Why I’m not giving up social media for Lent

So today is Ash Wednesday in the liturgical calendar, the time of year when many Christians decide to give something up for Lent. (And when we wish we could eat more of the pancakes we had yesterday on Shrove Tuesday).

I’ve already read more blog posts, Tweets and Facebook statuses than I can count all saying ‘I’m giving up social networking for Lent’. Some are quitting Facebook, others are coming off Twitter. Some are stopping blogging for 40 days.

The ethos surrounding these sort of statements are ‘I’m fed up with being so distracted’ or, ‘this is all a waste of precious time I could be giving to other things’. Some are also saying ‘social media is SO much less genuine than face to face relationships’ and hoping that giving up social media for 40 days will ‘re-establish their deep friendships’ again.

I can see why on the surface this resonates with people. Yes, staring at our smartphones and laptops all day ‘can’ feel like we are distracted and less genuinely engaged in relationships. It can feel like a monster that is taking over our spare moments, our attention and our society.

But I don’t think ‘giving it up’ for 40 days is the way to fix it.

We are speeding toward an ever more digitised society. Our dependence as a populous on all things ‘computer’ is growing and growing. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that human and machine are growing closer and closer. Someday I don’t think it will be possible for us to ‘give up the internet’ for 40 days. From the material I’m studying here in my PhD, I believe that we will reach a point of such dependence on computers and the ‘net that we can’t even imagine it now. Not in a scary Sci-fi way. Just in the same way that people from 1912 would be stunned to see what technologies we have here in 2012.

In the light of that, I feel we need to be equipping ourselves to learn to use these technologies well.

So I believe what’s really needed at the moment is for us to learn the adult skill of self control when it comes to social media.  And I point the finger at myself first in the need to learn this!

Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, by going cold turkey for 40 days, why don’t we actually invest in learning how to control our use of the internet rather than letting it control us? To say ‘I’m coming off it or 40 days’ isn’t to learn to control it. It’s simply saying it’s too hard to control so we need an ‘all or nothing’ approach.

Recently I had a great conversation with a friend of mine who is a Nun and is prolific on social media. When I asked her how she prevents it from distracting her life of contemplation, she said she has learned to only access it at specific times, and she’s learned to refuse the pressure of giving instant answers to people, and she makes sure she is never online between 5pm and bedtime (which, from my research, means she is less likely than all of us to have trouble sleeping, as screen use before bed prevents the brain from falling asleep).

So for Lent, I’d encourage anyone who wants to ‘give up social media’ to actually try staying on it and using it with discipline. To create sustainable boundaries that will work when Lent is over. After all, there’s little point doing something that creates no healthy change. It’s like crash dieting – you lose weigh by drinking milkshakes for 40 days, then when you resume normality you put all the weight back on!

Our world is only going to get more digital, not less. So we desperately need to learn the art of self-control and balance when it comes to social media – not just 40 days of throwing it out the window and then returning to it as we did before, having not tested and tried any new ways to keep it under control.

So for Lent I’m wanting to try and create a balanced approach to social media – something that will equip me for after the Lent period.

I feel that the internet is a crucial place to be – a genuine space for community, relationship and mission. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s learn discipline and boundaries and become people who can occupy the online space well and healthily. That way we can retain our important, valuable and genuine online communities, impact Cyberspace for good AND create a sustainable approach to using the ‘net and social media for the years to come. Anyone with me?

  • I’m inclined to agree with you. 

    Unless total abstinence is going to act as a trigger for a more disciplined approach after Easter, then giving up social media for lent is not ideal.
    I like to use my lent challenges as a springboard to longer term changes so they are sometimes extreme, like the year we gave up supermarkets, but those have been the most life changing for us in changing our long term habits.

    Maybe it’s a case of horses for courses?

  • Can’t disagree with this sentiment, although I suspect we are already well past the point of dependence on the internet.

    I’m more curious about the effect of mobile devices in all this – I don’t think social media per se is the “invasive” issue. Imagine if we could only engage with Twitter, Facebook etc. at a traditional desktop computer: I think a lot of us would find that at least as difficult – if not more so – than being time restricted as you’ve mentioned above.

  • Liz Clutterbuck

    Was actually going to write a post on this topic myself! I do think people are too quick to blame social networking for distracting them, or making relationships shallow, but it’s all about how you use them. The fact that the Christian world seems to have found so many ways of using it for good would surely point against this! 

  • jonrogersuk

    Giving up social media for lent would be hugely counter-productive for me – the conversations I am involved with, whether in facebook groups, twitter messages or even commenting on blogs, challenge me to think much more profoundly that many of the sermons on a Sunday morning, and on seven days a week, not just one (or two with housegroup). I wouldn’t give up church for Lent, that would be crazy, so why give up all the good of SocMed?! 
    Of course, you’re right that balance and sensible usage are important. Perhaps some thoughtful suggestions from a range of people on how to set and stick to those boundaries of using SocMed would be helpful.

