What I Learned from a 7 Day Media Fast


Sunday, January 15, I went to church with my sister. The pastor's topic that day was controlling your thoughts, a commonly discussed subject in the Bible that becomes more and more relevant with technological advancements. Our brains are constantly being invaded by outside voices, from news to entertainment to other people in our lives. All those voices seep into us, changing and shaping the personal voice inside our own heads.

That can be detrimental. 

Negativity can take over.  Impurity and lust might grow. Comparison, jealousy, and envy can take root. New fears and anxieties develop.

All because of the endless stream of voices around us.

The pastor encouraged us to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" like Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians 10:5. And to do so, he challenged us to disconnect from all forms of media for 7 days.

No TV.

No movies.

No music.

No news.

No Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Pinterest/Tumblr/etc. 

None of it. For 7 days. 

Well. You know from my recent post about TV that this is something that was already beginning to develop within me. And, with this being the week of the presidential inauguration, I was more than ready to say goodbye to Facebook and all of everyone's arguing, ignorance, and general garbage-talk for a while. 

But there was more to it than that. I caught myself opening Instagram about 50 times a day. Seriously. It was a huge, time-consuming distraction. And I constantly found myself feeling inadequate and discouraged after clicking through my Facebook feed and seeing daily reminders of how far behind all my friends I am when it comes to babies and careers and houses and fitness. 

Between contentment-stealing personal comparison and all the political idiocy riling me up, I began realize that social media is the primary source of negativity in my life. 

So I jumped on this pastor's challenge. It felt like this was the excuse I needed to see what my life would be like without all the burdensome scrolling. I was ready to explore what life was like before everyone glued themselves to screens. 

Not wanting to worry my multitudes of devoted followers over my sudden absence, posting this on Instagram was the first thing I did the next morning:

And the weeklong fast began.

As did the lessons. Without further ado, here are the revelations I had during this week of disconnect:

1. I was addicted to Instagram. ADDICTED.

So Monday morning, I shared that media fast post and put my phone away. Maybe five minutes later, I found myself with my phone in hand, opening the Instagram app before I even realized what I was doing, eager to see how many little hearts I'd received on my latest share. I closed it before I saw anything and threw my phone down. 

Really?!?!?

This was going to be harder than I thought.

Throughout that first day, I had to keep closing out of Instagram because I continually caught myself opening the app out of habit, without even realizing I was doing it. The worst place of all, if I may be honest, was in the restroom. I was so uncomfortable using the toilet without scrolling my phone. 

...how did I get like this?!?

Like toileting, there are so many little time-killing moments when we all instinctively whip out our phones. Waiting in line. Waiting at a restaurant table for our food. Riding in a car. We no longer are able to sit and enjoy these little breaks. We have this strange new compulsion to fill this time with mindless scrolling. Just look around the next time you're out somewhere. Everyone. Is. Doing. It. 

And like everyone else, probably, in these moments, I was on Instagram because I felt like I had to get on Instagram. Avoiding it, forcing myself to leave my phone in my purse, sit quietly, and people-watch, triggered anxiety. It really did. 

That was my first disturbing discovery. After that, I learned...

2. I rely entirely on social media for news.

With the exception of local tornado coverage last November, I haven't watched the news in years. Years. I mean, I have enough anxiety and junk on my own without being fed endless stories about car accidents, robbery, rape, mass shootings, and suicide bombers; why would I wanna do that to myself?

If it's something really important that I need to know about, I'll see it through social media, either from following The Huntsville Times or through a friend who shared a big headline.

After a few days of journalistic silence, I thought, This is nice. I can forget all about the inauguration. I don't have to internalize any horrible world news that doesn't even affect me personally. This is how it used to be, back before globalization put everyone, everywhere, in the NOW. Perhaps this is how it should be.

Yes, I was blissfully content with my lack of news feed. However. After a while, it began to perturb me that, without Facebook, without Instagram, I was living life blindly. Out of work, home alone most of the time, with no one but two pups to talk to, I couldn't rely on word of mouth. For all I knew, Trump could have gotten cold feet and backed out. Or maybe America was under terrorist attack. Maybe there was a recall on my car. Perhaps Elvis had been discovered, alive and well, aging gracefully in a mountain village in Switzerland.

Without social media, I realized, I wouldn't know about any of that. And I think most of you would agree. Newspapers have, sadly, become almost obsolete in my lifetime. Without our phones to update us constantly, all of us are in the dark.

And along that same line:

3. I was suddenly completely disconnected from everyone.

My 28th birthday fell right in the middle of this 7-day fast. This was both good and bad. I got to enjoy my birthday without getting upset about something I read on Facebook. But you see, nowadays, pretty much the only acknowledgment adults get concerning their birthdays is from Facebook timeline posts.  

On my birthday, my husband celebrated with me, because he and I physically share the same space. My sister texted me. My mom and my mother-in-law called. 

That was it. 

IT.

Until the media fast was over and I logged onto Facebook to see what I'd missed. Over 50 people had written happy birthday wishes on my timeline and a few others had messaged me with Facebook Messenger. But I didn't know, because I wasn't on Facebook.

That's when I realized just how much social media has truly replaced human interaction, both voice-to-voice and face-to-face. I realized, quite painfully, that I don't have "real" friends any more; only friends on Facebook. Because that is solely where our relationship exists. And honestly, that's why I haven't deleted my account. It's the only way to keep in touch with people who live outside of your city these days. If I want to talk to someone, I pretty much have to log in. 

