5 Reasons You Should Do a Social Media Fast
- Seth L. Scott Columbia International University
- 2021 29 Jun
Social media is an easy target to demonize. It seems simple to highlight the aspects of addiction, ego, distraction, and time consumption inherent in social media and internet usage, suggesting the obvious solution is avoidance and deletion. While for some this may be the case, the overarching question is one of priority of practice in purpose and not simply a dichotomous acceptance of demonizing or glorifying social media. In discussing the tension between legalism and license for first-century Christians in Corinth, Paul promoted the tension of priority and evaluation of personal perspective and meaning with choices on controversial topics. To address those Christians who seemed to be using their Christian freedom to justify sinning, Paul proclaimed, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
What Is a Social Media Fast - Meaning
This statement demonstrates that our practice of Christian liberty is constrained by whether the behavior is helpful and whether it enslaves. These factors apply to our use of social media today as well. The common retort regarding the evaluation of any behavior that can enslave is, “I can stop any time I want to.” Paul, like any good counselor today, suggests that a means for testing whether you control something or something controls you is to fast from that thing for a time to evaluate the result. Fasting explicitly reorients our priorities through intentional engagement with one thing over another. In Scripture, fasting from food is frequently paired with prayer, not because food is inherently wrong or sinful, but because prayer is so important and it requires intentionality to use the time we would normally set aside to eat and meet our physical needs to instead direct those cues of hunger toward our need for spiritual nourishment and connection to God (John 4:31-34).
Many authors have produced many excellent books on the impact of technology and social media on our lives as people and as Christians, providing direction and reflection toward the wise stewardship of these resources. Chapman and Pellicane’s (2020) Screen Kids, Kinnaman and Matlock’s (2020) Faith for Exiles, Jacobsen’s (2020) Three Pieces of Glass, Crouch’s (2017) Tech-wise Family, McCracken’s (2021) Wisdom Pyramid, and Detweiler’s (2018) Selfies are just a few of the resources to which I would refer those interested in a deeper dive in stewarding technology and social media in our lives as followers of Christ. The purpose of this article is to explore five reasons a fast from social media might be necessary to ensure our priorities and passions align with Christ.
Why Is a Social Media Fast Necessary?
The emphasis for fasting, as noted previously, is not necessarily because food or another factor is inherently harmful or bad, but because we want to ensure that we are intentional in our practice to do all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17) and cast off anything and everything that prevents or distracts us from achieving our prize of likeness to Christ Jesus (Phil 3:10-12; Heb. 12:1-3). We need to evaluate each behavior or opportunity against whether it is helpful or enslaves (1 Cor. 6:12). The internet in general and social media, in particular, can ensnare and enslave us because we are designed as creatures of desire. God created us to crave relationships, made for relationship with Him and one another (Gen. 2:18).
Our brains are wired to pursue pleasure and reward, repeating behaviors that produce dopamine. Technology distorts and then enslaves us primarily because of these inherent drives for novelty and connection. All of life is a balancing of choices about priorities and time. Time is our most precious commodity and one of the few resources that is truly limited. Social media can be harmful because it distorts our presentation and experiences of reality, priority, relationship, and rhythm. When our use of social media controls us instead of us controlling our use of social media, we become enslaved and our priorities distort to feed this new master.
Five Reasons You Should Do a Social Media Fast
Reason 1: To Reorient Our Source of Truth
We tend to believe what we see, and repetition simply reinforces the assurance of our beliefs. Social media intends to provide a venue from which a person can present their perspective of the world as true and real, directing others to see life through his or her eyes and understanding. Designed to align people by interests and experiences, social media defines reality through the subjective lenses of the viewer and proclaimer. This can be helpful in validating one’s experience and seeking support and encouragement from others, but truth becomes the realm of subjective experience with algorithms feeding the confirmation of our subjective bias. The echo chamber of social media strengthens those perceptions of the reality one holds, reinforcing bias and potential distortions about oneself and others through dichotomous polarization and tribalism, creating camps of “us versus them” where we are right and they are wrong. In an age of information overload and identity confusion, how do we know what is true and what sources can be trusted about ourselves and the world around us?
We need to stop to reorient our meter for truth by filling our hearts and minds first with what God says so we can accurately define what is real and just and true. In the same way that the Department of Treasury trains its officials to identify counterfeit money through repeated exposure to real money, not all the variety of fakes, as followers of Christ we must saturate our hearts and minds with the truth of God in His Word to imbibe the truth about ourselves and others so these counterfeits won’t confuse or distort us. Time is limited and we must prioritize. Our first reason to fast from social media is to intentionally prioritize time in God’s Word and with God’s people to reorient our meter for truth and purpose.
