Last year, I tried to forgo social media during Lent. The remarkable thing is that I actually stayed off of Facebook and Twitter every day between Ash Wednesday and Easter. As a good Baptist, I had never actually observed a Lenten fast so I did not understand that I could go to the sites on Sundays. The time away was good and helpful for my mental state, but after Lent 2017 I fell down the rabbit-hole that is social media. If I am suppose to be doing this as a reflective exercise, what am I trying to learn?
In the past week, I have learned that I crave social media’s ability to give me quick feedback. There is a gratification that happens with likes, hearts, and comments. I had a glimpse of this “need” when I would post to Twitter with almost no feedback. “Is anyone listening out there?,” I would often ask. The same post on Facebook might garner thirty or more reactions (small in social media world, I know), but the Twitter post would never get above one or two interactions. My negative reactions to Twitter, I now think, has something to do with the lack of responses. Why do I need responses to feel good about my thoughts or writing?
Lent 2018 has become a reflective practice on my pride. Last Wednesday, I wrote a blog post about anger and cussing. I must say the internet likes foul language, or at least it attracts attention. For someone who rarely gets any responses on this site, the post is at 200 views and rising. I achieved some kind of deep satisfaction looking at the WordPress stats (it’s the first time WordPress has ever sent me a message that a post was “booming”. . . twice). On Sunday, when I could check social media, I got an even bigger boost because the interactions on Facebook regarding the post had been significant. And once again, Twitter lagged far behind. But why did any of that matter to me?
In our Sunday School discussion this past Sunday, we talked about the nature of confession and why Protestants struggle so much with it, often ignoring it as a Christian practice. I was struck in my own thinking about why I focus so much on reactions to posts and see them as validation of my thoughts and feelings. The more people like or love my posts on Facebook I feel better about myself. Negative reactions or comments send me in the other direction, painfully so. I think I am starting to figure out why all of this matters to me. In so many ways, I want to be heard, I want to be respected, and I want to be noticed for my insights. But maybe my thoughts and observations are really ways for me to think critically about the world I inhabit and don’t need validation from anyone. This blog could provide a similar experience, but not many folks follow the site so I know so few would know what I was saying. And that is the critical reflection in this social media fast. I am fine leaving the blog posts attached to my Facebook and Twitter accounts because it drives people to read my blog. This realization has been hard but helpful for me. I need to learn how to live with my own thoughts and not worry about others seeing them or validating me by responding to them.
As part of the Lenten journey this year, I think I am more aware of how much I want praise. While I am not opposed to being proud of hard work, I am no longer sure that is what I have been aiming for in the past. The praise validated my sense of worth. I want to remove some of the ways that the validation arrives on my Facebook wall or the blog “likes” to see if I can focus more on my thoughts and how I convey them. Twenty-four hours from now, I will disconnect the blog from Facebook and Twitter. I’ll see how I feel and react when fewer folks go to read my blog posts. If I get discouraged, I will have learned a valuable lesson about myself and pride. Hopefully, I’ll take something more significant away from the exercise this year rather than to continue to feel good about my Lenten journey without any consequence beyond Easter. Or I’ll fail, and at least I’ll know something about my intentions.