My 7-Day Media Fast
In a recent interview, I heard J. Max Wilson talk about how he'd been doing a 7-day social media fast each month starting with Fast Sunday. That sounded like an excellent idea to me and I decided to adapt it for my own situation and give it a try.
Starting on 12 am Monday, January 4th and ending on 12 am Monday, January 11th, I abstained from:
- Social Media – this not only includes the obvious platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (I deleted my Instagram account earlier this year), but in my case it also includes Mastodon, Slack, IRC, and a couple Telegram groups.
- News Media – whether it be print, audio, or video.
- Entertainment Media – TV, movies, YouTube, Netflix, etc. Generally, media not produced by or closely related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I did not include video games because, with rare exceptions like playing a session of Minecraft with my son once in a blue moon, I no longer play video games. I quit in early 2020. If I was still “gaming”, I likely wouldn't have attempted this fast. Nor would I have started this blog. I wouldn't have made the time for any of it.
My reason for this fast was simple. Information overload is a thing. It's easy to drown in a sea of words and ideas if you don't make an intentional effort to regulate or, if needed, stop the flow. I felt the need to “reboot”. Turn everything off, enjoy the silence for a while, then pay close attention as I turn each media faucet back on one by one and make sure I can still keep my head above water.
President Russel M. Nelson taught:
We live in a world that is complex and increasingly contentious. The constant availability of social media and a 24-hour news cycle bombard us with relentless messages. If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and the philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation.
Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory. But in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.
For seven days, I tried to avoid media that can potentially disrupt the influence of the Holy Ghost and interfere with personal revelation.
Here are my notes and observations from each day.
The Day Before – Sunday
Late in the day, I deleted social media, news, and media apps from my smartphone and logged out of social media websites on my laptop web browser. I also changed the settings in my web browser so that it wouldn't show or suggest frequently used or bookmarked websites.
I began my media fast with a prayer, asking my Heavenly Father to help me avoid the specified media and devote the following seven days to spiritual growth and personal reflection.
I got the inspiration to create this blog that same evening, making this my inaugural post.
Day 1 – Monday
I was reminded how habitual the use of technology has become. I caught myself navigating to news websites about a dozen times today. But I caught myself! Each time I saw only a headline or two before I realized what I was doing and closed the browser tab. My self-control improved when I put my smartphone out of arm's reach.
Social media was less of a temptation, thanks to me deleting apps on my phone and logging out of the websites in my laptop's web browser last night.
I didn't have much time for entertainment media today. I had gotten into the habit of watching an episode of a TV show – presently Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for the umpteenth time – during my lunch hour. Today instead I worked on the About page of this blog. After work I spent time with my wife and son celebrating his birthday.
A good start to the week! I feel like I'm thinking a little more clearly already.
I feel focused.
Day 2 – Tuesday
I navigated to a news site only once today. I caught myself after about 10 seconds, closed the browser tab, and immediately set my phone out of arm's reach. It's like a nervous tick. I just pick up my phone, and my subconscious does the rest. I don't know why this unsettles me so much, but it does.
I'm realizing that even if you are intentionally avoiding it, it's impossible to completely ignore news and current events when family and friends are wrapped up in them...and want to discuss them with you. You can't completely avoid social media and entertainment media for the same reasons. It reminded me of my time as a full-time missionary. Most of what I knew about the world outside of the “mission bubble” was through word-of-mouth.
I've been reading more. My personal scripture study is currently focused on the Old Testament. And I'm reading Forgiven by Terri Roberts, mother of the Nickel Mines Amish School shooter. The story of the aftermath of that horrific event is evidence of God's mercy and grace and gives me tremendous comfort and hope. I'll be writing about that a lot in future blogs.
I feel peaceful.
Day 3 – Wednesday
All I know about what happened today at the US Capitol is from a one-sentence summary from my wife. And while I must admit I am curious about the details, I realize there is nothing I can do about any of it. I'm not trying to be callous, it's just the truth. I will pray as I always have for peace, love, and truth to prevail – for God to prevail. I will try to focus my mental energy on the things over which I do have control. The details of today's events will be waiting for me when I finish my media fast.
Late last night I got an instant message from a mission friend I hadn't heard from in years. Although we weren't missionary companions, we served in the same area in Brazil for a few months and were roommates. He was reading his personal journal entries about that time and he reached out to me to compare memories. It was a pleasant surprise and just the thing I needed to lift my spirits. It also reminded me of a pivotal experience that I neglected to record in my own mission journal. I decided to dedicate a blog post to it.
It has also made me wonder who I could be reaching out to in a similar way. That'd be a great way to replace unproductive time-wasting activities with something meaningful and impactful.
I feel blessed.