As I pondered all this, I was reminded, eerily, of Ready Player One, in which society lives inside the digital world of O.A.S.I.S., each human living behind the image of a computer-generated avatar. 

Perhaps we've already found ourselves in the predecessor of a real-life O.A.S.I.S..

And speaking of books...

4. I rediscovered joy in reading.  

Disconnected from social media, movies, and TV, I found myself bored at times. The first couple of days, I didn't know what to do now that my options were so limited. The fast said nothing about books, so that's where I started. I rekindled my long-lost love for reading. 

Not even one month into 2017, and I've already finished 5 books this year. 

Five

All because I'm not filling my free time by watching TV and movies or scrolling social media. Which also brought another kind of freedom:

5. I was free from the need to share every little thing I did on Instagram.


When I finished a workout, I wanted to take a sweaty selfie, 'gram it, and feel the instant reward of the incoming hearts and encouraging comments. I wanted to feel like my workout had inspired somebody out there to get moving. But I didn't. I went along with my day, proud of myself for getting up off the sofa, and after a few days, the endorphins were reward enough.

When I went out for my birthday, I felt the need to share photos of my celebratory shenanigans. I took several pictures (as you can see from this blog post), but instead of spending the moments directly after uploading the photos to Instagram, writing captions, and thinking up clever hashtags, I put my phone in my purse and rejoined the moment. 

When I cooked dinner, I had the urge to take a picture of my plate, share it on Instagram, and, again, spend five minutes finding the best hashtags. Instead, because of this fast, I kept my phone out of sight, plated my food, sat down with my husband, and ate. 

Imagine that.

My husband didn't have to linger around, waiting, scrolling Facebook to fill the time while he waited for me to finish up on Instagram. 

Guys, this sounds so sad, but I know I'm not the only one who lives like this.

Because of social media- these outlets for us to share snapshots of our daily lives like reality TV stars- we often become so engrossed in capturing, documenting, and sharing our moments that we disconnect from the moments themselves. We actually miss out on some of life's most precious moments because we're too busy trying to share those same moments with our digital friends.

And that leads me to the biggest revelation of the week:

6. Ditching social media for a week allowed me to be present, fully present, in my day-to-day activities in a way that I haven't experienced in years. 

I kept my phone handy in case of potential call-backs regarding work, but I wasn't looking at it all day any more. This allowed me to truly engage with my surroundings. I noticed and appreciated the beauty of the sky. The trees. The birds. I made more eye contact with people. Without the distraction of my phone, I found it easier to listen- really listen- to my husband. 

It's kinda funny, isn't it? The thing that was created to connect people to one another has actually disconnected us. 

After a week of quiet introspection, I didn't want to go back. My mood was so much brighter all week without the constant negative feed from Facebook. My brain wasn't hijacked by someone else's fictional characters; I no longer spent all day pondering the last episode of Lost I watched. I grew to love my silent nights curled up with a great book.

But I did miss using Instagram and Facebook as an outlet to grow my blog, because social media has definitely done that for me.

And I missed being in the loop with news. As much as I hate news, I almost equally hated the feeling of the-zombie-apocalypse-may-have-actually-started-somewhere-out-there-and-I-won't-even-know-about-it. At the very least, I missed seeing updates about promotions and events from my favorite businesses and such. I do like knowing about sales and promo codes, and Facebook is the go-to source.

Basically, I ended the week with the takeaway that media is a tool that I can use, in moderation, for good. We all just need to seriously cut back on the screen time. For instance, I'm going to try checking my Instagram/Facebook accounts once in the morning and once in the evening. That way, I'm still connected to my digital friends and the businesses I follow, but it's not eating up my entire day and causing me to walk around brainlessly. As far as TV/movies, Matt and I plan to devote one night each week to watching something on the screen.

What do you think? Could you abandon the distractions of 21st century media and focus on building relationships? How could your life be better if you weren't glued to your phone? How might it be worse? I urge each of you reading this to put away the screens for a while and consciously join your surroundings. Look around you. Make eye contact with people. Listen. Engage. Explore your priorities, and don't miss what's important. 

5 comments

Sheryl at How to Make a Life said...

Sadly, we have become a society that is connected via social media and technology. I believe we all need to try a social media break periodically.

Anastasia Nicole said...

Everything you have said is so true. I have been working on not checking social first thing in the morning or just before bed. Just doing that for a week gave me a sense of calm like you wouldn't believe. Def getting back to that this week.

xx | A

Caroline Poser said...

I love this idea! I am not sure if I could do it but just the idea of it is so freeing. I have to be on the Internet for my day job so I could possibly just say no to Facebook for a week. It would probably help my sanity! Great post, and happy birthday! :-)

Mica T said...

You did so well with your fast! I did the Struggles fast and that was only for a weekend - no media was so limiting when I wanted to look things up or ask questions, I couldn't go to google! But it definitely helped me break my instagram addiction - I use it much less now and the same with facebook. I'm glad I did it, although I'm not sure I could have done a whole week! Well done!

Away From The Blue

Rhonda Swan said...

We have done media fasts for years and years. We find that it allows us to keep the noise from pulling us down.

KEep up the great work here and live unstoppable!