5 Lessons I Learned by Fasting Social Media | Influence Magazine


My wife Tiffany could tell something was wrong with me. We had just spent a day with the kids at the local amusement park, Silver Dollar City. (Tiffany calls it “Steal Your Dollar City.”) The weather was perfect, the ride lines were short, the food was delicious, and the kids had a great time. And yet, my face gave away my inner turmoil.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Tiffany asked.

“My emotions are off,” I replied. “I’m not responding emotionally as I should.”

The immediate cause of my unease was an exchange on Facebook. A friend posted about a national tragedy that had just occurred. Rather than grieving about that tragedy, I commented about how people were using that tragedy to score political points. A third person jumped all over me for my comment, going so far as to question my Christianity. It got ugly.

All this took place while my family enjoyed their day out. In the midst of an amusement park, I was angry and unamused. My kids were riding rides. I was on my iPhone arguing with a stranger.

My wife asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to fast social media for a while,” I finally responded.

Right then and there, I resolved to fast social media through the month of November. When I got home, I announced on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that I was taking a break from social media — except for work-related matters— and then deleted those apps from my iPhone and iPad. I kept my resolution, except on a handful of occasions, for which my wife gently reproached me.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that my fast instantly solved the problem of my emotional out-of-whackness. It didn’t. I’ve still got work to do. But my fast did teach me a few lessons about myself and social media that I think are worth sharing, five in particular. Here they are:

First, I spend too much time on my iPhone. According to my most recent Screen Time report, I spend, on average, four hours, 7 minutes per day on my iPhone. And that’s after my social media fast. Evidently, I was spending even more timeon my iPhone before the fast.

In my defense, I do a lot of work on my iPhone. Plus, I usually stream TV shows on it when I’m at home. (At my house, Tiffany controls the remote.) Still, more than one day out of every week seems like an excessive amount of time to stare at a small pixelated screen. And yet, studies I’ve seen peg the average time Americans spend on smartphones at between three and five hours daily. So I’m average in my excessiveness. That’s not good.

Second, time is an exclusive commodity. Each day, God gives us 24 hours. Time doesn’t come with a pause button, let alone one for rewind or fast-forward. We use it; then we lose it.

The question I have to ask myself is whether spending more than four hours a day on an iPhone is the best use of my time. Just asking the question answers it. No, of course not!

Even granting that I need a smartphone to do smart work — which is true in a modern economy, to a certain degree — I’ve been reminded again and again that there are other things to do than stare at my iPhone. At the very least, arguing on Facebook with a stranger while my kids are riding roller coasters at an amusement park is a waste of time — mine, his, theirs.

Third, I have learned that I am easily distracted. In his Pensées— “Thoughts” — the Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

In other words, we long for the distraction of constant activity. If you don’t believe me, try sitting quietly in a room for an hour all by yourself. No TV. No radio. No book or newspaper or crossword puzzle. And definitely no smartphone or tablet.

It’s difficult. In my case, it’s difficult in large part because I have three kids, ages 5, 6 and 10, clamoring for my attention, as well as a wife who likes to unwind by watching reality TV. There’s not a quiet room at Chez Wood.

And yet, it’s also difficult because I don’t like being left alone with my thoughts. So, I unlock my iPhone and browse the web for news. I like and comment on friends’ posts on Facebook. I unleash a string of bon mots on Twitter. I look at pictures on Instagram. I stream a movie on Netflix.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Think about that for a moment. It implies that unless we can be still, we cannot know God. No wonder Pascal thought all of humanity’s problems stemmed from our inability to be still!

Fourth, I fear missing out. When I am still, I know God. I know that He loves me because of what Christ has done, not because of what I have done. This roots my identity in His grace, mercy, and forgiveness rather than in any accomplishment on my part. And this identity gives me a deep satisfaction with life, whatever my lot in it might be. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances,” Paul writes (Philippians 4:11).

Compare that statement with what social scientists call FOMO — the fear of missing out. One of the reasons I spend so much time on social media is because I fear missing out on the news, on the latest gossip, on the newest and best in online entertainment.

And yet, there is an irony at work on social media. Think of it this way: I present my best life online. I take (and retake) pictures to get just the best one. I write (and rewrite) posts to be the funniest or most insightful. What you see of me is the me I want you to see.

And that means what I see of you is the you that you want me to see. I’m not seeing reality online. I’m seeing filtered reality.

