40 Days in the Digital Wilderness: A (very late) Lenten Journal

screenlesssabbath

My name is Robert and I spend way too much time on social media. This realization led me to take on a social media fast for Lent. Lent is long gone now, and in fact we’re almost through Easter. I do think the premise of a social media fast is important and should not just be limited to Lent. The truth is that this is the first real chance that I have had to finish of my thoughts on the fast, and this is thanks to some study leave from work.

I hope you will find my journey helpful and I am sure you will see yourself in me as I stumble through this fast.

Day 1 – Shrove Tuesday February 28: After a couple of months of readying myself for this fast. I logged off of Facebook and Twitter and deleted the apps from my phone. I feel a sense of relief right away. There is a sense of calm and clarity that I haven’t felt for a while. My only hesitation is just how long this calm will last. When will the withdrawals kick in? When will the phantom notification vibrations hit me? I’m a little worried about keeping up on the news, as like the majority of North Americans today I get my news mainly from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Maybe a cleanse from the news is not a bad thing too. Right?

Day 2 – Ash Wednesday: Today is a busy day with three services. There’s not much time to miss social media. Even in the few moments of peace between services I don’t feel the urge to log back in. The sense of peace and calm are still with me. It’s starting to sink in just how much I needed this.

Day 3 – Thursday March 2: Another busy day with a big funeral of a very dear member of our parish family and then a class at Queen’s College. It’s an emotional day and I’m feeling very tired. Still no desire for Facebook.

Day 4 – Friday March 3: My day off. My morning consists bottling my latest home brew beer. In the afternoon I go for a walk. If you go for a walk in the woods and don’t post on social media about it, did it really happen?

There is one thing that I notice four days in. I notice how much longer my cell phone’s battery lasts when I’m not on social media. Typically I have to charge my phone every night when I go to bed because I have less than 10% of battery remaining. Since my social media fast I can go at least 2 days without recharging. My God how much time to I spend looking at my phone? How much time do I waste?

I am noticing I have more time to read, get things done around office/house, more time to actually sit and do nothing *gasp*!!

Day 5 – Saturday March 4: When you are not using social media you gain a heightened awareness of how much time the people around you do use social media. I notice how often my wife and daughters look at their phone while we’re doing things like eat or watch tv together. I notice how much the people I see out in public mindlessly look down at their phones. It’s a little disconcerting and then I have to remind myself that that is me too!!

Day 6 – Lent 1 Sunday March 5: My sermon for the first Sunday of Lent is on distractions. It’s based on the Genesis reading of “the Fall”, the first sin. I propose that a modern understanding of sin are those distractions that break our relationship with God, others and creation. Lent is a time to focus on ridding our lives, through fasting and repentance, of such distractions. I share my own journey of fasting from Facebook and my increasing shame at how much time I waste on Facebook. The response is overwhelmingly positive. I see I am not alone.

Day 7 – Monday March 6: I do still notice myself checking my phone. The habit of constantly looking at my phone will take more time to overcome. The likes, comments and shares and the dopamine that they release are not ready to let me go so easily. Overall I am still enjoying my fast but I still have this deep, foreboding that I am missing something, a sense that I am out of the loop. But as far as I can tell the world is still spinning on its axis and we’re still orbiting the sun. Life goes on even without Facebook.

Day 8 – Tuesday March 7: Today I started keeping this journal to keep track of my progress/regress. Maybe I’ll post it on Facebook after Lent is over. Is it wrong for me to be thinking about post-fast Facebook use while in the early stages of a Facebook fast?

In fact I am thinking a lot about life after the fast. I have already found this first week so refreshing that I know it will change the way I use social media. Let me rephrase that: I know I have to change the way I use social (bold, italics, underline)! I don’t think the apps will ever go back on my phone. No more mobile social media. Too much temptation and distraction.

Day 8 Wednesday March 8: I’ve started asking people close to me if they can see a difference in me since I started my fast. My wife answered yes definitely, “You are more attentive and present.” My 16 year old daughter shrugged and said “Not really but can you imagine how many notifications you’ll have when you log back in!!”

One area that I’m finding difficult and a little inconvenient is work related social media. We use social media a fair bit at St. Mark’s and I do the majority of the posting. It being Lent with extra events going on, I’m having ask others in the office to post on our Facebook page. In the grand scheme of things it’s a tiny inconvenience. It does point to one of the positives of social media, which is the ability to connect and communicate easily with a large, dispersed group. That connection is no doubt limited, but it’s not bad in the social media world.

