On not giving up social media

Like Mother Ruth, I was pondering yesterday a number of people who have decided to give up social media for Lent. It strikes me as a very odd thing to do.

On the one hand, I suppose I can see that sometimes religious people feel the need to withdraw from the world for a time and simply be in a different place with less distraction. That is the essence of going on retreat. However, I can only conclude that those who are giving up social media for Lent use it for different reasons than I do. For me, Facebook and Twitter and blogging (and email, come to that, for email is social media) are ways of connecting and communicating with others. On Facebook I hear about things I want to hear about – other people’s passions, other people’s loves, other people’s lives. But they are not simply the Other, out there. Those people are part of my life too. Social media adds layers to life that I think are good, not bad and that makes me puzzled by people wanting to give that up.

I could understand someone saying that they are going to give up being bad-tempered on twitter or give up posting photographs of other people’s kittens on Facebook. Both of those seem commendable. Giving up social media entirely seems like giving up speech for 40 days in order to conquer bad temper – a strategy that one suspects might well backfire.

Here’s a few things that were part of my day on social media yesterday:

  • Being fascinated by the reports of people in the USA that I know going out into the streets with their ash yesterday to offer “Ashes To Go” to anyone.
  • Learning with delight, on the sly, that the choir had been talking about the subject of my Ash Wednesday sermonette (“How would you live today if tomorrow was your last?”) whilst in the pub after the Ash Wednesday service, where presumably they had gone for a sip of water.
  • Making a connection with the Dean of another cathedral that I’ve not been in touch with for four or five years.
  • Sharing a joke with a couple of people scattered in parts of the Scottish Episcopal Church that I think are remote (and which they probably think are Pisky Central).
  • Sharing a few pictures of beautiful things I’ve spotted over the last couple of days.
  • Making contact with a member of St Mary’s of a few years ago who was saying she missed Lent here and asking her what it was she missed – her answer, “Beauty from Chaos”.

Why would I want to deprive myself of any of those things? What spiritual discipline says that to miss out on any of that that is good?

My life is richer for social media. It is also diminished by those who step away from it, (yes, from me) for Lent.

I’m puzzled by this devotion and believe it, not social media, to be a temptation.


  1. I’m puzzled by giving up social media for Lent as well, though I know lots of people who do it– I have friends who even give up all media, I think except the newspaper. But they’re not shouting it to the world. Doesn’t it defy the purpose to brag on Twitter about how virtuous you are to give up Twitter? If you do, do it silently and gracefully.

  2. Eek, forgot to tick the notify box, could you please have me notified of follow-up comments (and delete this comment)? Thank you!

  3. Elizabeth Anderson says

    I thought the point of fasting was to give up good things (for a brief period in order to simplify, or to see what life is like without it, or to shift patterns or to open time/space for prayer – like a retreat), not harmful things (which – theoretically – we should be striving to give up all the time, not just for Lent). I would have thought that social media would fall into this category like many of the other things people give up.

    • Elizabeth Anderson says

      On the other hand, I know that lots of us do struggle with giving up harmful things and many of us use Lent as a time when we feel an extra leverage to tackle something we’ve shrunk from before. It may be that some people feel that the time they spend in front of a computer is disproportionate and unhealthy and they wish to limit it to make more room for other activities and perhaps giving up social media is one way to enable this. One year I gave up non-work related internet during the day and I found it quite helpful.

      But I’d also be reluctant to give up social media entirely for forty days for similar reasons to yours – in the last two days I’ve seen lovely photos of my far-away baby niece and a friend’s new babies – I would have missed these had I been fasting from FB. I would probably never go on a 40 day silent retreat either. Too much desert.

  4. I’m going to miss Lent at St Mary’s too – and Easter, my first away for six years. There is something very special about the way it’s done there and social media will be a way of keeping in touch…I won’t be giving it up!

  5. Erika Baker says

    I suppose the problem is that social media are also very chatty places that distract you from the important bits. And to get to your list of valuable exchanges you may have had to wade through hundreds of posts of kittens, people’s dinners and games invites. And it’s hard not to be distracted by those, send a quick reply…. find the kettle’s gone cold by the time you’ve done all that.

    Maybe for some people it’s easier to step away from social media completely for a while?

  6. Marga says

    Personally, I love Twitter and Facebook for all the reasons you mentioned, but I also find they have an immediacy, almost an urgency about them which means that important but less “urgent” things can get neglected. I gave up Twitter for Lent last year and I found it gave me an opportunity to reflect on how I could connect with people (on and off Twitter) in more meaningful ways. I’m sure people do use social media in different ways and we react to it differently too, so what’s very beneficial for one person might make no sense whatsoever for another.

  7. I’ve seen two pleas today – one on Twitter and one on Facebook – for people to reconsider giving up social media, because social media are a large part of the writer’s access to the rest of the world. If people can’t cope with the demands of social media, or the bad tempers of some people on social media, or find they are spending too much time reading things on social media, these are all good reasons for cutting down. But I don’t see the logic of doing that for Lent.

    The first time I came across this, it felt quite personal – as if I was being judged a trivial person, or someone who had time to waste on social media. Now I just think it’s an indication of someone trying to wrestle back a bit of control over what appears to them to be a bad habit.

Speak Your Mind