The problem is that when we view others’ filtered lives online, we get jealous. We think others are leading better lives than our own, and we want the lives they appearto be leading more the lives we ourselves are actuallyleading. Ironically, then, we end up fearing that we have missed a reality that is in fact fake.

No wonder studies indicate that people who spend too much time on social reality are depressed! After spending nearly a month off social media — with clearly defined exceptions — I found that my mood had improved considerably. As I said above, I’m still working on out-of-whack emotions, but I’m in a much better place than I was at the end of October.

That brings me to a fifth and final lesson: I need discernment and discipline. At one point, I considered trading in my smartphone for a dumbphone and deleting all my social media accounts.

I didn’t do that for two reasons. For one thing, my iPhone has become a helpful tool at work. For another thing, the real problem isn’t the tool; it’s how I use the tool. The abuse or misuse of a thing doesn’t destroy its proper use, after all.

So, after my social media fast, I’m trying to be more discerning about how I use my iPhone, starting with simply using it less. Less time on it is more time for my wife and kids, friends, coworkers, neighbors … and for God.

I’m also trying to be more disciplined. Instead of reaching for my iPhone to distract me from my boredom, I’m trying to sit quietly in that room, attentive to God and to how He might be leading me. That’s always more important than whatever is happening online.

P.S. This article is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now | Book Review


Like many others, I find it difficult to imagine life without social media. I use Facebook and Twitter at work to share articles fromInfluencemagazine, the Christian leadership magazine which I edit. They account for a large percentage of the traffic on the magazine’s website. I ignore them at professional peril.

I use Facebook and Instagram at home to share information and pictures with my family and friends. They help me keep in touch with people who are important to me but don’t live close by. Although I get most of my news from websites, I also click on the links to news articles and op-eds that these people share in Facebook and Twitter.

These professional and personal uses of social media sound benign, so why does my wife complain that I’m on my phone too much? Why do I feel compelled to check it compulsively throughout the day? And why do I so often feel negative emotions like sadness, anger and jealousy after spending time on Facebook?

Technology always begins as a tool to help us exercise control over nature. After a while, however, it becomes our master, in effect exercising control over us. If you don’t believe me, try replacing your smartphone with a dumbphone, or try giving up social media for Lent. If you can do so, great! If not, then perhaps you have a problem.

Jaron Lanier stakes out a radical position on social media in his new book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Here they are in his own words:

  1. You are losing your free will.
  2. Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.
  3. Social media is making you into a [jerk].
  4. Social media is undermining truth.
  5. Social media is making what you say meaningless.
  6. Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.
  7. Social media is making you unhappy.
  8. Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.
  9. Social media is making politics impossible.
  10. Social media hates your soul.

Lanier is not an anti-technology Luddite by any stretch of the imagination. He is a computer scientist — a founding father of virtual reality, in fact — and is well regarded throughout Silicon Valley.

Nor is he writing from a religious perspective, despite his usage of terms like free willand soul. He’s not religious in any conventional sense, as far as I can tell. His political opinions are far to the left of mine and those of the readers of my magazine. And his occasional use of profanity — I had to come up with a less offensive term for Argument 3 above — can be distracting.

So, why would I recommend Christian leaders — pastors, educators, etc. — to read this book? I can think of at least three reasons.

First, Lanier is concerned with issues related to the common good. Lanier’s ten arguments are morally fraught. They deal with the character of the individual in relationship to others, especially on matters of public importance. No one wants to live in a society overrun with unempathetic jerks who twist the truth and tell lies, robbing workers of their economic dignity and politics of its effectiveness, all the while making everyone deeply unhappy. Right?

Second, Lanier’s sixth arguments is that social media destroys people’s capacity for empathy. It does this by cocooning users in a “filter bubble” where they are increasingly exposed only to others whose viewpoints expressly match their own. This exacerbates the tendency to lump people into “us” and “them,” where “we” are always on the side of righteousness and “they” are always on the side of wickedness. When we break out of that bubble and deal with real people and their actual arguments, we realize that reality is more complex that social media lets on. Because “they” also are concerned with the common good, “we” can make common causeon issues where we agree, even as we realize that we will continue to disagree (strongly, even) on other issues.

Third, as a tech “insider,” Lanier has unique insight into the business modelthat drives social media and leads to such negative results. He calls his explanation “the BUMMER machine,” where BUMMER is an acronym for “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent.”

