Many gave up chocolate for Lent this year, while some gave up their status updates.
Abstaining from indulgence or removing something from the diet is a part of many religious holidays, from Ramadan to Passover. For many Christians the longest abstention occurs during the Lenten season. Self-denial is traditionally experienced through food — giving up candy, soda, or perhaps going vegetarian for Lent is what you may hear friends, family, or colleagues talking about around the office or church.
Some though opted to go on a technology diet, or more specifically social media diet. The Lenten season is traditionally forty days long, and for many Christians the Lenten fast ends on Easter Sunday. As we live in an era where social media becomes ever more accessible via mobile and wireless technology, it has become harder and harder to separate ourselves from our online presence. Some individuals attempted to live social-media free this Lenten season.
Stephanie Marie Garrison, an adjunct professor at Marist College, is one of the people who abstained from social media — she gave up Facebook.
"The decision itself was probably made about a month or so before Ash Wednesday," she said. "I think overall my decision was two-fold. I knew that it would be a sacrifice or something hard to give up, and also I figured that by giving up something I pretty much dedicate a lot of time to, I might be able to be more productive with my day."
Rebecca Sasseville of Northbridge, MA gave up Facebook, Twitter, and Livejournal in 2009. Reflecting upon the experience she noted how disconnected she felt without these spaces for communication, even when having more time to interact in person with friends and family.
"I'm pretty sure my social life has never recovered! When it wasn't that easy to just send me an invite to an event but instead to have to call me, I wouldn't get invited places," she said.
As these networks have become more integrated into our social circles than an extension of our offline worlds, is it really worthwhile giving up these important elements of our current social existence? Also what does the church have to say about it, since giving up an online social life isn't something one encounters in religious text. Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, Rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, suggests that it may be important and relevant to "fast" from this type of communication.
"I think it's an excellent idea, especially given the fact that many people have become addicted to Facebook, Twitter, texting, email and the like. These media are becoming more important than face to face communication and that's a problem," he said. "The multimedia, internet-based means of communication can be of great assistance, especially as a search engine for information, but, if these media negatively impact a person's work, family life or spiritual life and prohibit one from fulfilling their responsibilities to all, then it might be a good idea to "fast" from social media for a time, reground oneself with true interpersonal communication and then return to the social media with a clearer perspective of its proper use and worth."
Can one last the whole time without Facebook? What would you substitute your time doing with all those moments throughout the day?
Rebecca completed her fast, but substituted the time online with time with another form of media — television. "I wish I could say I read more books but I didn't. I definitely watched more TV. Really got into Mad Men and watched all three seasons of Arrested Development," she said. "I don't want to brag but I did get a lot better at knitting."
Stephanie noted that when her fasting finished this Easter Sunday, she wouldn't feel as reliant upon social media in general.
"I'll probably be able to use Facebook more moderately in the future," she said. "I miss it and I can't wait to get back on, but it is nice to feel like my time is spent accomplishing more tasks than previously. I feel that by the end, at least at first, I'm probably not going to be as dependent on Facebook as I was before this."