Spirituality Spirituality in the Ordinary

On Fasting from Social Media

Sigulda Thinking HeadOn Sunday evening, Anne looked at me from her end of the sofa as I Facebooked whilst watching TV and drinking wine, and said: you use your smartphone all the time. It’s annoying. I think we should have a day off. Alright, I replied cockily, you’re on. Gauntlet taken up. On Monday, no smartphones, and no social media at all.

Usually my iPhone is the first thing to my hand when I wake up in the morning, but I had left it charging in the loungeroom, on an out of sight, out of mind sort of basis, so I got past the first hurdle of completely forgetting the whole thing when I woke up. So far so good.

However it wasn’t long until I began to feel the pinch. Ironically, it was my attempt to have a spiritual life which was the next hurdle. I use a service of the Irish Jesuits called Sacred Space, and I use my smartphone. Fortunately Anne uses the book version, so she could give me the daily passage. But that’s weird, right? Being reliant on a smartphone for my prayer life?

The next problem was after breakfast: I use a calorie & exercise tracking thing as part of my never-ending quest to lose some weight, and I am religious about inputting all my meals. But not today – today I was going phone free. I would just have to eat what I would eat, and that would be that. It felt a little strange – as though in some weird way the food I ate wouldn’t count. Like a holiday without photos, I would have to have the raw, unmediated experience. A strange thought.

In fact my day was full of experiences which I had to experience without immediately turning them into online content for my facebook and instagram friends. The removal of the last few enormous volcanic rocks from our garden. The garden centre we went to afterwards. And even the very welcome beer with which I rewarded myself at the Thornbury Local.  All these experiences which I had to, well perhaps not to suffer through, but which I would ordinarily  have wanted to share with the world. It was quite eye opening. Do I really live my life with one eye towards an audience?

The converse of these experiences – those which I usually try to deaden with my smartphone – were even more interesting. Standing in a queue at Woolworths where I would usually have been checking to see if anything had happened in Facebook-land in the previous ten minutes I had to stand patiently and just wait. While watching TV in the evening, where I usually multitask, to Anne’s annoyance, was the same strange experience. I had to try to be present to things as they actually happened. I can do it, it turns out, but I’m surprised at the little pang it costs me.

In the end, I succeeded. It was very strange to watch the news without already knowing what was going on in the world, but, I reflected, the world would continue in its course with or without my knowledge and attention.

During the day I felt a bit less edgy I think – a bit less as though I was spending the day looking for my next hit of social media validation, the next exciting or shocking thing in the news. I felt a little as though I had been a bit more fully present in the world and in my interactions with people, not always being tempted to check out of the dull bits.

Perhaps I might make it a regular thing. A Monday Social Media Fast perhaps. I’ll let you know how it goes.

By Alister Pate

I'm a minister in the Uniting Church in Australia, with two congregations: one in Northcote / Chalice, which now includes Cafechurch Melbourne, and one up the road in Reservoir, confusingly known as Preston High Street. I am

2 replies on “On Fasting from Social Media”

Hrm. Now I feel challenged to try the same thing.

I’m not sure I’ll actually be able to do it though, because it sounds like I may be even more glued to my smart devices than you, my friend.

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