Monday, October 22, 2018

Lessons from my 10-day social media fast

A few weeks ago I sat on a pew at our local stake center watching the general women's session of the general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with about 150 women and a handful of men. Being the stake technology specialist, I get to attend every meeting that involves broadcasts at any of our stake's church buildings.

In years past our stake's women's organizations would host a meal prior to the general women's session, but the decision was made to forego this social aspect this time around. Attendance at the meeting when dinner was served tended to run about triple the attendance at this recent meeting. Many, including my own wife and daughter, chose to watch the meeting at home. I don't really have a problem with that.

Although Elder David A. Bednar spoke earlier in the day against turning the gospel into "checklists of individual topics to study and tasks to accomplish," I couldn't avoid noticing that Church President Russell M. Nelson extended "four invitations" to the sisters that look a lot like a checklist:
  1. "Participate in a 10-day fast from social media and from any other media that bring negative and impure thoughts to your mind."
  2. "Read the Book of Mormon between now and the end of the year. ...mark each verse that speaks of or refers to the Savior."
  3. "Establish a pattern of regular temple attendance."
  4. "Participate fully in Relief Society."
I figured that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. What better way to support my wife and daughter in these invitations than to join them? Even if I couldn't do #4, I could readily do the other three. And I could sort of do #4 by supporting my female family members in their Relief Society participation.

The first and simplest thing to do was to participate in a 10-day fast from social media and negative media. I started the next day. This adjustment wasn't nearly as difficult as I anticipated it might be. This is likely because I made the shift away from negative media and social media years ago when I found myself not liking how I felt about myself when I was more involved in media content.

At the conclusion of my 10-day fast I wanted to document my observations, as recommended by President Nelson, when he said, "What do you notice after taking a break from perspectives of the world that have been wounding your spirit? Is there a change in where you now want to spend your time and energy? Have any of your priorities shifted—even just a little? I urge you to record and follow through with each impression."

What do I notice or did I notice during my 10-day fast. First off, it wasn't incredibly different than normal. As noted, I had already changed my media habits years earlier. As far as social media goes, I rarely post and I find most posts on my feed fairly inane. I also find occasional useful and uplifting posts. But I will note three factors:
  • Instead of going to media sources for a break from the daily grind, I found myself going to family history apps. Some of this was due to timing, given that I was notified of several DNA matches and new links to several ancestor records during this time frame.
  • I was mildly annoyed at the inability to get updates about events and family matters through the normal means.
  • Highly partisan posts and food porn posts were not missed.
Really, I am tired of food videos that amount to fantasies of how recipes work in real life. They follow the same patterns as sex porn and hit similar pleasure centers in the brain, so I call them food porn. I block those sites whenever possible and I have unfollowed some connections due to their penchant for such posts. These posts still pop up with annoying frequency.

I have a variety of social media connections who put out highly partisan or deeply slanted ideological posts. I long ago tired of people painting complex issues in simplistic monochrome ways and freaking out about tactics by ideological opponents while excusing the same tactics by ideological allies. Many of these people seem to have a stunning lack of self awareness.

Why don't I just unfollow them? Sometimes I do. But I actually care about many of these people, although, I may think them to be somewhat misguided. I'm also not so secure in my own political ideology as to think that I have nothing to learn from others who think differently. If we screen out all thought differences we end up in an echo chamber where we think we have all the answers. Too many of us do this already. Besides, these folks occasionally post about things I actually do care about. I guess I am willing to wade through some of their garbage to pick up the occasional gem.

Occasionally I have unfollowed someone for posting raunchy material. I find no redeeming value in exposing myself to that stuff. But the main reason I have unfollowed people has been overload on the volume of posts. Where in the world do people find the time to share 30 posts on a given day? Too many posts in one day violates the basic tenets of social media etiquette.

Is there a change in where I now want to spend my time and energy? Have any of my priorities shifted—even just a little? Yes. I want to spend more time doing family history work. I have gone through many waxing and waning family history periods during my lifetime. I found that I had waned on that front more than I really wanted to. So I want to do more of that.

And I may actually unfollow some people whose posts, on balance, tend to bring more negative thoughts than introspective or uplifting thoughts.

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