Day 4 – Thursday
I'd have to say that of the three forms of media (social media, news, and entertainment media), I've been most tempted to check the news. This is somewhat surprising to me, considering the other two have been just as much a daily part of my life with the exception of me usually trying to avoid entertainment media on Sundays. Of course, this temptation may have been amplified due to the events of yesterday. I'm grateful to be able to say that I have not yielded to that temptation. My only source of news this week continues to be word-of-mouth.
In general, I have felt considerably less agitated than usual. I have also felt physically better than I have in recent memory. I seem to be sleeping better and nagging health issues I've been dealing with seem to have nagged me at least a little less. I'm seeing evidence of a connection between my physical health and my mental and emotional wellbeing, which I feel have improved over the past few days.
I feel good.
Day 5 – Friday
I haven’t watched any TV all week. Not even BYUtv! Reading and writing has occupied the bulk of my free time. It’s been a welcome change! I have, however, been listening to the Latter-day Saints Channel stations, BYU speeches, and Christian contemporary music sporadically throughout my work days. The music is definitely less distracting than the speeches! They were so good! I had to stop listening to those so I could keep focused on my work.
I thought I would be struggling to fill the free time I would normally be spending on social media, news sites, and watching TV/movies. But I can truthfully say it hasn't been a struggle at all. There's always been something to do. I daresay the things I have chosen to do have not only been enjoyable, but even restorative. More often than not, social media and news leave me agitated and unsettled.
I feel calm.
Day 6 – Saturday
Aside from my usual Saturday chores (each member of my family rotates through different ones each week) I didn't really have firm plans for the day going into it. But the past couple of days I've been feeling like I need to get back on FamilySearch and start working through my hints queue, so I spent a couple hours doing that. And wow, what a rabbit hole that was! It's amazing how working hints for a single person can result in adding a dozen new people to your tree and attaching a couple dozen more records.
I also spent several hours reading and finishing Forgiven. A remarkable story and testimony of the power of forgiveness and God's grace from a fellow Christian. It'll be a permanent addition to the family library. And as I said earlier, I have much more to say on the subject in future blog posts.
I feel loved.
Day 7 – Sunday
The Sabbath Day is a day of reflection and recommitment. It seemed an ideal day to wrap up my media fast. With my current calling, Sundays are the busiest day of the week for me. But in between meetings, emails, family calls, and ordinations (my son is now a Teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood!), I tried to look back on the last 6 days and determine whether or not they were worth it. Without hesitation, I can say they were.
Simply put, I feel better in mind and spirit on Day 7 than I did on Day 1, and I can clearly see how the media fast contributed to that improvement. I made more time to be still and sort out my thoughts. More time to study God's Word in scripture and from living prophets. More time to pray, and more time to listen. I've been more open and receptive to promptings and impressions that I am certain I would have missed had I been engaged in my pre-fast habits.
As further evidence of the positive effect this fast has had upon me, I contrast my calm state of mind and peaceful feelings this week with those of family and friends who were astonished, fearful, even outraged by the events – or I should say the coverage of the events – that unfolded in the US capitol. I was only aware of what was going on through word-of-mouth. And that was enough. I wasn't swept away by the tsunami of information, exhaustive analysis, and commentary.
Some might say I couldn't have picked a worse week for a media fast. I don't think I could have picked a better one.
I feel grateful.
It's no coincidence that I happened to be reading and learning more about the Amish at the same time I did a 7-day media fast. The Amish don't fear technology. They seek to be its master, rather than allow it to master them. They are willing to abstain from using a particular piece of technology if it interferes with their ability to live in harmony with their values. Though I will not take it to their same extremes, I want to adopt a similar approach in my life.
I don't want to return to my media habits of 8 days ago. But I don't want to completely cut myself off from the world, either. For all its drawbacks, social media is currently the way in which billions of people around the world interact and communicate. The Church has been using social media to carry out missionary work in miraculous ways, and this effort has only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to be a part of that effort and help however I can.
Starting tomorrow, I have designated a specific time each day – my lunch hour – for engaging with social and news media. I plan to allocate 30 minutes to each and avoid them all other times. If something happens to come up outside of that time – whether it's an idea for a social media post or a news story that I want to learn more about – I will write it down and save it for the next designated time window. To avoid the temptation to cheat, I will leave all social media and news apps uninstalled from my phone and try to only use such apps and websites on my laptop. I still catch myself absentmindedly navigating to news websites on my phone, but it's only for a few seconds and I never get to the point where I click into a story. I've been getting better at that as the week has progressed and hope to eventually break myself of the habit.
The end goal of all of this? A deeper, more reliable connection with God. I believe these changes will help me to hear Him more clearly, more often.
And after a successful 7-day media fast, this should be a piece of cake. Cake...hmm...maybe I should try some changes to my diet, next.