By Jeff Borders
Recently I participated in a seven-day social media fast, from which I gained some valuable insights. But let me back up a few steps and give some much needed background on why I would do a social media fast in the first place. As someone who creates content to be shared on the internet, specifically social media, a social media fast might seem antithetical to good business practice, but nonetheless, I still went forward with it.
A few weeks ago, the Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a fireside for the youth of the church ages 12 and up. As a youth leader and the father of an almost 13-year-old, it was my pleasure to be able to listen to the fireside with my son by my side. During the fireside, President Russell M. Nelson and his wife Wendy, encouraged the youth to become engaged in spreading the Gospel to the edges of the world, and he gave five points for them to follow.
The 5 points are as follows:
- Disengage from a constant reliance on social media by engaging in a 7-day social media fast. President Nelson counseled “Much of what appears in your social media feeds is distorted, if not fake. So give yourself a seven-day break from fake.”
Sister Nelson encouraged youth by saying, “It’s time to stop comparing ourselves with others. It’s time to put away those erroneous views of ourselves and others. The truth is, we are not as hopelessly flawed as we may think, and others are not as perfect as they may appear; all except, of course, our Savior Jesus Christ.”
- Make a weekly sacrifice of time to the Lord, for three weeks in a row.
- Do a thorough life assessment with the Lord.
- Pray daily that all of God’s children might receive the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Stand out and be different from the world.
As the spirit testified to me of the truthfulness of the counsel I was being given, I decided right then and there to follow, knowing fully well I was disengaging from a tool (social media) that I use routinely to help market my writing. But in going through the short fast, there were definitely a few things I learned or should I say, relearned, along the way.
- I spent way too much time just endlessly scrolling through Facebook and Twitter prior to the fast. No seriously, it was ridiculous. Most of the time I wasn’t even really looking at anything, it was just habit, as I scrolled looking for something eye catching to watch. And before we go and chalk this up as a millennial problem, it isn’t, and in fact, I think it is pretty akin to the mindless channel surfing many gen-x kids did on a regular basis. We continually move from one image to the next, trying to find something eye catching, never pausing or stepping away to find the things that really matter in life.
- As Sister Nelson pointed out, we do compare ourselves way too much to other people, and there is not greater way for this to happen than the insta-perfect pictures we see on our social media feeds on a daily, or hourly basis. It is so easy to begin to compare ourselves with what someone else has, or is doing, that we can begin to drag ourselves into this dark place where we start to think we aren’t good enough. I’ve seen this play out with far too many people.
- While I am not decrying social media as the bane of our existence, our constant reliance on likes, shares, re-tweets, and snaps takes us away from many meaningful one-on-one conversations. I sometimes think our language is reverting back to hieroglyphics in the form of emojis. If you want to see this in full effect, ask a college professor about the work they have turned in from their students. Spelling and grammar have gone out the window, to be replaced with abbreviations and slang. We have lost social skills in an attempt to be “more social” on the social networks.
- At the end of the week I realized that I hadn’t really missed anything of significant importance. Sure, I may have missed seeing pictures of my family and friends, but all in all, the world kept turning, and life went on. More importantly, I was happy. Genuinely happy. I was looking up more, instead of looking down. I was recognizing the beauty more clearly in front of me. Seeing the greatness of God’s creations. Enjoying the real as opposed to the surreal.
In the end I can’t help but wonder if the rise in depression and suicide rates in youth is linked to an increasingly virtual landscape of distorted images. A November 2017 story in the New York Post, entitled “Rise in teen suicide connected to social media popularity,” seems to lean in the same direction, pointing to a CDC study that suggests the social media use could be one factor in the rise in suicide rates.
Quoting the article, “The study doesn’t answer the question, but it suggests that one factor could be rising social media use. Recent teen suicides have been blamed on cyber-bullying, and social media posts depicting “perfect” lives may be taking a toll on teens’ mental health, researchers say.”
Then there is sobering statistics like the following from the CDC. In 2015 it was reported that 19 percent of teens use their electronic devices for more than 5 hours a day, and 87 percent of 12th grade girls used social media every day. Those who used social media daily were 14 percent more likely to experience symptoms of depression.
In addition, social media is great at creating an echo chamber of sorts, where all we hear is what we want to hear, due to customization and algorithms trying to figure out what you want to see. It doesn’t really give us true perspective on what it going on in the world. It’s a place to easily shout down and bully in an almost anonymous fashion. The fact that we have a thing called trolling, is indicative of how pervasive these things can be.
Now, like I said above, I am not calling for an end to social media. My work exists because I can share it on social media and then because people can share it again, and again (Well hopefully that’s what is happening). It’s how I grow my readers, and I am grateful for it in that aspect of it. What I am suggesting however, is that we take a sobering look at how we use social media and how much we find ourselves dependent on it.
Do me a favor, even if you are not a follower of my faith, go on a 7-day social media fast and see what you learn about yourself and the world around you from it. You never know what insights you may gain.
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