So, I did it. I went a month without social media. I’m aware that my accomplishment sounds ludicrous to a large majority, and for different reasons. On one hand, the folks who couldn’t fathom such a thing. One whole month without Twitter or Facebook? How ever does one live and breath in such a world? On the other hand are the folks who don’t do social media or those who do social media like I do decaf coffee: only in the most desperate of times and afterward regret it. This latter group would consider my month away from social media more a sign of addiction than an accomplishment. They’re right.
If you don’t struggle with alcoholism, would you brag about going a month without alcohol? No is the answer.
So, yeah, I’m addicted to social media. I needed a month’s detox to realize it. Distance breeds perspective. A month without timelines and feeds, likes and shares revealed a sobering truth: Twitter and Facebook and Instagram were my drugs of choice to relieve boredom or check-out from life.
In the first week, out of instinct, I tapped the Twitter or Facebook app multiple times a day. When I needed a break from writing. When my kids wanted my attention but I was done adulting for the day. When the house became silent at night. When I stopped at a red light or sat down at a coffee shop or even when I was with friends and entered into that awkward silence, the kind I wasn’t sure how to break.
At the slightest discomfort or tinge of anxiety, I reached for my phone.
I also realized that I preferred to capture life rather than experience it.
I often hovered outside reality, especially when I sensed an Instagram-worthy moment – like all three of my kids getting along, for example. Rather than engaging the moment, I transformed into stealth ninja mode. Crawling behind bushes and behind cars, trying to get close enough to this rare event to capture it without being noticed.
Kids have owl-like hearing, however, so once I was found, I would ask them to pretend I wasn’t there and keep playing nice with each other. I manipulated my life, in other words.
A month without social media revealed my primary motive for snap pictures: likes and comments. I populated my social media platforms with pics of my wife and kids mostly because I was playing the my-life-is-more-awesome-than-yours game? A game without winners, I’m convinced.
Here’s another thing I learned: the world’s doomsday clock isn’t nearing midnight as quickly as I thought.
I tell you, friends, after only a few days away from social media, I felt more at ease about life and less anxious.
Social media’s instantaneous, non-stop news cycle convinces the world is falling apart. Every story about the President or the latest scandal is breaking news. This one will change the world, forever, says social media. The future of humanity is at stake. If you don’t respond, you’re part of the problem. Now is the time to act. If you don’t, the broken pieces of our shattered world will fall in your lap.
I never realized how much this affected how I engaged with those around me. I had become skeptical of everyone. I was on edge. Nothing was safe, not even my church. Rather than giving myself fully to worship or spending time with my brothers and sisters, I thought about a gunman coming through the door or whether that person was judging me. I saw the world through the lens of scarcity, in other words.
While I can’t say for sure that social media gave me this lens, I can say that social media reinforced it. If you’re convinced this President will restore America to greatness or drive it into the ground, you spend too much time on social media. If you can’t leave your house or enter your church building without fear of someone shooting you, you spend too much time on social media. If you find yourself starting from a place of skepticism and expecting the worst from everyone and everything, yep, you need a break from social media.
There’s also this: I read ten books during my social media fast.
No chest-puffing here. I tell you this as an indictment of how much time I spent on social media and what’s possible without it. Understand this. I don’t enjoy reading. I suck at it. Between covers, the journey is slow and clunky. I stop often. I lose interest. I check out, sometimes for pages at a time, and must go back and read them again.
I’ve heard about people who love reading, whose picture of a perfect day includes a hammock or a beach chair and a good book. I’ve never met someone like this, and if I did, I’m not sure I would like them.
I’m trying to tell you that reading ten books in one month is a miracle on par with Jesus multiplying bread and fish. Okay, maybe it’s slightly less miraculous than that.
How did I do it? Well, I told myself I would fill the time I spent scrolling timelines by reading books. I had no goal. It was more of an experiment. I wanted to see how much I could read if I didn’t spend time on social media. So I took one with me everywhere. I listened to three books on Audible. I read two more on Kindle. I placed a physical copy of a book beside my bed. I read at the doctor’s office. Anytime social media tempted me, I had my book ready.
You might say my experiment was a success. I’d say it was more of an indictment.
How much could we do if we cut out even half the time we spent on social media and devoted those hours to more useful things: reading books, calling friends, being present with family or being still.
Social media isn’t all bad. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow us to organize communities and communicate with people around the world. Social media gives a general vibe of the culture’s direction, what issues press on its conscious. Social media also exposes our culture’s hidden wounds: systemic racism and sexual assault, for example, real problems that have ruined the lives of many real people. And for this, I’m thankful.
At the same time, we must acknowledge the bad. Social media is the most popular narcotic in today’s world. And the most accessible. It requires no doctor’s subscription and you won’t be forced into rehab for overdosing. But in the end, Facebook and Twitter and Instagram allow us to escape reality and the inevitable boredom of life. We don’t have to wrestle with the tension and anxiety, the pain and loss that accompany intimacy with the present moment. We can instead run off to our timelines. We don’t have to search for and engage in the hard work required to live a meaningful life. Social media gives the illusion of making a difference in the world by posting personal thoughts or commenting on someone’s else post. They also offer the illusion of connectedness without intimacy.
In those rare moments when silence catches us off-guard and we are forced to sit with it, we know that a meaningful life is more than posts and comments. We know that relationship without intimacy breeds loneliness.
Silence and stillness are great teachers, it turns out. That’s why we keep so busy. If we sit still or cut out the noise, we will learn some hard truths about who we are, trusty’s that at first will make us miserable but eventually will set us free. This is how you know something is truth, by the way. Truth is always this way: at first a kick in the pants, but eventually liberating.
So, those are my reflections after a month divorced from social media. I will return to social media, but I vowed to continue my fast until this post was published. When I do return, I hope I do so with more balance and perspective. And I hope you do too.
Have you ever taken an extended season away from social media? What did you learn? Leave a comment below.
Grace and peace, friends.
Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.