I’m not fasting from social media.
But neither do I think it’s a bad idea.
At the recent women’s conference for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson asked women to participate in a 10-day fast from social media and any other “negative or impure media.”
He also asked women to read the Book of Mormon between now and the end of the year, attend the temple and participate in relief society, but those suggestions were nearly drowned out by the hubbub over suggesting a social media fast.
Lots of my devout friends chose to begin their social media fast immediately, with many making posts announcing their departures from Facebook and Instagram. Others, noting work or other obligations, made supportive comments, but said they’d give customers and followers notice before taking a social media break later.
One of my friends is in the thick of sorting applications and soliciting donations for a large Christmas charity event. Her Facebook presence allows her to communicate efficiently with many volunteers. She anticipates stepping away from social media right at the end of the year, when her projects are complete and communication with a crew of helpers is less urgent.
Her approach seems exactly appropriate for someone whose social media use focuses on serving others.
Meanwhile, many of my other friends and associates were deeply critical and my own social media feeds were suddenly very polarized. How dare Church leaders attempt to silence women with their cult-like patriarchy? Why only women? And why now, right before a contentious mid-term election?
These are all valid questions, and deserve consideration. However, as an opinionated woman, I bristled a bit at some of the assumptions that came with them. I’m a practicing member of the Church, but it stings to be labeled a pearl-clutching doormat who’s out of touch with reality.
Frankly, the Kavanaugh hearings nearly killed me. I don’t think it’s necessarily disengaging or choosing ignorance to follow news off social media. No one suggested women hide in windowless bunkers. Avoiding endless spin and mean-spirited analysis on social media as I regroup from that fiasco doesn’t mean I don’t care about a million other issues; it means I need to catch my breath. Who doesn’t need to re-examine priorities and detox a bit? Mental health is nice, I hear. I want to be “anxiously engaged” in improving the world — without being anxious.
Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but maybe people opting to get their information elsewhere — like, say, from a newspaper — would reduce the amount of stupidity that’s so easy to pass around on social media. Now’s the time to read actual books, and study election issues in-depth instead of passively scrolling through a Facebook feed.
I can’t help but think at least some of the folks who are upset at President Nelson’s recommendation of a 10-day social media fast would be supportive if the idea came from their yoga instructor.
I don’t pretend to know why this suggestion was issued only to women of the Church. Obviously, everyone could benefit from more mindful consumption of social media. Youth were asked to fast from social media for a week over the summer, and perhaps similar counsel for men will come in the future.
Even as I always hope for egalitarian spiritual counsel, I also recognize my husband and teen sons are urged to avoid pornography at nearly every general church meeting. I can’t think of a time that same advice has been given to women specifically, so I look at this counsel as addressing concerns that may be more prevalent for women. Instagram-fueled insecurity and discouragement? Distraction from the work of making a difference? It’s highly individual, no doubt.
Social media is largely a positive influence in my own life and opens many opportunities to love and serve others, but I recognize that’s not always the case. Checking social media accounts makes it easy to find out who needs a surprise cheer-up treat, but equally easy to get caught up in before-and-after pics of the latest fad diet.
The reality is, there is time to take a break, and still time to collaborate with others, to learn and to get involved. You don’t have to choose between mindfulness and participation.
Prove the skeptics wrong, and thoughtfully engage in your community.