Why Give Up Social Media for Lent?

Why Give Up Social Media for Lent?
I’m old enough to remember when social media suddenly became ubiquitous and everybody— from preteens to their grandmas— were signing up for Facebook accounts. At the time, I saw this as a good thing. Like everybody else, I was reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in years. Eventually, I also came to see how social media was holding governments and other powerful institutions to account— literally fuelling movements like the Arab Spring. Fifteen years later, though, I’m much less optimistic about social media. In fact, I’m tempted to see it as a net negative— a technology which, on the whole, has done more harm than good.

I’m well aware of the irony (perhaps, some would say, the hypocrisy) of announcing this on a social media platform. But I’m not saying that social media is an evil that we ought to cut from our lives entirely. Rather, it’s like any other human innovation whose use we need to discipline and curtail. For this reason, I think it would be wise to abstain from social media for a while. Given the fact Lent is right around the corner, what better time to start than now?

This, of course, raises the question: Why give up social media for lent? Here are three reasons:

Social Media Feeds our Vanity
This desire to be seen, noticed and praised is, of course, nothing new. Two-thousand years ago, Jesus himself pointed out this aspect of our sinful human nature— explaining how it can insidiously infect even good things like one’s prayer life or charitable giving. For example, in Jesus’ day, some people—when they made large donations to the poor— would literally sound a trumpet, drawing everyone’s attention to their enormous contribution. It was the 1st century equivalent of posing for the cameras while handing over the giant cardboard cheque. Others, when they fasted, would go out of their way to look haggard and disheveled— eager to show everyone whom they came across just how austere their religious observance were.

Two-thousand years later and human nature hasn’t changed at all. We still seek to advertise our piety to everyone. Indeed, not just our piety but our generosity, our talents, our accomplishments and our kid’s accomplishments as well. What has changed, though, is this: Now, we have a technology that seems deliberately engineered to feed into this innate vanity. Social media makes us the star of our own, never ending reality television show.

No doubt, there is a kind of addictive quality to this: We post a picture on social media and receive a small hit of validation every time someone leaves a thumbs up or a heart or positive comment. Conversely, when we don’t receive the validation we feel we deserve, we’re apt to experience a small emotional crash.

II. Social media feeds our covetousness.
Covetousness is a desire to have that which belongs to others. And this desire can certainly be awakened while scrolling through your Facebook feed. Why? Because, on social media, people offer a highly curated, highly filtered, idealized portrayal of their lives. Take something as simple as a profile pic: Most people don’t upload a photo of themselves as they look first thing in the morning, without having shaved and with no makeup on. Rather, they take a photo of themselves in the perfect light, at the perfect angle. Then, on top of that, they add filters.
People don’t just do that with our profile pics, of course. On social media, they want to portray their lives, in general, as positive. Consequently, when we peek into people’s lives, using, say, Facebook as a window, we might feel a sense of despair. Why can’t I be as fulfilled in my career? Why don’t I look that good? Why couldn’t my son get into Stanford? Why can’t my daughter launch her own successful business?

I believe the term they use for this is “compare and despair.” The Bible refers to it as coveting your neighbours spouse or possessions— perhaps your neighbour’s life in general.
Obviously, this can make us miserable. In fact, there has been a distressing rise in depression among the generation that grew up with the smart phone. Some say it’s at least in part due to this compare and despair phenomenon.

But, turn off social media, and spend more time in face-to-face interaction with people. You’ll quickly learn that nobody’s life is perfect and that everybody struggles with something. And, in realizing this, you may become much more appreciative of your own life (as challenging it may seem).

III. Social media fuels rage
If one shares a highly polemical article on Facebook or Twitter— one which stirs up heated argument— then that article is going proliferate broadly and quickly across the platform. However, if one shares a nuanced article that’s better researched and, perhaps, more lengthy, it’s apt to garner much less attention. The result is this: When we go online, our minds are bombarded with deliberately vitriolic material- material meant to hit us in the gut and fan our outrage. Who hasn’t logged off of social media, only to be left with the lingering emotional aftertaste of bitterness and resentment?

And just think of all the virtual stonings that we’ve all witnessed (or, perhaps, participated in) since the advent of social media. You know what I’m talking about: Somebody makes a tasteless joke or shares a controversial opinion only to be harassed online by thousands of strangers. Some have had their families threatened, their businesses attacked. Some have
lost their jobs. It’s safe to say that, in some cases, the vitriol and outrage isn’t confined to words on a screen but manifests in real violence.

So, with that in mind, it may be helpful, once again, to take a break from social media for Lent.
And, as you abstain, maybe you’ll notice that you’re much less angry about things. You’ll still be grounded in your principles but, at the same time, much more willing to listen to people whose opinions differ from your own.

The above list is by no means exhaustive. There could be many other benefits that come from a forty day fast from social media. Maybe your productivity will double; maybe you’ll find yourself spending more time in face-to-face interaction with your family and friends; maybe your depression will lift. In fact if your life has improved that much after just forty days away from social media, why not delete this technology from your life entirely? Or, maybe you could only delete the platforms that bring out the worst in you.

Indeed, If there’s anything in your life (social media or otherwise) that is hindering your journey with Christ, you may need to sacrifice it. That principle, in itself, is important to observing a good lent. In fact, it’s an integral part of our journey with Christ.