  • Great post Vicky. I fully agree that it’s better to learn how to balance the technology in our lives. I can also understand why some folks may want to fast for a period of time. Cutting down the busyness in our lives can only be a good thing.

  • Your site is still infected! I visited in IE and got ‘Windows security Alert’ as the site tried to download a zip file containing rootkit:W32/ZAccess Worm:W32/Morto.A and a few others. Get your site fully decontaminated!

  • But can’t a period of total abstinence be one aspect of reordering our relationship to social media? We don’t fast from food because we don’t need food; we don’t go on silent retreats because speech is bad; we give up food or speech for a while because that can be one way of reordering the role that they play in our life and our desires; fasting from food or speech can help us to eat better, to speak better; to change our relationship to those things in precisely the way you’re talking about changing our relationship to social media.

  • TheAlethiophile

    The question I’d ask is this: after 40 days of giving something up, are you going to go back to it? While I think the basis of lent is more traditionalist than theological (the argument from Jane Williams in the Guardian is questionable, to say the least) lent can have value, in a very similar way to new year’s resolutions.

    If you plan to go back to something, then is your period little more than a gesture. On top of that, should we be “boasting” on social media about what we’re giving up? What happened to “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing?”

    If we take lent as a time to get close to God, and we each choose something to give up (and/or something to take up) then let it be a private matter between you and God. It doesn’t benefit or bless my neighbour if I tell them I’ve given up chocolate, so why tell them?

    I’m not a psychologist, but my understanding is that 40 days is the approximate time it takes to make or break a habit. So lent is just the start. If you want to give something up, let it be permanent. After all, at the end of lent is Easter, and much is made of lent being the preparation for Easter. But then Easter isn’t a once a year celebration; it’s a once-and-for all event whose impact echoes down the years until the end of time. So why not reflect that with what we do at lent?

    Sorry, that was quite long.  

  • Guest

    I agree with you entirely. The only problem with your post is that the people who I feel would benefit from reading it are “Off Facebook For Lent” so wont be able to access the message. Another one of life’s ironies :D

  • Sian

    I gave up Facebook last year for lent. Prior to that I spent hours and hours on it. The complete break was good for me, it taught me about discipline and allowed me to refocus on what I wanted to give my time to, I would not have engaged with the thinking about this if I had not given myself the break. It was a blessed time.

    Returning to Facebook was a shock. I immediately found myself wanting to go back to old habits. I concluded that Facebook was not something I could re-engage with, it felt a bit like getting a drug fix.

    I chose to delete my Facebook account. I have Twitter but find that I am much more able to be disciplined with it, I might not look at it everyday and for me that’s a positive thing – I have found balance in my social networking, which I would not have done had I not had a period of complete withdrawal.

    So for me it was positive to stop completely.

  • Graeme

    I think this is very wise and could probably be applied to lots of things that people give up for lent.. Swearing for instance.. I, of course, never swear.. Well rarely..

    I threw the idea out to my wife about giving up facebook for lent, but she was like “That would be majorly counter-productive, you just started promoting your music on there, if you leave now, it’ll undo all the work you did in getting your first fifty ‘likes’ ” :p I’ll resist the temptation to link my facebook page and plug myself here haha!

    Perhaps the feeling of “I need to use facebook/twitter/whatever less therefore I will give it up for lent” betrays the fact that we are misusing them.. So perhaps giving them up would be the best course of action for such a person.. After all, some people use social networking for work/business/other things and others don’t and if they don’t, perhaps they don’t need to spend time learning their proper use.. That’s the corollary perspective from this one I think. It’s not a disagreement, though, it’s just a parallel position.

  • Roy Hutchinson

    Vicky
    what a wonderful post that helps keep perspective.  It was a joy to read as it resonated with my own soul.  Thank you
    Roy

  • Mark

    This post is an argument against any sort of abstinence for lent or other sorts of fasting. Usually we give up things that are good and worthwhile   (food, movies, novel reading, driving cars  etc) in order to gain perspective)

    The spiritual life is enhanced by a positive relationship with the material world but without addiction or dependence. Fasts help to foster this healthy relationship – and promote self knowledge.

    “Yes it is possible for me to live without facebook – I didn’t miss it all”   – “I hated it – i really need that online stuff”

    Personally a a technophile I find periods away from the connected world – in the garden, out in the mountains flying my paraglider,  walking and camping in remote places — give me perspective.