Day 9 Thursday March 9: Another thing that keeps coming to my attention is the number of people who are also fasting from social media for Lent. These people are from both inside and outside the parish. I guess there are a lot of people in need of a break. Again, I am not alone.

Day 10 Friday March 10: It’s my day off and I took a long walk in the woods with our beagle. I’m feeling really relaxed and I don’t miss social media at all. It is almost impossible to escape social media altogether. It is just so pervasive. Family, friends and coworkers keep showing me things that they see on Facebook. Even the news covers stories that come from social media. It’s everywhere!!

Day 11 Saturday March 11: A huge windstorm with hurricane force winds knocks out power for most of the city. We spend the night as a family playing Monopoly in the dark. It’s a tradition of ours going back to when the girls were little. Too bad that it takes a blackout to bring us together that way.

I have to say I missed social media during the storm. Social media, especially on smart phones, is a great way to keep up on information in such situations. Even with a power outage you can still see what’s happening, often even before traditional media are reporting on it. But then again there is something to be said about radio in such emergency situations. Their steady presence gives easily accessible information to the public providing calming effect in a stressful time.

Day 12 Lent 2 Sunday March 12: Much of the city is still shut down due to the after effects of the windstorm. We have electricity at St. Mark’s so we decide to go ahead with worship. We also decide to get the word out via social media that our parish hall is available for anyone who needs a warm place or an outlet to charge phones. The word spreads and people take us up on our offer. One person sits in worship as his phone charges in the parish hall. A group of three university students sit on the floor of our parish hall playing a board game. They tell me they heard about us on Twitter. I also get a call from the CBC national news office because they too saw on social media that we had offered up our church hall. Again, social media is not all bad.

Day 13 Monday March 13: I have definitely noticed a difference to my morning routine. Before my fast the first I would do when I wake was grab my phone and start scrolling. Oftentimes 30-45 mins could pass like that. Then I would get up and start the rest of my morning, which at this point is now rushed. Since the fast began I find I have time to make coffee, cook breakfast for the family, watch the news or do a little reading, and maybe do a chore or two (dishwasher, laundry, tidy up) . Mornings are much less stressful all because I’m not wasting time on social media.

Day 14 Tuesday March 14: Well to add insult to injury the internet is down at the parish office and won’t be back until Friday. No social media and additionally no email to distract makes for more time. I’ve organized my office, cleaned up some old files on my computer, plus some other piddling around the office. Most importantly I made some phone calls to people I haven’t talked to in a while. It was a chance to check in on people who are going through a difficult time. The inconvenience of no internet turned into an opportunity for deeper conversation.

Day 15 Wednesday March 15: Today I started reading my fourth book of the Lenten season. No social media has meant a lot more time for reading. Here are the books I have read:

Robert Reiss, Sceptical Christianity: Exploring Credible Belief

Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath

James K.A. Smith, How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor

I just started to reread John Caputo’s The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event. This is a denser book and it should take me the remainder of Lent to get through. Oh and in case you weren’t already on to me my reading list is a dead give-away. Yes I am a nerd!

Day 16 Thursday March 16: Social Media hardly entered my mind today.

Day 17 Friday March 17: Another day off. After picking up my daughter from school we sit in the living room. We sit in silence as she scrolls through her phone. I have an overwhelming urge to check my Facebook newsfeed. I wonder what’s going on? What am I missing? I get up and go unload the dishwasher instead.

Day 18 Saturday March 18: At a funeral someone tells me they read everything I post on Facebook. She thanks me for what I share and tells me how much she enjoys it. Yet more proof that social media can be used to positively connect with people and share information and ideas.

Day 19 Lent 3 Sunday March 19: It’s a beautiful day with a deep blue sky overhead. The promise of spring is in the air. Lots of people are outside going for walks. People like crocuses poking their heads through the snow, just waking after a long slumber. Kind of like how I feel from this fast!

Day 20 Monday March 20: I’m at the half way point. This has been such a positive experience, a learning experience. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my connection to other people. I don’t feel tired like I usually feel in Lent. I feel clear and focused.

