Roughly one in six practicing U.S. Christians (16%) say they are giving up social media for Lent, according to a new survey from the Barna Group, a California research outfit that specializes in
studying religious attitudes and practices. A separate survey by OpenBible.info found Twitter is the third-most-popular Lenten sacrifice this year, while “social networking” in general is
According to Barna, 31% of practicing Christians say they will try to abstain from technology altogether, rising to 48% of Protestants (Presumably, they are referring to
mobile devices and DVRs, rather than, say, electricity.) The social media and technology fasts were more popular this year than traditional Lenten sacrifices, like swearing and smoking, selected by
just 2% of survey respondents.
In addition, chocolate remains a popular item of abstention, cited by 30% of respondents in the Barna survey.
Last year, it was reported
that many Muslims around the world were imposing a voluntary “Facebook fast” on themselves, in addition to the traditional food fast, as part of the holy month of Ramadan. Although not
officially decreed by clerics, some participants said abstaining from social media helped them focus on spiritual reflection and study as part of the traditional “religious retreat” during
Fasting and other forms of voluntary sacrifice provide an interesting window into human psychology. For abstention to be meaningful, the object or practice given up has to be
something that the abstainer enjoys or at least uses routinely. By abstaining from things that normally permeate their lives, participants are constantly reminded of the discipline they are imposing
on themselves for the period of the fast.
Conversely, many people also try to piggyback other forms self-improvement on the spiritual self-denial. I wonder how many people who give up
tobacco for Lent are basically trying to kick the habit altogether, and giving up chocolate for six weeks sounds like a good way to start losing weight. I wonder if something similar is going on with
social media fasts. Are some people trying to reduce their social media usage in the long term?
At the very least, taking a step back from social media allows us to see with better
perspective the large (maybe excessive) role it plays in our lives, as well as consider its less-obvious impacts. Even if this doesn’t prompt us to cut down in the long term, it has to be a good