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Why I am giving up Twitter and Facebook for Lent

March 8, 2011, 10:50 pm

I don’t often write on CO9′s about my faith, so I hope you’ll indulge me for a bit. Since this is also a post about technology, I figured it fits. This has to do with Lent.

In the Christian church year, Lent is a season in which believers participate in acts of personal sacrifice to help us prepare for Holy Week. Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter, which is on April 24 this year. I haven’t always given something up for Lent, but this year I’ve decided that I am giving up Twitter and Facebook.

It may seem silly to use abstinence from social media to commemorate the sufferings of Christ, but there’s a serious twofold purpose to my choice.

First, in giving up Twitter and Facebook, I am seeking to recover time that I am spending in 15–30 second increments and re-invest it elsewhere. If you took all the little bursts of time I spend checking Facebook and Twitter in a given day, I think it would add up to about an hour. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a lot more than an hour. I can do a lot in an hour: pray, read, spend time with the kids, or just be still. Right now I complain that I don’t have enough time for these things, but in fact I do.

Second, I’ve used Facebook and Twitter status updates to vent out all kinds of behavior that are best left off the public record, and I’d like that to change. In particular, I think back to the tweets that followed this one a few weeks ago. It was an outburst of anger toward a student comment on the MATLAB course blog that shouldn’t have been posted. While I deleted the worst of the tweets in that series, I looked back on that rapid-fire set of tweets the next day and I recoiled at the ugliness of it. That is not the kind of man I would like to be.

Although the idea of giving up Twitter for Lent popped into my head after that incident, it’s certainly not the only time I’ve engaged in character assassination or whining or self-indulgence or attention-seeking on Twitter or Facebook. It can be frustrating. There is so much good to which these social media outlets can be put, like sharing interesting links, making connections to old friends and new friends who share my passions, and discovering new ideas from interesting people. But it’s also a fact that I’ve used the quick-hit nature of Twitter and Facebook to share things that I ought to be sorry for even thinking.

I’m hoping that by stepping away from social media for a while, I will starve some of those tendencies to act immediately upon the impulses to bash, whine, hurt, indulge, or emote and give myself instead a chance to fill the space with better things. I’m thinking of how Luther explains the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism. For Luther, each commandment is phrased explicitly in the negative (e.g. “You shall not murder”) but implicitly carries with it an equal and opposite command given in the positive (e.g. instead, we should help and support our neighbors in every physical need). In fact the Catechism’s entry for the Eighth Commandment really gets at the heart of it:

The Eighth Commandment.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

What does this mean?–Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

That’s what I’m shooting for here.

So between now and April 24, I’ll still check for and respond to direct messages on Twitter and Facebook (because those are really more like emails than anything). Also, my Facebook group I set up for my academic advisees will still see action because that’s more job-related. Some things that I do which auto-post to Twitter and Facebook, like when I post a YouTube video or publish a blog post, I’ll leave up and running. But otherwise no posting and no @-replies until April 24. If you normally get in touch with me through Facebook or Twitter, please use my email instead: robert [dot] talbert [at] gmail [dot] com.

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