    Lets celebrate community and connected – but lets also know how to be alone – 40 days in the wilderness is a  great starter to a truly connected life – well at least Jesus thought so!    

  • Hi Vicky,

    A friend just emailed me the link to your blog. It’s a great post and worth reading. I personally have given up Facebook and Twitter. And yes my reasoning is partly to do with distraction.

    However, it is more to do with the biblical principal of Fasting. The idea that by giving up something that we miss, something that would normally be part of our day, we are prompted to pray more.

    The idea of fasting from something isn’t always JUST motivated by the ‘i’m distrcated so i’ll give it up’ but of the genuine desire to connect with God more, and by having something that reminds you through fasting, can only be a good thing. Thats why the bible is full of people fasting, for a purpose, for a closer relationship with God.

    I don’t always give things up for Lent, only when i feel challenged and convicted by the Holy Spirit – But – like you, worry that for some it is a desperate clutch at trying to reorder their life style, finding the motivation through tradition rather than in their own self.

    I am personally going to miss it, as i use it (particularly Twitter) all the time to find out what’s going on in the world of Christian Leadership, articles etc.

    But, i do feel as though God has challenged me personally to do this, an in my hunger to know Him better, i could only obey.

    Have a lovely Lent and Easter with all the preparations and meetings you have no doubt got to do before Spring Harvest!

    Vicky

  • Graeme

    This would be a more considered approach and implies a period of reflection/reshuffling that many people would not embark upon after having pressed the “disconnect” button. I’d be inclined to think that folk would be more likely to ignore it for 40 days

  • Well as I am about to start a Bible study in Second Life tonight, and trying to make a script work to cause rocks to change to bread Matt 4 and Luke 4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 I guess I am with you Vicky.

    Once soc media has stopped being seen as a wicked indulgence then we can move on

  • I agree with your point that cutting yourself off from social media isn’t going to help you control your social media life! 

    That said, I would applaud someone spending 40 days away from Facebook if they use that time to spend with God, which I believe was the general idea of Lent. It all depends on what your reasons are.

    I really need to learn the discipline of not replying to people instantly – I think with email and so on that’s a great temptation. One problem I’ve had with my smartphone is that I can see when someone has sent me an email almost instantly, which has led to a situation where I feel like I’m expected to reply wherever I am (or at least, I’m worrying about what I’m going to say wherever).

    What might be wiser is instead to think about only checking your email, Facebook etc at certain times during the day, i.e. control it rather than letting it control you. Maybe that should be my lent thing – not running my email client all the time, not checking emails on my phone – but instead just having set times when I login to check.

  • girltaristhan

    I’ve given up chocolate for Lent – I was going to stick a notice on the notice board in the kitchen at work because everyone forgot last year and we had the gooey-est yummiest chocolate cake for someones birthday and I ended up playing mum. However then I thought is that boasting about what I’m doing?! 

  • TheAlethiophile

    I’m not condemning. That’s why I put it in inverted comments. I think it can be seen as boasting, even if the intent is not there. In the case you mention, it might be interesting to not tell anyone and see who notices. All the best with it!

  • Simon R

    Agree with Phil comment above, I’ve actually given up Facebook for lent, but not twitter as need it for work, but the idea is that i use the time I was spending on FB to pray and read the bible. So from that point of view giving something up to re-allign time with G-d is no bad thing at all. I agree with Vicky in so far as a more balanced approach generally is good too.

  • This is a topic that I bang on about every Lent (also “email free days at work”). I feel it’s a bit like saying “I’m going to give up using a pen for Lent” … and this is what we’re building on The Big Bible Project (@bigbible). We need to learn to use these tools WELL, and to use them in interesting/valid ways. Last year we gave away all the Lent material for free online (the forum was a bit of a wet blanket) – this year we’re looking for comments not only on our own blog, but keen to see people writing about material on their own blogs, using their own voices/perspectives, and generally learning to engage positively in the online spaces. We can all learn from each other, and I’m sure something that would be more valid to give up would be e.g. a TV show, and use the time from that for something more valuable! 

  • That was supposed to post as me (@drbexl)!!

  • Good word! Thanks VIcky:)

  • Pingback: The BIGBible Project | Giving up Social Media for Lent? Think Again…()

  • girltaristhan

    No I know you’re not condemning :) 

    My colleague actually just asked about 10 minutes across the office as our other colleague arrived back from the supermarket with doughnuts and millionaires shortbread – I swear our office is really unhealthy lol

  • Gill Taylor

    Great post Vicky. It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately having seen all the “I’m giving up social media for lent” posts. It can be hard to be disciplined with these things but that’s what’s important. I’ve turned off most notifications for Facebook and twitter on my phone so I have to actually log on to check what’s happening. This has helped get more of a balance. I’m not working at the moment so I probably do spend more time on social media than I would if I was at work, but thanks to twitter I found an amazing job which I wouldn’t have heard of any other way.

