Social Media Lent 2011

So…what did I miss?

Forty days ago, just one minute into Ash Wednesday, I sent my last Tweet and visited my Facebook Wall for the final time. My blog, already idle up to then, became further caked in dust thanks to my neglect. Lenten season was upon us, and I was beginning my abstinence from all forms of social media.

No more Twitter. Goodbye Facebook! Au revoir, Foursquare. See ya later, Instagram.

So, how’d it turn out?

Well…yeah.

What I Defined as Social Media Abstinence

The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus…

Wikipedia article on Lent

Although I’m not Catholic, I have participated in Lent since I met my Catholic best friend Jim. I typically give up habits to which I was beholden — favorite fixations to forsake have included caffeine, sweets, and meat.

This year, social media immediately came to mind because of its distracting, addictive qualities. And apparently, I’m not the only one thinking the same. I wasn’t thinking of the time I’d recover from not checking my iPhone every few minutes. Instead, I was motivated to redirect time towards the most important things in my life: my wife and my son.

I gave up all services. And for forty days straight — no “Tweetless Fridays” or breaks in between. And no exceptions for any one person, including my wife!

The lone exception to my penance was GMail. Although one could argue that email is a form of social media, I think of it like a telephone: a device for communication, an object that long predates the actual term “social media.” In addition, my business and financial interests would have been harmed by forsaking email. And Jenn needed at least one way to speak to me that didn’t involve our voices!

To prevent temptations, I did the following:

  • Deleted all social media applications from my iPhone.
  • Deleted all bookmarks from my iPhone, iPad, and desktop Firefox.
  • Unsubscribed from all related newsletters and alerts.
  • Logged into each service and de-authorized it for other services (example: breaking the link between FourSquare & Twitter).

Short-Term Aftermath

The act of disconnection was fairly straight-forward. However, unwinding the web of technology which integrated each service was quite cumbersome.  It took multiple evenings of discovering forgotten links before everything was fully decoupled and notifications were fully quashed.

My disappearance was shocking for some, jarring for others. Jenn was particularly affected — we quickly learned how central a communication device Twitter was to the two of us. She compensated by emailing me select tweets and gossip.

My absence led to some side effects and things I missed out on, including:

  • My Meebo chat client was still running on my iPhone. Meebo keeps one persistently logged into all chat sessions, including those on Facebook.  Therefore, it appeared to people that I was online.  I’m still sorting through the “you’re going to hell” quips.
  • My wife attended a tweetup where an attendee talked her ear off & was kicked out of the bar. He tweeted me a public apology, which I didn’t see until five weeks later.
  • I attended a tweetup, only to discover I was the only person not staring at their phone all night.
  • Whataburger emailed me to invite me to like their Facebook Page, to which I shed a tear.
  • Two of our friends had their first baby.
  • Weddings were planned.
  • Biopsies were taken
  • All of my significant Foursquare Mayorships were seized
  • Warrior Dashes were dashed.
  • Cobras escaped zoos.
  • Tigers with blood fizzled out

I deliberately broke my Lenten vow only once. After the Japanese earthquakes, I logged into Facebook to ensure my friends over there were safe (which they are, thank God).

But the time I recovered was refreshing.  I read two books and knocked out a massive backlog in my Instapaper queue.   I caught up on my consulting business.   And surprisingly so, I started to get back into illustration, building up some habits that had been absent for nearly 15 years.

But most importantly, I spent some really good times with Zachary and Jenn.  Especially with Zachary, it’s the best time of his young life.  One interesting side-effect of my fast: because I wasn’t using Instagram, I also wasn’t taking as many photographs of Zachary — so if you look at my iPhone photo album, it looks like he shot up in height overnight!

Long-Term Impact

This past week, as the countdown to my online return was imminent, people asked me if I missed social media.  Of course I did — I miss being up-to-date with friends and subscribing to a broad world view.

I missed Twitter significantly enough that I went back to it immediately.  We all know that lack of activity equals lost followers, right? On Ash Wednesday, I had 1387 Tweeps in my stable. On Good Friday, that number had dropped to 1391. Thanks to you fucking spambots, we have proven the Twitter experts wrong!

The big casualty, however, will be Facebook.  I can’t imagine reviewing it regularly ever again. Its ever-increasing noise, security concerns, and complexity are anti-incentives for my attention. In comparison, Twitter is lean, where my closest friends lurk, and via my current blend of client (TweetDeck) and supporting applications (Formulists) I can ensure my stream never gets overwhelming. A colleague of mine noted the average user has more close contacts on Facebook instead of Twitter. I’m the black sheep, apparently.

Before Lent, Instagram encouraged me to regularly document my day. Without that tool, my frequency of taking photographs has declined sharply. But one of my joys is editing photos on the iPhone.  It’s likely I’ll continue doing that and just post them to my blog.

And speaking of, if you are reading this message, you’re on my blog!  I setup a newer, simpler theme — it’s now more Tumblr-like, with less focus on a limited number of subjects and more attention given to a leaner, quicker publishing process.

Wrapup

So this morning, I signed back onto my favorite services and slipped right back into the world I had left.  It’s refreshing to see everyone, and touching to know that I was missed.  I’m glad to be back online — at least until the next Lent.

Author: Matthew

Husband to Jenn, father to Zachary and Penelope, blogger, artist, WordPress consultant, OpenCamp organizer, and running enthusiast. Brother, can you spare an extra hour in the day?