant news stories happened during the fast—e.g., the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis—and I wished I could read the responses on Facebook of people whose opinions I value greatly. I suppose I could have just e-mailed or called them and asked directly.
- I have a few friends on Facebook whom I use as my filters for news and commentary and I read just about everything they recommend. I can safely assume that they will link to something thought-provoking, well-written, and reasonably argued. These friends either read in disciplines outside my comfort zone or are connected to networks I am not and I appreciate them pointing me to writing worth considering. I find even those pieces with which I disagree worthwhile as they force me to think about my positions more thoroughly. I missed reading those recommended articles and engaging in those discussions and I look forward to their return in my life.
- Related to the previous point, I did not miss the noise of so many Facebook posts. Numerous political, religious, and philosophical posts do little but disseminate bad information, vitriol, or sardonicism. The past six weeks were more peaceful since my blood didn’t boil reading nearly libelous and clearly spiteful memes that thought of themselves far more clever than they actually were. I also saw the ugly side of myself that relishes in either arguing against those memes—if I disagree with them—or laughing at the targets being mocked in the memes that are closer to my positions. I saw that I got a fix from arguments and much of my time and mental energy outside of Facebook was spent forming my next retort. Worse, I saw how I drew self-worth from the amount of likes I received for my comments and status updates—comments that I thought were far more clever than they actually were.
- Facebook sucks creativity from me. The novelist Jonathan Franzen once wrote, “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” I begrudgingly admit the truth of Franzen’s point and would extend its scope beyond just fiction to all types of writing. If the internet as a whole decreases the quality of writing, Facebook is for me a unique adversary. In the season of fasting I was able to finish editing and publish my first eBook as well as start my second, efforts that would have taken much longer had I run to Facebook every time I hit a block in order to distract myself with pictures of food, silly memes, and engaging in debates that added more heat than light to the topic. If I want to be creative, I have to cap my time on Facebook. Raising a kid already limits the time I have to write. Facebook became for me a shortcut to writing some thoughts, but so much was lost in the truncation. What used to be a blog post I now reduced to a couple of sentences on a status update. And let’s face it, blog posts have never been the best means of exploring a topic with any real appreciation of nuance and subtlety. Compared to the brevity of a status update or a tweet, however, a blog post is a virtual chapter of a dissertation. (Granted, we must ask the larger question if people even read blogs anymore, but let’s table that discussion for another time.)
- Not only do I allow Facebook to drain my creativity, I also allow it to negatively affect my prayer life. The time not spent on Facebook offered me more opportunities to pray for friends, family, and neighbors, some of whom endured serious trials during the weeks of Lent.
- In terms of working toward solidarity with those who suffer, the Facebook fast did not immediately and obviously foster that goal. Fasting from food or types of food in the past reminded me of those in the world who are hungry. It’s not like people suffer for lack of access to Facebook. I wish I chose a fast that would have more easily reminded me of my hurting neighbors. I also wish I worked harder at praying for the poor and suffering while I fasted. So while fasting from Facebook may become an annual discipline, I think I will incorporate other fasts and practices as well during Lent so that I may better care for my neighbors.