  • My understanding of fasting is that you give up something in order to concentrate your thoughts and attention on something else, usually prayer.  If you’re giving up social media to spend more time with God, family or friends, then go ahead and do it and make the most of it.

    When we fast we learn how much we are dependent or addicted to something.  If you find you’re craving Facebook then fasting is teaching you that you then need to manage the way you use it more carefully.  You’re more likely to find this out by having a complete break from something.  In the long term Vicky is right that we need to use technology wisely to get the most from it without it taking over our lives.  Make sure it s the servant and not the master

  • Vicky,

    this is a great post and timely for me in my prayer life with the Father. The other side of the issue with Social Media and Lent is that many people are forgetting the teaching of Jesus regarding a fast in Matthew 6:16-18 –

    “16 “When you
    fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their
    faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have
    received their reward in full.17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
    18 so
    that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to
    your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in
    secret, will reward you”

    I feel like this season becomes a fad and posting your fast for lent becomes fashionable. I pray that our brothers and sisters around the world will use discretion and caution during this time. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who is to be lifted up, not ourselves.

    Thank you, Vicky, for your insights here today and for the avenue of conversation.

    – BP

  • Carlo

    I haven’t given facebook or twitter up this year either although I have done several times in the past.  The only thing I’d say is that social media can sometimes be a real problem for some people – it can noticeably reduce meaningful, intentional, soul-to-soul engagement with others (if they only give you 50% of their attention while glued to their iPhone) or it can take up long extended periods of time.  My feeling is that social media will always be second best to face to face conversation.  So like your nun friend, I think we have to be wise and deliberate about how we use it.  And if it’s a problem for us (like TV, chocolate or sex), then having a rest and simplifying for 40 days, can’t necessarily be a bad thing….

  • Agelesscomedy

    I read recently somewhere that with all these new ways to connect, we need to find more ways to unplug. I’m with the Nun!

  • Beth

    I enjoyed hearing your opinions about both lent and internet use, and found them very refreshing. I tried to give up on Google searching for lent once. I decided it would be more green and sustainable to bookmark sites and keep a physical list of web addresses near my ‘desk’ to refer to during the hours I spent online (a lot of hours).

    I’m not an organizer by nature and found this method to be a complete nightmare. It spoiled my fun and confirmed to me what I like most about the net is connectivity. Not in terms of access to a mainframe and vast amounts of fossil fuel to power the electricity grid I am using to guide my random queries, but in the sense I like to be doing roughly similar things to everybody else. And if I’m not, I like to look as if I am.

    I caved in and used a search engine within a week of my self imposed ban. I was so cross with myself. I felt enslaved and my environmental credibility took a dip in my own opinion. What a disappointment!

    I find it interesting, according to your reports of friends and followers, the public feel they have been ‘spacialised’ by the internet, when it is a ‘space’ which doesn’t exist in the institutional sense of the word. The internet is not, for example, a hospital, or a doctors surgery, or a planning office or a secondary school. It’s not a leisure center or a swimming pool or a coffee shop bookstore or a conference suite. The way we interact with it is different.

    I agree the barriers between physical space and the ‘net are becoming less and less obvious. We can be connected in most locations if we have the right hardware and a network at our fingertips.
    I’m sure a Marxist would be able to offer you an analysis of oppression vested in the capital of others which we use and share on the basis of collective permissions or some such drivel. I’m not a Marxist so I’m not even going to try.

    What I will say is how my short and failed Lenten Google fast flagged up to me how unnecessary most of my internet use was. Unemployed at the time, I could argue I was attempting to invest in my human capital or perfect my knowledge of the ‘model’ I found myself in, in a discriminatory labour market, for example. While these claims have some truth, I don’t think Google was necessarily the best way of addressing the problems I was then faced with.

    One of the achievements the internet has had, throughout its reasonably short life, is to dissolve power among many actors.

    I’d love to host an imaginary dinner party and invite Foucalt to chat about this. In a way, the internet is a massive discourse about everything that ever existed. It’s the conversation that never stops. Internet use is like one of those illusive study skills, similar to good notetaking, which has to be refined and refined until it’s fit for purpose and I can make some kind of sense of it, or, more hopefully, find it has an application in the world.

  • Sean Keith

    I’m reading this on my iPhone. Dang.