Reason 2: To Practice Our Priorities
This second reason is dependent on the first as a primary priority of aligning our source of truth with God’s Word but expands to include the priorities of relationship, identity, and time that flow from an accurate understanding of ourselves and the world as defined by God’s Word. We are created for relationship and the irony of social media is that while we are more connected as a society than we have ever been in human history, we are also the loneliest we have ever been at the same time. Connections and community found in social relationships are not the same as likes, shares, and friends on social media. Social media provokes individualistic attitudes and the positive headlines of self that bring affirmation and acceptance.
The stories of real life connect us in community with others, drawing us into the larger story of God’s love for the world and our significance and insignificance within this larger, collective context. Jesus proclaimed, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-40). These first two reasons demonstrate our alignment with Jesus’ commandments. We prioritize relationship to God through love for Him and His Word and demonstrate our love for others in the prioritization of connection in relationship with them through face-to-face contact across the reality of life lived in community. Social media can’t compensate for proximal contact with another human being. We exist in time and place and must prioritize our use of time and self as created for relationship with others in community.
Reason 3: To Challenge Our Comfort Zones
Social media fosters our sense of autonomy and control while providing a means for curating our presentation of self in relationship to others. Aiken (2016) refers to this presentation of self in a digital context as “the cyber self” and suggests that it is “the idealized self, the person you wish to be” (p. 172). With social media distorting our perception of truth, creating an echo chamber of confirmation bias, and providing a means for relationship without risk or anxiety, comfort is prioritized overgrowth with social media becoming our pacifier of self-soothing for avoidance and distraction. Social media allows us to live vicariously through the voyeuristic perusal of timeline feeds. Relationships and life require risk with comfort as the antithesis of growth.
Fasting from social media would require you to face the discomfort and boredom you experience when riding in an elevator or waiting in line, pushing you outside the protective bubble of comfort to exhibit God’s love in seeing and responding to another person as made in His image. As the body of Christ, we are God’s hands and feet through the power of the Holy Spirit in this world to demonstrate His love (John 13:35). The first step to loving others is to see them, to be present, and engaged beyond your comfort (Gen. 16:13). In order to grow, we must move beyond our comfort through discomfort into growth.
Reason 4: To Experience Freedom through Discipline
As Paul proposed, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). We fast from social media to strengthen our muscle of discipline, pushing back against our tendency toward enslavement and addiction to pleasure and comfort. Technology and social media have been shown to change our brains, reducing our capacity for sustained attention and deep thinking over time (Carr, 2011). Each of these five reasons flow from one another and are dependent on the previous reason. Challenging our comfort zones requires a willingness to reorient our truth and practice our priorities.
Experiencing freedom through discipline follows as the training toward growth is applied in routine. We won’t know the degree of freedom or enslavement social media has over us or we have over it until we attempt to discipline our use of it. Freedom requires discipline. If we desire to be free to create beautiful music, we must discipline ourselves to practice regularly. If we desire freedom to run and play with our children, we must discipline ourselves in exercise, nutrition, time, and sleep to have sufficient margin for these events. We should do a social media fast so we can experience the freedom of living unburdened from the lens and filter of social media on us and on the world around us.
Reason 5: To Establish Healthy Rhythms in Life
Life follows patterns and rhythms and God designed us to align with His rhythm of days, weeks, seasons, and years (Gen. 20:9-11). We live in a 24/7 world with social media and technology constantly bombarding us with news and information that seems urgent. Electronic device use, specifically social media, is correlated with depression, anxiety, and suicidality for everyone, but especially for adolescents (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2018; Twenge, 2017). As we have noted, time is our most precious commodity and social media seems to most negatively impact our sleep as we struggle to stop the scroll. Fasting from social media allows us to evaluate our current habits and rhythms, providing the opportunity to better prioritize our time to promote time with God, relationships with others, sleep, nutrition, exercise, and mental health in rhythm.
We live in a unique age of limitless opportunity. Within this opportunity are both things that are helpful and things that enslave. Social media presents many opportunities to share what is good and demonstrate God’s love to the world, but social media can also distort our perceptions of truth, relationship, comfort, freedom, and rhythm until we are enslaved by it. Fasting provides an opportunity to change our priorities and flex our muscles of discipline, reorienting our time and desires back to what is best above what is good.
Photo credit: ©Dole/Unsplash
Seth L. Scott, PhD, NCC, LPC-S is an associate professor of clinical mental health counseling at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina and provides clinical counseling and supervision in the community through his counseling practice, Sunrise Counseling. Seth, his wife, Jen, and their two middle school children enjoy outdoor activities, reading together as a family, board games, and meeting people through Jen’s pottery business at galleries and festivals.