Think of it this way: Facebook and other social media provide its services free to billions of users. How can it afford to do that? Because its users are not its customers, they are its products. Social media sucks up an enormous amount of data about you — birthdate, address, location, workplace, political interests, searches, friendship networks, etc. — repackages it and sells it to others. Some of these users, social media’s actual customers, have largely benign goals, i.e., marketing and selling affordable products you’re interested in. Others — Lanier cites the Cambridge Analytica particularly — have less benign goals.

To make money, social media have to figure out ways to keep you coming back for more, which it does through constant surveillance and subtle manipulation.  This is the point of argument 1 about the loss of free will. As Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, once explained it: “We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever…. It’s a social validation feedback loop…exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology….”

Some things, once you see them, cannot be unseen. For me, Lanier’s book had that quality. It made me think about social media, my use of them, and what widespread usage of them are doing to us in a new and disturbing way. I haven’t been fully persuaded to delete my social media accounts, obviously, since you’re reading this on one social medium or another. But perhaps drawing attention to Lanier’s arguments will help in some small way to resist social media’s BUMMER tendencies and contribute to a happier, healthier, and more humane common culture.

Book Reviewed
Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now(New York: Henry Holt, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The Church and Social Media | Influence Podcast


In today’s #InfluencePodcast, Mark Forrester and I talk about how the church can leverage social media for the sake of the gospel.

For me personally, the most thought-provoking part of the podcast was when Mark talked about how to know what to post on social media. Just ask two questions about your audience: (1) Will they care? And (2) will they share? (These questions evidently come from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.)

Good stuff! Take a listen!

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Thursday, June 9, 2011


“On Neuroscience, Morality, and Free Will” … in which Peter Wehner takes on Sam Harris. Wehner’s colleague, Omri Ceren, adds “Language” as one more element that needs to be considered. If you’re interested in this topic, check out William Lane Craig and Sam Harris’s debate on the question, “Is the foundation of morality natural or supernatural?”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

William Lane Craig vs Sam Harris – Is the Found…, posted with vodpod

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“Oregon couple convicted in faith-healing trial.” Opposing faith to the use of medicine is bad theology. Evidently, it’s criminal too.

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“I’m convinced that bad art, like bad literary theory, derives from bad theology.” I’m convinced that bad theology leads to bad living, period.

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“The Dying Right to Die?” Let’s hope so.

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“The Facebook Fallacy.” There’s only one?

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A Mennonite theologian explains why he’s glad Goshen College decided not to play the national anthem at sporting events: “these anthems and rituals have no place in Christian formation.” To be consistent, does he need also to reject federal tax dollars and tax breaks? Just thinking outside the box, here…

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“For the vast majority of American university students, there simply is no conflict between science and religion.” Interestingly, the minority is split evenly between religious types and atheists.

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John Fea on Sarah Palin’s misstatement of the purpose of Paul Revere’s ride:

It is easy to manipulate history to serve our own political agendas. People do it all the time. But as I have argued before in this column, such an approach to the past only feeds our own narcissism and self-interest. It is diametrically opposed to one of the main reasons we study history in the first place.

By looking to the past for something that meets our needs, and by superimposing our present-day agendas on the past, we fail to understand the complexity of human behavior as it manifested itself through time. History has the potential to educate us (literally in the Latin, “to lead outward”). Good historical thinking requires us to understand lost worlds and to empathize with people who are different from us. Palin knew what she was looking for the moment she entered the Old North Church. As a result, she failed to be educated by the experience.

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American Idol-winner Scotty McCreery wants to date a Christian girl. Hey, Scott, runner-up Lauren Alaina wants to date a Christian girl. You’re going to tour together, so you might as well give the relationship a whirl.

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“10 things the Belief Blog learned in its first year”:

  1. Every big news story has a faith angle.
  2. Atheists are the most fervent commenters on matters religious.
  3. People are still intensely curious about the Bible, its meaning and its origins.
  4. Most Americans are religiously illiterate.
  5. It’s impossible to understand much of the news without knowing something about religion.
  6. Regardless of where they fit on the spectrum, people want others to understand what they believe.
  7. Americans still have an uneasy relationship with Islam.
  8. God may not prevent natural disasters, but religion is always a big part of the response.
  9. Apocalyptic movements come and go.
  10. Most Americans don’t know that President Barack Obama is a Christian.