  • Noel Maria

    I agree that some who are giving up a social media site,  might just have lack of self control. Not all people are blessed with good self-monitoring skills. But, giving up social media for some might just be a break in the routines in their lives. Some people might want to just change their check in times to check in with God instead. I also think that giving up any kind of social media is a way for some to retreat from the world at large. An adult “time-out” if you will. To refocus on what is really important. Lent is a beautiful act of preparing and remembering the greatest sacrifice of all, and however one chooses to participate this season it should be respected. 

  •  I disagree that this is an argument against any sort of abstinence.  The point is to pray and ask God what HE wants us to give up.  What she’s saying is that giving up the internet as a whole doesn’t help with building self control.

  • Here’s my thinking on it.  I agree that throwing out the baby with the bathwater isn’t a good thing. I gave up all technology one year for lent, and I really felt that it was tough, and that I was on withdrawal.  It didn’t teach me much.  But the year I took out one thing (I gave up my nintendo ds), I learned that I didn’t have to spend all hours playing it and I could go to bed at a decent time.  The point is to figure out what God wants you to give up.  It’s not something you choose.  It’s His.    

  •  Amen.  I totally agree with you Noel. 

  • Jav

    I disagree….I think it is perfectly OK to give up something that you will be going back to doing.  Lent is to help us identify with being in the desert (Jesus 40 days of fasting), not necessarily to create a new habit.  It is to remind me that I am dependent on God, and God alone.  Jesus fast in the desert did not prevent him from eating in the future.

    I gave up meat one year….I went back to eating it right after lent was over…but it was hard and reminded me to be thankful for what God provides and it for sure helped me to depend on him.  

  • But that’s not a problem with total abstinence itself, it’s a problem with not thinking about why we’re giving something up. 

  • But that account of Lent is totally at odds with the whole history of Lenten fasting. You always went back to eating the foods you gave up during Lent, just as Jesus went back to eating food after the 40 days in the desert that Lent is supposed to be based on. Jesus’ fasting wasn’t about picking up habits that would make him a better person, it was about withdrawing from the world to spend time with God.

  • Graeme

     Agreed

  • I always felt (weirdly) offended when people said they were giving up Facebook. 

    Mostly because it’s been such an important window into the lives of friends and family for this stay-at-home mom and writer. Granted, the argument could be made about the surface-level quality of such interactions, but for me, they’ve been a crucial springboard into deeper conversations. A vague post about a tough day will often spur me connect with a friend on a deeper level.I guess if I were going to make a commitment around social media it would be more along those lines–to try to find increasingly life-giving ways to use these tools. How can I use Facebook to deepen relationships? How can I use Twitter to encourage and empathize with others? How can I move beyond the surface?

  • Great post! I came across the social-media free Lent phenomenon last year, and like the broader “digital fast” meme, it worries me a lot for EXACTLY the reasons you cite. I wrote a piece for the Atlantic last week about how to “plug in better” instead of unplugging (see http://alexlov.es/pluggingin) because I think the *real* challenge is figuring out how to use social media in a satisfying way, rather than relying on the off switch to address our concerns about information overload, disconnection and the frequent shallowness of social media.

    But for those who INSIST on their Lenten digital fast, I also put together 5 guidelines on how to do it in a way that is useful for them — and doesn’t drive the rest of us nuts! See http://alexlov.es/lent

    Again, thanks for a great post!

  • Andrew

    I tend to agree with the very practical side of the issue you put forward, but I find the practice questionable on a more theological/philosophical level. Specifically, the reason many are giving up the practice is an attempt to lower ones ego, and lessen involvement in a medium that has an aspect of self-aggrandizement; however, at certain point, doesn’t the very means and nature of the act ultimately reinforce the self-importance and self-absorption?

  • Chuckjts

    Lent is basically a Catholic tradition that a lot of Christians who are not Catholic do not follow.  I am one of them.  The closest thing we have to Lent is probably fasting.

    In church they had people practice giving those inside the fellowship the gospel with hopes they would take the gospel out into the streets and it was just an exercise.  The problem is that I can go year to year without anyone telling me the gospel.  The problem with Lent is it is this tradition that isn’t Biblical and I don’t see anyone getting saved by it and I see it as just an exercise.

    I wouldn’t follow Lent because I don’t want anyone confusing me for a Catholic.

    I had several people in my neighborhood die who aren’t Christians.  I think it is time that people stop being concerned about their own exercise and give people who are perishing the gospel.

  • Courtney D

    I heartedly agree, Vicky! Well said. It’s a similar desire that I have to see people not only fast and deprive themselves of lesser pleasures for a period of time (in order to create a greater capacity to receive the superior pleasures found in Jesus alone), but also BREAK the fast well with discipline and self-control (for their body’s sake) and go on living the fasted lifestyle DAILY with self control even when eating. It’s a lot easier to deprive yourself of something for a limited time than to CHANGE your habits for the long haul. I think we need grace for both – periods of complete cessation IN AS MUCH as we join that with resolve to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit of self-control! :) (Bless you big from KC! Don’t be a stranger!)

