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What I Learned from My Social Media Fast

So I feel like I emerged from a cave yesterday when I came out of a five day social media fast.  How do I feel?  Like the rest of the world gets around by sports car and I got handed a wagon with a broken wheel and no horse.

My rules were simple:  communicate with people voice to voice or face to face for five days.  I got rid of Facebook and Twitter, and only answered texts and emails with a return voice call, not by keyboard.

I thought it was going to be a great week – I’d be more spiritual.  More time for rich relationships.  Time to deeply reflect.  Mind you, I try to take time like that every week.  But I thought my social media fast would enhance that to the nth degree.

Uh.  No.  Not at all.   It just made everything more difficult and more complicated.  Sign of an addict?  I don’t think so.  Hope not.  Read on and make up your own mind.

Some random learnings:

  • It wasn’t that hard not to tweet or update my Facebook status.  I had the urge, but it wasn’t like the response a caffeine addict might have to no coffee.  I could easily last a month or more.
  • What I did miss is knowing what was going on in my friends’ lives.  Most of the benefit of social media for me is staying in touch and keeping up on what’s happening in other peoples lives and ministries.  It felt lonely actually, like a bunch of great people had exited my life.
  • It was incredibly inconvenient.   I could not get to inbox zero because I couldn’t effectively follow up on everything that came across my inbox or desktop.  Not only was it inconvenient for me, it was very inconvenient for our staff and other colleagues.
  • Phone communication isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  When you’re used to communicating with someone via text or direct messages, switching it up to voice mail makes is more complicated. Text based messaging gets sent at the convenience of the sender and read at the convenience of the recipient.  The phone is very intrusive compared to that.
  • Good communication rule: communicate with people the way they want to be communicated with.  I decided I would read email but ask people to respond by phone.  I had an auto-responder set up on the gmail explaining my five day fast and asked people to call me instead.  Not many did.  I could be wildly unpopular or it might just be that people pick the channel of communication they want and stick to it.  I did call a few people and we had some fun conversations, but got more voicemails than actual conversations.  Online messaging is FAR more efficient and fun.
  • I did have more time reflect and think last week…not much, but some.  But I felt my world got much smaller, and I missed the people who make it larger and richer for their presence.

Conclusions

  • I thought the fast would be liberating, clarifying and spiritually uplifting.  Instead, it was mostly inconvenient.
  • Social media can lead to narcissism for sure, but I found I wasn’t really missing updating my own status, I was missing every else.  And missing the chance to engage and interact.
  • I thought I would be asking everyone to do a media fast in our Like Me series on social media (coming up in November at Connexus).  Maybe a better bottom line is this:  some of us (narcissistic folks etc) need to use social media less, but some of us need to use it more. If you’re not texting, on Facebook or online in any meaningful way, you’re missing a huge part of the conversation.  You’re being left behind.  And people younger than you might not be talking to you at all.  This is just actually the way millions of people communicate now.  You miss it at your own peril.

That’s what I learned.  Ever done a media fast? What was your experience? If you haven’t done one, what do you think you might discover if you did one?

11 Comments

  1. Scott Wenzel on October 19, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Hi,

    I stumbled upon your post from a friend’s Twitter. The biggest question I have after reading this is why did you decide E-Mail and Texts were social media?

    I would think they are not social media since E-Mails and Texts, unlike Twitter and Facebook, have to have to be addressed To someone.

    It seems like that was the root cause of a lot of the inconvenience/annoyance. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    • Carey on October 20, 2010 at 12:23 pm

      Hi Scott. Great point. You’re right…texting and email are not classically social media like twitter and facebook. I was taking some liberties with the term.

      My point was to try to figure out how online communication varied from face to face and voice to voice. So I canceled almost all online communication. Thanks for pointing out the difference in terminology.

  2. Jonathon Mitchell on October 18, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Great thoughts! I especially liked your thoughts on communicating with people the way they want to be communicated with. It’s interesting to think of that from both sides of that equation. I have a person on a team that I’m on who has the capability to, but just refused to communicate by email like the rest of the team. Maybe it’s our duty to put a little leg work into communicating with those like that they way that they need/want to be communicated with.

  3. Justin on October 18, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Hey Carey

    I met you at the orange conference over a year ago and I don’t know through what means exactly, but I was interested by your post. I just finished a month long fast from social media (not as intense as you). I went without FB entirely and was challenged by one of my college students to tweet only once a day. Email wasn’t in the equation.

    I came to some similar conclusions, but I still wrestle with social media being a substitute for many in place of real community. Did that factor into your experience at all?

    It made it hard to connect with people, yes, but why? Are we not important enough to one another to connect on different terms? Just some thoughts and conversations I’ve been having with young adults.

  4. Tim L. Walker on October 18, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Exactly… while you can (and it’s ok) to leverage your social media influence (some of my sites receive more than 25% of their traffic from social media sites), if you’re not participating in the social aspect of it as well, it becomes just another media outlet, which defeats the whole purpose.

  5. Carey on October 18, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Tim…great point. I loved your tweet on the weekend asking the spammers to stop using the #barrie hashtage on twitter. (Barrie’s one of our main cities here in Central Ontario for you non-local folks).

    It’s interesting that some people think that social media is just a new way to telemarket or direct mail people. It’s not. It’s just not.

  6. Tim L. Walker on October 18, 2010 at 2:03 am

    I’m glad you came to the conclusions that you did… I think it would have been a hard sell to challenge Connexus to do a social media fast, when a good chunk of the church concept is about embracing social media (it IS a video church, afterall). 😉 And for those of us that work online, it would basically be impossible… I would sooner give up my vehicle than my access to social media.

    I’m also happy that you realized that social media is actually SOCIAL – it’s only narcissistic for those that aren’t using social media properly (those using it as a broadcast medium instead of an interactive medium). If you’re not INTERACTING with social media, you’re not really using social media anyways. 😉

  7. Elay on October 17, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Thank you! I did a 7 day fast and came to the same conclusions. The world suddenly got very small. I like the car vs wagons/a broken wheel analogy. That says it perfectly

  8. Carey on October 17, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Michelle…great perspective. Thanks for that reminder. Good to chat again by the way!

    Jackson. So great to hear from you! Benedictine Rule…awesome. I think a month of withdrawal would certainly have a different impact. My challenge would be so much of my life is online that I’d bascially have to quit work for a month.

    Socially it’s much easier to unplug and go analog than in the kind of ministry we do. We are hard wired to be wired if you know what I mean. Ideas?

  9. Jackson on October 17, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Interesting Carey. I am leading our Gen Xers through an adapted practice of the Benedictine Rule. One of the things that we are doing is trying to place limits on social media including tv, fb,, etc. like you. Itll be interesting to see what they make of it after a month. Maybe you didn;t go long enough?

  10. Michelle on October 17, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Very interesting. I’d have to agree that tuning into OTHER peoples lives is the beauty of social media. For myself, social media serves as a tool to keep my medically-shrunken world large and therefore keep me mentally content. The flip side in my case, is that a social media fast would help encourage more exercise which is sorely needed to keep me physically healthy. Its a balance for everyone probably. Making the best use of the pros while minimizing the cons of social media.

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