Fasting is an essential element of many faiths. Willingly abstaining from food, drink, or some other necessity points believers toward a higher power; their hunger and humility is meant to increase their gratitude and reliance on something or someone greater than themselves. It is believed to serve multiple purposes, from a physical health cleanse to a deeper, spiritual renewal. Most are familiar with the Christian tradition of Lent, where followers give up something for forty days, symbolic of the forty days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert. Though my faith does not participate in this tradition, I was raised to believe in the power of a prayerful fast.
This belief led me to “fasting” from Facebook. Almost three months ago, I began to feel burdened, depressed, anxious, and angry. I began to question my relationships, lose my trust in friends and family, and develop a wicked ego. I felt, much like Dr. Horrible, that the world was a mess, and I just needed to rule it! Why was I on this downward spiral of angst and self-promotion? Facebook.
I once heard an interesting theory about why Facebook was, at its core, a bad bad thing. I don’t necessarily buy the entire concept, but I think it holds some validity. The theory was that throughout time, we move around, we age, we graduate, we move on and in to different phases of our life for a reason. We are not meant to have 600-1000 friends. We are not meant to keep in touch with casual acquaintances, and we are certainly not meant to get to know everyone we meet on a deep, personal level. We are not meant to see so intimately into one another’s lives because when we do, we often do not like what we see. Growing up, I realized that the ones you love the most are also the ones you can hurt the most because you are closest to them. You know their faults, their weaknesses, every last mistake. You know what drives them crazy. You know them intimately. What Facebook has done is take the complexities of a family dynamic and it has drawn them out on a much larger scale. You are now connected, every day, with everyone you’ve ever known since elementary school. You may now communicate with a random kid in your high school art class more than you do with your own family. There’s a problem there.
You know, as well as I do, that in a casual conversation you do not discuss religion or politics. They are taboo topics that frequently lead to arguments and hurt feelings. Yet on Facebook, they seem to be the most popular things to discuss! Is it any wonder I felt like ramming my head into a brick wall every time I logged on? I had to read blanket generalizations and outright falsehoods spoken as gospel on my news feed, from distant family to forgotten friends, to coworkers and former students. I found myself reading their stereotypical statements and asinine assumptions thinking, “I used to like you! I used to think you were great! But now I know the truth about you!” I went to bed at night, agitated beyond belief; frustration became the norm as I continued to disagree with post after post. I thought of comebacks, things I should have said. I debated whether or not to “unfriend”, as if it was an official declaration of war. I began to resent people for whom, prior to adding them on Facebook, I had the utmost respect.
Not to mention the constant ads, the overload of memes, and the wave of shared recipes popping up on my News Feed; I almost went ballistic. It was too much. It was in the depth of this anguish that I was called out by a fellow Facebooker. In essence, she told me that if I didn’t like what people were posting, I didn’t have to be friends with them, and I didn’t have to log on. At first, I was shocked. Appalled. Offended. I didn’t have to? Of course I had to! I mean, if I got rid of Facebook, what would be my connection to the outside world? How could I seek for the validation of my peers? How could I broadcast to a large audience each and every thought I had at any given moment? … Clearly, I had a problem. I was the very person I hated. I was opinionated and self-absorbed. I was mad at everyone else for thinking they were right all the time – and I was guilty of the same thing. This started a series of self-realizations. I noticed I wasn’t as attentive to my daughter when I came home from work, spending time on my phone instead of playing with her. I noticed I checked my Facebook at least every half hour, even if I was on a date with my husband or at church. I knew something had to change. The bitterness and darkness that had built up in my heart needed to be erased.
So I quit. I temporarily suspended my account. I haven’t logged on since the end of January, and in that time I have learned some pretty valuable things. I’ve learned that my daughter’s laugh is infinitely better than any meme. I’ve learned that I don’t care what my lab partner from college ate for breakfast. I’ve learned that if I don’t check in, I’m still there. I’ve learned that Instagram and Twitter and Google+ leave me feeling just as connected, though each of them can be addicting in their own right. I’ve learned that I can listen to someone, disagree with them, and not give any response at all. I’ve learned that I don’t have to share everything I am thinking, and if I want to, I can share it with my husband. I’ve learned that those who really care about you will find another way to get in touch with you – they don’t need Facebook. I’ve learned that the sanest Facebook users are the ones who use it as a tool and not as a source of entertainment. And I’ve learned that I really don’t have very many friends in real life – and I like it that way. I don’t know when I’ll log back on, but I do know I have felt spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially cleansed. Terence Kemp McKenna brilliantly stated, “The cost of sanity in this society, is a certain level of alienation.” I couldn’t agree more.
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