I like to think that I am not addicted to social media but there is no doubt that checking updates, posting comments and engaging in discussions takes up time and mental space. My son’s comment to me a few months ago that ‘you’re a nicer person without your iPhone’ was mainly due to being distracted by social media. It was painful to hear but important to listen to.
Going without such online distractions for 6 weeks gave my life more breathing space. It helped me pray and reflect. So I have decided to do the same thing for this Advent.
It’s not to condemn social media. I like facebook and will continue to use it after Christmas. But I do believe it is good for us to have seasons where we intentionally do something different. ‘Fasting’ from something we usually do can provide a positive opportunity to deepen and re-order our lives in a more healthy way.
So what kind of a difference could a fast from using social media make?
1. It could help us engage more deeply in the real world around us
Sometimes we need some extra reason or added motivation to positively do something else. Replace the time spent online by connecting with a friend you have not seen for ages, invite the neighbours over, have that conversation you have been putting off, read the quality book that is gathering dust on your shelf, use the time on the train or bus to work to reflect on the day ahead, visit the elderly person on your street who is lonely, spend time talking to the kids who hang out on your street. Be more intentional about engaging with the real people around you. Focussing less on your facebook friends could be an opportunity to be more intentional about spending more quality time with the friends and family around you.
2. It could help us reject the toxic materialism of Christmas
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spoke out recently about the materialism which spoils Christmas by putting pressure on families. Yet against these comments, the John Lewis 2013 Christmas advert has had over 8.5 million hits on Youtube. In response to the acclaim the advert received, Richard Godwin wrote in the Evening Standard:
“We are in a sorry state if we cannot distinguish art from commerce. This is what he Archbishop is getting at when he says that consumerism puts pressure on relationships at Christmas, making us equate love and money. In short it ‘spoils life’. Advertising is like warfare, every year our defences get stronger; every year the weaponry gets more sophisticated.”
We have to realise that facebook is not our friend: it bombards us with tailored adverts designed to create discontent and increase our spending. Withdrawing from social media lessens our exposure to the toxic propaganda of consumerism.
3. It could help us be renewed by something deeper
If we lead busy lives, then the weeks before Christmas are often twice as busy. How do we resist what Andy Flannagan describes as ‘drowning in the shallow’ of our superficial culture?
The best way is by rooting ourselves more intentionally and deeply in divine love: the love of a ‘down-to-earth’ God who comes to us as a vulnerable baby, a seed of hope which has transformed the world forever.
Advent is a time to be intentional about spirituality rather than it being last on our list of priorities: If you pray, pray more. If you don’t, start. Spend time in silence.
To help do this, you might find R&R’s Advent Challenge useful. It gives 24-days of reflections for each day of Advent that combine silence, readings and prayer which help you focus on the person at the centre of the whole celebration.
It is in rooting ourselves more deeply and intentionally in God’s love that we will find true renewal and a deeper joy than is found at any party or inside any present.
So, these are my reasons for an advent of virtual liberation. As I found last Lent, the world doesn’t end because you are not on facebook or twitter. I know a such a fast won’t be for everyone, but I would encourage everyone to do something intentionally spiritual in the 24 days leading up to Christmas.
If you do then I am sure you will emerge on Christmas day with a story and a hope which is all the more real and deep; ready and prepared to celebrate more fully the good news of peace at the heart of the Christmas message.