At rather the last minute -- Tuesday evening before Ash Wednesday -- I decided that I was going to abstain from social media for Lent. This decision was prompted by others on Facebook giving up the same and, since I hadn't figured out what I was giving up -- or taking on -- yet, I decided I would give up social media to start with and then add on something "real" once I figured out what that was. So, on Tuesday night before going to bed I updated my statuses letting people know what I was doing, removed Facebook and Twitter from my phone and iPad, and turned off all e-mail notifications. In my mind giving up social media was a simple task and not really worthy of the season where my intentions are self-reflection with an eye towards better emulating the mindset of Messiah Jesus.
How wrong I was.
From the first few hours of the first day I realized that abstaining from Facebook was going to be a worthwhile Lenten discipline. Without my knowing, Facebook had entered my life, modified my habits, increased the pride of my heart, caused me to boast in my own doings, made me more judgmental, and put itself as an idol more important than the real relationships right before my eyes.
I started using Facebook in late 2004 when it first came to The University of Alabama. From then until the present -- well, the pre-Lent present -- I have logged in to Facebook at least once per day without realizing I was starting a new habit. Initially it was a daily check of TheFacebook.com to see if anyone had written on my wall. That was innocent enough; just like checking e-mail. Then I started updating my profile picture to make sure it looked "cool" and that I had all my "cool" music and movies on my profile. Naturally, I had to list books that made me look smart as well. A few quotes in German on my profile completed the image I was projecting. Next came the status updates. Obviously I couldn't post what I was actually doing or thinking, instead I needed to post something cryptic so that people would have to ask for more information, thus bolstering my self-confidence. Pictures, check-ins, lists of places one's visited; all of these became a way for me to subtly boast about my doings, my uniqueness, and my intelligence.
If Facebook were just an enhancer to my existing proclivity to self-glorification it would be bad enough, but Facebook is so much more. In the midst of enhancing my social presence amongst my "friends", I'm also seeing their pictures, posts, etc. At first it was cool vacation pictures from people I actually knew and family, then it was that random chick from the party, then it was that other person from class, then it was that kid I went to school with in third grade and hadn't talked to since. All day, every day, a stream of images from people I would naturally compare to and contrast against my stream; a non-stop train of judgment, jealousy, and pride.
For the first era of Facebook, it was a private sin. One could login, boast, check up on what everyone else was doing, gather up gossip, and then log off. Facebook become a public sin when the mobile versions entered the scene. No longer was Facebook something one needed to check once or twice a day, but rather something someone needed to maintain at all times. All one's "friends" needed to know where one was, what one was eating, who once was with, etc.; especially if this something were something cool like a party or exclusive restaurant. On top of this, the temptation of voyeuristic pleasures from spying into the lives of others was overwhelming. Facebook became something to be checked hourly.
Finally, without notice, checking Facebook became a natural movement. At my hand's every idle moment the phone was automatically picked up and Facebook launched. Facebook became a natural filler. Lag in conversation? Facebook. Eating lunch with a new group of people? Facebook will make you feel better and spare you the stress of a new social situation. Waiting in line? Ignore what's happening around you and check Facebook. Quiet moment with family in the living room? Let Facebook fill the void! Over eight years Facebook had weaved its way into my life. It was the first thing I saw every morning, the last things I saw each day, and filled every empty moment in between.
Is Facebook -- and other social media -- evil? No. I keep up with actual friends using the service and participate in enriching communities that glorify God and build up his kingdom. Is Facebook something to be monitored and handled carefully? Yes.
When Lent has passed and I am free to use Facebook again, I will, but in a much different way. Facebook is no longer the first thing I see each morning; it's been replaced with the BCP Daily Office readings. Facebook is no longer the last thing I see each evening; it's been replaced by my sweet, sweet dog. Rather than filling my empty moments with more emptiness, I now observe what's going on around me and enjoy its beauty; Facebook will not be reinstalled on my phone. Instead of boasting in my own doings, I will only post to Facebook when building someone else up or adding something useful to important discussions that shape our world. -- Well, I might also share the occasional picture of my dog, but he's just too cute not to share. --
This Lent has been one of my most transformative yet. I challenge everyone to sit back and think about how he or she uses Facebook. Try giving it up for six days and see how you feel after a week. Facebook claims to be a lot of things, but there are so many things it cannot be. Put down the phone, look around. There's a lot of life going on around you that doesn't show up on a news feed.