My Summer Social Media Sabbatical: What I Learned When I Left

In late April 2017, I made the decision to step away from social media. For four months, my social media accounts went dark. I was in social media stealth mode. The time away allowed me to reset, refresh, and refocus in ways that I could not (or would not) do while actively engaged on social media.

While I love the interaction on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., I realized that in order to keep stepping forward in real life, I had to take a step back from my online life. So, one day I just decided to quit cold turkey. There wasn’t much forethought and planning into the decision, it was just something I knew I needed to do. So, I deleted all the social media apps from my phone and made the decision to stop visiting the sites on my computer.

At first, I did not know how long my time away would be (again, I didn’t do a lot of advanced planning). I started with one day, which morphed into a week, a month, and, finally, an entire summer. Interestingly enough, there were a lot of things I saw clearly in the light, once my social media pages went dark. I learned a lot about myself and the world around me.

Here are just a few of the things I learned:

Lesson #1: I didn’t miss it that much.

If you had told me prior to Summer 2017 that I would not even log on to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for more than a day, I would not have believed you. I was so engrossed in staying connected to the 30,000+ friends/followers on my social media networks, that I thought I would suffer some sort of withdrawal from being totally disconnected for any length of time.

You know what I found out? I really didn’t miss it that much. To my surprise, I was not pining to see what my friends were posting, or what was the new trending topic of the day. There was not one day over this 4-month period that I was tempted to log on and see what I was missing. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t missing much.

Part of the initial fear of ‘going dark’ was the fear of feeling disconnected from the world around me. However, while social media is a great tool for connecting to the world around us, it does very little for the connections inside us. This means that leaving social media for a season may have affected those external connections, but it did no damage to the internal connection of my soul.

I didn’t miss it – because I wasn’t made by it (nor for it). To paraphrase the Radical Rabbi who lived in first century Palestine and whose crucifixion was most certainly not broadcast on Facebook Live: “Man was not made for [social media]. [Social media] was made for Man.” Recognizing this helped me to realize that I really didn’t miss being on social media all that much.

This takes me to the second lesson I learned on my social media sabbatical.

Lesson #2: I had been missing way too much.

With my attention no longer diverted or divided by social media, I learned all that I had been missing the whole time I was engrossed with hashtags and trending topics. I had been missing valuable, quality time with my real social network – my wife and children.

Because I viewed social media as a tool for ministry, as well as a social outlet, I justified spending copious amounts of time “ministering” to those in my social network with words of wisdom and encouragement. I also used the platform as a way to promote family and family values. Many of the pictures I posted were of me and my family.

However, my sabbatical taught me that I had been spending way more time posting about my family than actually being on post with my family. Many evenings my face was buried in my phone or my computer instead of where it should have been – fully engaged with my family. My body was in the house, but my mind was not. I was becoming more like a “Ghost Dad” – and I did not even realize it.

On more than one occasion over the course of my 4-month sabbatical, my kids would remark about the difference of having me not distracted by my phone. I was able to spend more time listening with them about their day, playing with them in the yard, and observing their daily interactions. These were all things I had been doing to some extent – but I had been missing way too much of.

My wife and I talked more this summer than we probably have in years. Our talking was not interrupted by my tweeting. Many of these were conversations I would have missed had my face been buried in my phone. My sabbatical helped me to realize that I had been missing way too much.

Lesson #3: I wasn’t missed all that much.

In addition to not missing social media that much and realizing that social media had been causing me to miss way too much, I learned during my 4-month sabbatical that I wasn’t really missed all that much by those 30,000+ friends/followers. Yes, there were the occasional text messages from friends who checked on me because they hadn’t seen my usual activity on social media, but – by and large – those were few and far between.

This is not a complaint. In fact, I was extremely grateful for each and every call or text from someone who did actually miss my social media presence. They were reminders that those relationships stretched beyond the faux-friendships of Facebook. The reality is that Instagram was not designed for intimacy. Social media networks are a great place to connect with friends, not necessarily to create friends.

Over the course of the summer there were several instances where I had to laugh internally as someone I ran into told me about how much they loved my Facebook posts. I laughed because they loved them so much that they didn’t realize I hadn’t made one in months!

This is why it is so important that we do not try to cull our identity and sense of being from social media connections. They are primarily artificial and superficial and should never replace or take priority over the real relationships and connections we have with family and close friends.

I am in no way demonizing social media. I believe that social media is a good thing, but even too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. When we overindulge in our obsession with social media (as I found that I was guilty of doing), we develop a social media malady that we have to treat in order to beat. The best prescription for this social media sickness is the same that many doctors prescribe for most minor ailments – rest.

My social media sabbatical gave me a period of rest where I was able to go dark in order to see the light. I can now clearly see the negative ways in which social media was impacting me and the important relationships in my life. Now that I have had sufficient rest, I am now ready to reset, refresh, and refocus as I re-enter the social media world with a more balanced perspective. I’ve learned my lessons…I hope you can learn from mine.

Now that my sabbatical is over, I’ll be coming soon to a timeline near you..stay tuned!

 

 

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