  • On a purely selfish level (ah perhaps I should have given up selfishness for Lent!), as someone who suffers from chronic illness, social media are where I get most of my interaction.  When friends gave up Facebook for Lent last year, I felt bereft – it was like losing contact for 6 weeks.  I couldn’t just go out and meet “real” people to replace them. Spiritual discipline for them, loneliness for me – told you it was selfish! But a reminder that our decisions can effect others.

  • James Prescott

    Totally with you here Vicky. Social media interactions are real, as are relationships made there, and in the world we live in giving up for 40 days is very difficult as its such an integral part of our lives.

    To give it up for 40 days defeats the object really and has a perception that the Internet world is simply not real and something to be avoided at times. The better option, as you rightly point out, is to learn discipline and regulate the time we have online, rather than give it up cold turkey.

  • Nick

    Good grief, where on earth did you get that extraordinary picture of the baby and the bathwater?!
    You said, “we desperately need to learn the art of self-control and balance when it comes to social media…” I suppose that, for some, taking 40 days off is the way to begin to find that self-control.
    Personally, I’ve decided to avoid using the internet on my computer before lunch (during Lent). That happens to coincide with my little boy’s nap, so is the most productive time of day for me to achieve things that I can’t do with a little boy to look after. I’m perfectly capable of reading emails and stuff whilst giving him his bottle, so it makes most sense to structure my day thus.
    Having grown up overseas, social media provide a way for me to catch up with friends from other parts of the globe in the ONLY way possible (plane tickets are so darn expensive…). I wouldn’t be happy potentially putting those friendships on hold for the sake of a social media ‘fast’ (not that I ‘chat’ regularly, just that I like having the potential access – it would be like ignoring the neighbours for 40 days…). Having said that, I do think that fasting is a valid and highly underused ‘resource’ that we as Christians should be considering much more than we currently do. Food is obviously the classic thing to fast from, but given how much more time we spend online than on food, perhaps isn’t the only port of call.
    Presumably (and I’m thinking off the top of my head now, which is always risky…) food in Jesus’ day was a bit more of a social deal, because hospitality was such an integral part of society. Therefore, maybe there’s an extent to which choosing to fast meant that you WERE excluding yourself, for a period of time, from a social network… I’d never thought of that before!

    On another note altogether, it would be interesting to hear some time what the PhD is on (if it’s not classified…)

  • Emma Brown

    Great article, although I don’t agree with some of your argument against giving up social media, it made me think. I gave up Facebook last year and it really helped me to think to get better perspective and balance to make changes when I came back online. Personally, as many have already mentioned, I believe it’s between you and God what you feel you should give up and what needs to be sacrificed.

    With the announcing to people that you are giving up and is it boasting? I don’t think it is. I told people i was giving it up for two reasons, one is to let people know they can’t contact me – Facebook for many has become the new email and phone and secondly to be held accountable for it, not by others, but by being out there to me.

    It’s a good question as to whether Facebook is a sharing of real and genuine relationships, or rather is so influenced by our post modern expert systems that we create an online identity which is acceptable? Is that real? Another question to ponder over lent, I love the idea of limiting the time you spend when returning to set periods, but a deeper question about what we share and why? What online identity are we seeking to develop?

    Thanks for sharing and opening the discussion

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  • Vicky, some interesting thoughts, as always, thank you!

    And good to see some great discussion going on, which is always healthy.

    One of our authors has just written a short article on ‘Fasting’, it would be great if your readers could take a look.

    http://www.bible-reflections.net/articles/whats-the-point-of-fasting/2283/

    Hope you’re keeping well and enjoy the coldness of Durham!

    Joel

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  • Beth

    Of course, I meant Foucault. How bombastically imprecise.

  • I think what you’ve written is really helpful –
    to be fair, having grown up Baptist.. I’ve never really done Lent.. so I’m not 100% on what the purpose of giving up stuff is, but I appreciate the points you make about discipline.

  • Caroline

    I am taking time away from fbook, not exactly your Lenten fast but time away to fully contemplate it’s usefulness and purpose in my life.

    It was instigated by the imminent arrival of timeline and my not being able to deal with it while in hospital for an operation. Editing my involvement with fbook allowed me to see a true picture of my involvement with the media and question just how I interacted there.

    There are no doubt benefits but there are downsides to consider in personal time lost and the weight of angst freely loaded onto the site by “friends”.

