A Holiday Fast

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This year for Thanksgiving, I felt compelled to undertake a 3-day social media cleanse. It was an experiment of sorts to understand how the impacts of Facebook, news media, and even this blog shape my relationships and overall emotional state. Earlier this fall, I confronted my own addiction and was hopeful that a Thanksgiving fast would prepare my heart for the holiday season. In truth, I originally sought for my information purge to last an entire week, but I am a scholar rooted in reality – I actually wanted to meet my goal.

What changed?

After the first 12 hours, I became less irritable and more relaxed. I also stopped checking my phone and, on several occasions, neglected to keep track of where I had placed it. For me, this typically means that I am living in the moment.

I learned to value in-person communication in a new way. At least in my life, Facebook messaging has replaced text messaging as the central point of contact, so I didn’t feel as connected without a social media channel. As a result, I found myself desiring to be around other people more and believe that it was easier to focus on their eyes, tone, and important body language cues. It’s amazing how technology desensitizes us to even our closest friends and family.

I no longer felt the pressure to compete. I stopped being reminded of the domestic diva, fashionista, and perfect mother that I will never be. As a side note, this is actually why I have yet to join Pinterest. While I did miss updates on the lives of those about whom I care, I was reminded that many times it isn’t worth internalizing the insecurities and stress of other people’s lives for the illusion of intimacy. In my digital social isolation, I found freedom.

I gained extra time in my day. My social and news media purge allowed my mind to rest and slowed my pace for the day. The break from pervasive urgency was welcomed, and the time I spent with my children felt more full.

What didn’t change?

I still needed to communicate with other people. I still wanted to hear about their needs, their fears, and their successes. I still desired to have mine heard as well. Thus, I did miss the opportunity to connect, even if largely through surface-level, technology-mediated means.

Surprisingly, I didn’t sleep any better. I expected the absence of “people information” to allow for a more peaceful sleep. In truth, I realized that the release I was seeking is not simply a matter of securing “unplugged” hours; instead, it is about proactively making the mental effort throughout the day to decide what you will let in and what you will leave out. The trouble with social media is that we are hard-pressed to understand the great volume that we let reside in our minds and hearts.

I went back to it. My media cleanse was just that – a short-lived time to reset. I still desire to learn about emerging global issues and the lives of others, and, for better or worse, social and news media are readily accessible channels that offer the information that I seek. If I am honest, it was reassuring to know that updates, pictures, and, to a large extent, relationships were available to me once again.

I think the way one responds in the days following any purge are most telling. For myself, I feel less tied to the information that others are eager to share. During my 3-day social media hiatus, my sanity and relationships did not fall apart – in fact, I was reminded of who cares and not just the importance, but also the necessity of face-to-face communication.

How did all of this change my holiday? I became more grateful. I stopped worrying about the life that I felt pressured to live and embraced the life that I wanted to live. I found ways to explore and appreciate those around me.

In this season of bright lights and shiny packaging, it is important to remember that there is a peace beyond the screen. And, if we are patient, we can enjoy the feast that only real communion brings.

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