What I Learned Giving Up Social Media for Lent

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Happy Easter, Christ is risen (He is risen indeed) and the tomb is empty. Along with that, I’m reinstalling my various social media apps back on my phone.

Honestly, I do not think Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were things Christ had in mind when he breathed anew Easter morning. Yet, here we are 2000 years later wrestling with the technology in our pockets.

I chose to free myself from the various forms of social media for Lent because I could tell it was occupying a significant share of my time, my heart and my head. Some recent interactions on social media helped guide me to this choice and I honestly wrestled with the idea of dropping Facebook completely. I figured I would give it the 40 days of Lent to understand more the place of social media in my life and maybe some better ways to approach it. There’s nothing like dropping something cold turkey to see exactly how much it has wedged itself into your life. Here’s three observations I made as I walked through those 40 days.

Observation #1 – Why do I feel a need to share this?

I love photos and photography and shared a fair amount of my pictures on social media. After deleting the apps from my phone, I was almost instantly confronted with the temptation to share a photo. I think it was literally day one or two this came up for me. After taking a photo I felt the almost automatic urge to head over to Instagram, nostaligia-ize it and share it with my friends. After realizing this was not an option, I began to wonder.

Why the urge to share this photo? Was this photo really that important? Could I enjoy this photo and this moment without sharing it?

It was interesting to me how even the concept of sharing a photo and seeing responses to that photo gave me the impression I was connected to and connecting with people. We all do this. We love sharing common experiences and memories. That’s why we tell stories. It defines who we are and our space in our communities and world. How has this kind of sharing on social media (kids, food, cute cat videos, political ideas, etc.) changed the way we see ourselves in community with others? Just because they liked my photo, does that mean we share something in common? Sure it’s different if my mom likes the photo rather than a long lost acquaintance from high school. But, if I did not want to share much with them in High School, why would I care if they liked something now?

Observation #2 – Social media needs me

A couple weeks into my social media fast I wondered if people missed seeing me on their feeds. Certainly my friends and family were missing out on all sorts of wonderful thoughts and photos (see observation #1) that I was unable to share? But (probably not surprisingly) nobody, except for my mother, said they missed me posting to social media. Nobody sent me text messages, nobody called or emailed to tell me that they wished I would start posting again.

You know who missed me? Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I began receiving new types of emails from them beyond the typical notifications. “Check out this post…”, “Did you know who’s birthday it is?”, “Somebody uploaded a photo.” They knew I was gone and they wanted…no…they needed me to come back. I was not liking, commenting or clicking on things anymore and they were trying to get me to come back. The notifications about people I followed were really an act to get me back and see some advertising, a sponsored post or visit a sponsors website.

Social media outlets want you to think that you “need” to be on their sites so that you don’t miss out. You “need” to post something because all your friends and family want to hear/see what you are currently thinking/hearing/seeing. The reality is, nobody really “needs” to see what we share on social media. Social media needs us. Discussions about the viability of Facebook or Twitter are never about how many cat videos or cute baby photos are posted. They are always questioned about monetizing their feeds. They don’t need to know how much you love your mother, your baby, your significant other or your recently home-cooked, paleo-organic gourmet masterpiece. But, they need me to post that so that you will come look at it and maybe click on something sponsored.

Observation #3 – Being social > Social media

During this time I found myself hanging out and meeting up for drinks with friends more than I had in the past. I do not believe this was because I gave up social media, but was probably more due to the impending loss of my job (yeah for networking!). Either way, I found my social interactions IRL (in real life) to be much more rewarding, encouraging, soul-sustaining and generally nicer than what I had recently been engaged in on social media. It’s too easy to talk over someone, depersonalize them and scroll past things on social media. Face to face, I felt like I actually engaged in a conversation and got to know someone on a deeper level.

Let me give an example. A few days ago, I was at Chick’fil’a enjoying a spicy chicken sandwich. At the table next to me, people were engaging in a conversation that I disagreed with. I could have butted in, provided my counter-arguments, “dropped the mic” and walked away. This seems to be how most interactions happen on social media. There is very little relationship, very little aspect of being social, but a lot of butting in and talking because social media requires that we share so…we share.

I chose to keep quiet and enjoy my spicy chicken sandwich while looking forward to a conversation I was about to share with a new friend over coffee. If I didn’t feel like butting in then, why would I feel like I could on social media?

Sure, there is great value in making new connections and being able to communicate with family and friends far away that social media can facilitate. I have made many new friends through connections on social media. Also, I actually had to ask people what was going on in their life as I had not seen their recent posts and photos on Facebook. It is much harder to pigeonhole someone when they’re sitting across the table from you. I can’t drop a well-researched and well thought out comment and just walk out when they are three feet away. I have to be engaged in the conversation and I have to be open to hearing what the other person has said or experienced so that they might offer me the same courtesy. Conversations and an openness to others ideas and experiences can happen over social media, but it is typically not required or even offered.

So, here I am. I’m back on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I hope to give more thought to my interactions and posts because, there is some value out there. Hopefully my observations have helped you out some. Feel free to leave a comment or share this post with your friends if you’ve found it helpful.