    Three weeks into my fast it is interesting to see that the few whom I expected to show interest and concern for me have used the email option to communicate and all my other “friends” are happily continuing their lives without me. I now have a small group of real friends who have started ongoing email conversations of greater depth and content who’s value far outstrips the value of fbook engagement.

    There is a Duncan number, it is 150 which is the number which research has shown to be a maximum number of “friends” with whom we can comfortably continue a social relationship. It is a number close to a real life social grouping rather than the five thousand allowed by fbook.

    Whilst social media is clearly here to stay I feel a Lenten fast would do many a good turn to fully understand it’s value and their relationship to it.

    My dilemma is that I now dislike the direction fbook has taken, know that most friends there do not seek the same commitment of friendship and I like the silence and freedom my time away has given me. I enjoyed the byways I have taken after leads posted there but I am enjoying my inner peace so much more…

  • Dustin Ginn

    Well said Vicky.

    For 1. I’m a worship leader, but also a social media strategist for a marketing company so I literally cannot give up social media for Lent.
    2. Thanks to social media, I grow in craft, skill, knowledge and wisdom everyday thanks to the power of sharing.

    So here’s my synopsis: not only should one learn the discipline of time in social media, but also the discipline of quality time on social media. If all we are doing is digging through profiles to stalk people then we aren’t managing the quality of our time spent on social media. Social media provides me with content upon content of amazing material that help me grow. I NEVER feel guilty about that, however, as soon as I start profile stalking I can feel my guilty conscious pinging which is an indicator that I naturally know the difference between good and bad quality time spent in social media.

    So we need to learn how manage how much time is spent also the kind of time spent. Lastly, if you can believe it, after a day of working in social media I actually find it therapeutic to do some free time in social media to calm my mind.

    It’s all about quality!


    Dustin Ginn
    Worship Leader/Social Media Strategist
    Twitter.com/DustinGinn

  • Our Lent begins tomorrow. We call it Clean Monday. We have forty days of Lent and then Holy Week. So, our fast lasts a little longer than the one in the Western Churches.

    I do not see any reason to totally give up the internet during the fasting period. There are lots of good spiritual material on the internet that one can read during the fast.

    I recently discovered a website, orthodoxinfo.com, that has a lot of good material to read. I have found a lot of the articles posted on it very enlightening.

    I think that maybe one should abstain from things such as internet games and non-spiritual websites during the fast.

    I still intend to continue to blog during Lent on my wordpress site as well as on my orthodoxsteve.blogspot.com and my xanga site during the fast. I’m so busy now that I do not have much time to blog, but I try to post a blog a month if possible.

    Steve

  • I think you’re spot-on.

  • Will Awad

    Even though I have given up FB for lent, I totally agree with you. (have given it up with the rest of my youth group from Church, not because we are addicted, but because it seemed like a good idea ;) )

  • We feast because legitimate pleasures are good. We fast because, although they are good, we will not be mastered by them. The purpose of the fast is to gain victory over our sins, draw closer to God, and become more like Christ. If we keep the fast and have failed to grow spiritually, then we have kept the fast in vain.

    Steve

  • TheAlethiophile

    Indeed, but fasting is not the only expression of lent. That may have been how it started, but 40 day fasts are not all that common these days.

    If you stick to an absolute traditionalist route, then you would be correct. My original comment was about the lenten practices I see about me and read about in late 20th/early 21st century western society.

  • GayleO

    Discipline is any area is good, and social media is one place we can exercise that. I gave up social media this year well before Lent began, in some ways as a result of frustration at its use and misuse. I missed it a little in the first week or so, but less so as time went by. And I have found that I’ve been more constructive in my use of time and that though I occasionally miss the banter and exchanges on these sites, I am not missing out on too much by being absent. The conclusion from my ‘experiment’ is that I can totally give up Twitter in the blink of an eye, but the extended networks on FB are much more fun! I’ll probably resume my interaction with others on social media after Easter and with the reintroduction of this hobby into my life I’ll try to put in force some boundaries to monitor my use. It is true that giving something up for 40 days and then reintroducing it again isn’t a way to control your behaviours. But taking something up, learning a new skill or developing a new habit takes about 40 days, and if you began at the start of Lent you’ll probably have changed your life in a small way (in a good or bad way..) by the end of it! Thanks for the post! xx

  • Caroline

    I was careful with whom I became friends on facebook and did enjoy some of the interaction but what my withdrawal since the end of January has taught me is that I like life without the outpourings of angst. I remain logged out…

  • A friend of mine did a great post about NOT giving things up for Lent. I think he (and I) would totally agree with you on this one:
    http://www.outpatientmonk.com/?p=758
    At the same time, he and I both host blogs that rely heavily on facebook/twitter traffic… so we’re not necessarily the most unbiased on this subject! Regardless… thanks for the reflection.