Day 21 – 22 Tuesday & Wednesday March 21-22: I’ve spent a couple of days reflecting on the pervasiveness of social media. Isn’t all the media we consume now social media? All the major news sites have feedback and comments sections to create social interaction. Youtube and the smartphone have revolutionized the way the get information by cutting out the middle man of traditional news agencies. In the process the lines between private and public have been blurred to oblivion. Many of the stories that appear on the evening news and 24 hours news cycles originate from social media. So I’m struggling with a question: Is it even possible to fast from social media?

Day 23 Thursday March 23: Today as I sat in my office in a moment of downtime, a time when I would normally waste away scrolling through Facebook or Twitter, I instead sat in my chaired and stared out the window. It’s a rainy day and I watched the rain as it falls. It quickly melts away the snow that had fallen last night. I watched the constantly changing pattern of the rain as it trickles down my window. It is so peaceful and beautiful. I am thankful for this moment of serenity in the midst of a busy day.

Day 24 Friday March 24: The house is quiet as I cook up my latest batch of homebrew beer. I have a visit from my neighbour across the street. We share coffee and chat about what’s going on in our lives. Later in the day I visit my parents for an hour. In the evening I do nothing with my wife. It’s been a wonderful day of human contact.

Day 25 Saturday March 25: It’s a busy stressful day. I’m dealing with an emergency situation with a family. My social media fast seems pretty trivial today.

Day 26 Lent 4 Sunday March 26: The gospel reading for Sunday is about the healing of the man born blind. I talk in my sermon about a deeper way of seeing. I share how my fast from social media has helped me see a lot about myself and others. I’ve seen how social media, technology and busyness can get in the way and blind us to what (and who) God wants us to see. As I speak I see a lot of knowing smiles and head nodding.

Day 27 Monday March 27: It’s my birthday and the first time since joining Facebook that I don’t see the birthday greetings from my “friends”. I don’t cheat and look but Lorie does read out all the greetings to me. Plus I get a number of texts and emails from people who know I’m fasting from social media. I receive about 120 social media and electronic greetings on my birthday. It’s nice to feel the love on my special day.

Day 28 Tuesday March 28: This evening I gathered with men from around the world as part of the Association for New Canadians Men’s Group cooking class. Med Students from MUN also take part. I meet people from Congo, Liberia, Syria, Iraq and Bhutan. Normally I would be taking pictures and posting them on Facebook. This evening, though, I pay more attention to the men. I talk to some of the new guys and hear some of their stories. I catch up with some of the guys I’ve met before and hear how their families are doing. We share a meal of falafel wraps. It’s a wonderful evening of human contact.

Day 29-30 March 29-30: More snow hits the area and I find it hard to keep up on the weather without social media.

Day 31, Friday March 31: Bad news about a dearly loved family member casts a shadow over everything today. Once again my thoughts on social media seem very inconsequential in light of such bad news.

Day 32, Saturday April 1: I’m finding it’s becoming more and more of a struggle to write something each day that relates to social media. Maybe I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would.

Day 33, Lent 5 Sunday April 2: I am amazed at the number of times people have said to me, “Did you see the picture of ……” or “Did you hear the story about so and so ….” I often feel like I am missing a lot by not being on social medi. But then again I guess that’s the drive behind social media, the drive to connect and be connected. It plants the idea that you’re missing out on all the action and information. You’re an outsider, when what you really want to be is an insider. Actually the entire advertising industry works on this premise, to make you feel like you’re missing out, you’re out of the loop. Everyone else is having so much fun, everyone else is healthier, everyone else is better looking than you. The truth is that if you’re missing out on anything, it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things.

Day 37, April 6: This is my last entry as I prepare for Holy Week. I have learned a lot about myself during this fast. I have learned the importance of self-control and the need to unplug, to log off. I was reminded over and over again just how much time I spend on social media, mindlessly scrolling through my phone. I have learned that social media is not all bad, but that I am the one who needs to be in control. In our world and in my line of work social media is unavoidable. Moderation is important. If social media gets in the way of actual human connection then there is a problem.

Post Fast Update: It takes me at least 3 days after Easter to actually log back into Facebook and longer for Twitter. I decide I will not go back to Instagram. For the first week or so I hardly look at social media. It’s a few weeks before I put the Facebook app back on my phone. Then I delete it and add it back 3 more times. It’s so easy to fall back into old habits and I constantly have to remind myself to limit my screen time. This is a work in progress. I am a work in progress.

 

 

 

 

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