By Alan Rudnick
Driving to Virginia to spend Thanksgiving with my family I wasn’t thinking about turkey, cranberry sauce or who would get to try their luck at the wishbone. I thought about only one thing: Twitter.
This year I took a digital fast during Thanksgiving week. In addition to my vacation, I decided I needed to take a vacation away from Twitter. With its endless flow of information, pithy quotes and jokes from Conan O’Brien, I was becoming too attached.
As a pastor, I connect with church members, share resources with other ministry leaders and look for new ideas on how to “do” church on Twitter. It is painfully easy to access Twitter. I can connect to my Twitter stream on my Blackberry (who uses those anymore?), at home and at the office.
Twitter is a river of information. Facebook is more like a dammed lake — the information slowly drains away. If you miss something on the fast-moving current of Twitter, it is gone.
On average Americans spend just as much time on the Internet (13 hours a week) as they do watching television. That adds up to 26 hours — a little more than a day of our week — spent in front of a screen.
With all that time away from face-to-face contact, consider a digital fast this Advent. With the busyness of cute holiday Facebook pictures and snarky anti-consumerism updates from Twitter, we need less screen time and more face time.
Both Christian and Jew have a shared heritage of observing fasts. In the Old Testament, God’s people used fasts to reorder their perspective and put their focus on God. Moses fasted in order to atone for the sins of Israel. Christians often fast during Lent to reflect and experience a small sacrifice.
There are a few groups and celebrities who have committed to a digital fast. A group called the Sabbath Manifesto, calls for one day in March for people to “unplug” and rest from technology. TIME Magazine’s Joel Stein reflected upon his digital Sabbath with his wife: “We were 11 minutes into our experiment when, sitting in traffic, Cassandra suggested we call the restaurant to tell them we’d be late. Then she started singing Lady Gaga songs a cappella. Then she came up with a Twitter joke she wanted me to memorize so she could send it out the next day. Still, it was nice to talk, or sit quietly with the option of talking, without the other person typing. Or listening to Lady Gaga.”
Twitter and Facebook are so ingrained into our lives that we no longer want to call or meet someone for exciting personal news, but we broadcast to the world what we are eating for breakfast. At the very least, a digital fast encourages us to focus on the deeper relationships we have to people, not technology. It calls us to attend to the needs of our children, families, friends and even the stranger in our life. Social media is all about connecting to people, so let’s actually make connecting with people physically a priority.
Unplugging life from the dependence on technology harks back to the day when humans relied on their own skills and gifts. A fast from social media helps us to realize that meaningful connections are made through relationships, not digital networking. True love and friendship are found with time spent together, and not through a computer.
Logging off from Twitter was not as hard as I thought. Though I freaked that my Klout score was tanking by the minute, I realized that the rhythm of life requires rest, fasting and conditioning especially during spiritual seasons. This Advent, take a digital Sabbath and see how God can transform you from online to offline.