  • Late to the commenting party (as ever) but I did actually do this a few years ago in fact though I would not do it now. It was a real wrench to me not to tweet for Lent and I eventually realised why  – and decided that I wouldn’t do so again. Imagine, if you will, that you decided to give up talking to your friends or family for Lent. Or decided to stop using the telephone. Or talking. Do any of those things bring you closer to God? Do they bring God’s kingdom closer to us at all? If they do – if you are more Godly as a result of NOT tweeting, phoning or speaking then yes, you probably should stop. THAT is the perspective that you get from Lenten observance in my opinion. I see a lot of people who use Lent as a 40-day diet plan and do you know what? It doesn’t work. The relief and joy on their faces as they have that first piece of “forbidden” chocolate is a testimony all by itself, as thogh they have been holding their breath for 40 days.
       Last year I decided that my Lent would consist of getting up and going to bed early (06:00 and 23:00) and spending the “extra” early hour studying and praying. I did not want to give it up at Easter and that is the best guide – again in my own opinion – as to whether a habit you use Lent to break or acquire is good or bad for you.
       This is an important discussion Vicky – thank you for bringing it up!

  • A man I know wrote a book called Creating a Tech Sabbath Habit.  Twas good.

  • So how did you do? Did you find the elusive balance?  I gave up blogging and social media in 2010 for Lent and it was the best thing I did as it gave me perspective and since then I can self regulate.

    Mich x

  • I’d have to disagree that Jesus ‘withdrew from the world to spend time with God’. The creation story and the affirmation that it is ‘good’ indicates that the world, material stuff is not an opposite to God getting in the way of relating to Him but is in fact a pointer to Him as creator and should be valued. Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness mirrors that of the Israelites 40 years, not as punishment but as preparation. The Israelites were prepared for the promised land through 40 years of interaction with the harshest environment their world had to offer, whilst Jesus was prepared for Gethsemane and the cross through the trials of the wilderness. Resisting the temptations of the world, being immersed in the harshest part of the world drew Jesus closer to the Father, rather than withdrawing from the world to be more ‘spiritual’. Withdrawal from the world is a gnostic idea, not a Christian one that we easily fall into and need to beware of.

  • Bryan Brooks

    Thanks Carlos! If anyone on this comment thread is interested in a free copy, I would love to send you one. Email me at bryan@techsabbathhabit.com.

  • Austin Forbes

    I don’t give up anything for Lent, usually. When I want to spend time with God I do a fast. I fast certain things. I may fast a meal and in that period of time be praying, seeking answers. Or a 30 day fast, the last one I did I gave up caffine (that was SO hard). But I did it, although im back to caffine again.

    I liked your post Vicky. I find it difficult to be off the internet for a couple days, because I have many friends that live out of town or out of state. Social Networks is my source of communicating with them. I truly enjoyed your post :)

  • I am one of those that gave up Facebook for lent. It was actually very freeing for me. I realized that my sharing on Facebook is selfish. When I’m on Facebook, I become a narcissist. I realized that despite my 347 “friends” on facebook, I do not have any friends (besides my husband) in real life! I realized how truly isolated I have become.
    However, like you mentioned, I did return to Facebook after lent. It was great for a short while. I did not post as much, and my posts were centered around things I thought my “friends” really might want to read or see. But I’ve quickly returned to my old ways. I wake up and roll over to check Facebook on my iphone. That’s the very first thing I do every day after turning off my alarm. I then get to work and turn on facebook. I refresh the feed at least every 10 minutes. When out with my husband, I’m glued to my iPhone on Facebook. This is an addiction, and it’s ridiculous.
    Some alcoholics realize it is better for them to never drink again. There’s nothing wrong with drinking one drink. But what if you cannot have that one without going for another?
    I am starting to think some of us just cannot handle Facebook. If your right hand causes you to sin…
    Facebook is not healthy for me. It’s not healthy for developing the relationships I know that God would want me to have. I’m shy, and Facebook does not help me to break out my comfort zone. It simply helps me trick myself into feeling as though I am socially healthy.
    I am debating leaving Facebook for good. It would be terribly difficult.
    This sounds terribly dramatic I know. But for some of us, Facebook is a serious vice. I should have the ability to control myself. But I don’t. So shouldn’t I cut it off completely?
    Giving up Facebook for lent was a valuable lesson for me. Now I need to figure out what to do with what I’ve learned from it.

  • Caroline

    Fb is superficially attractive. Having met a few friends face to face just a short time of real interaction showed how empty the social media experience is in comparison.

    I now only use it as an occasional means of contact and have regained sanity and a big chunk of my life…

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