Disconnected: Lessons Learned From Social Media Silence

At 8AM on October 12th, I started–what was meant to be–a 24 hour social media fast. But, if you follow me online at all, you know it was for much longer. I was initially calling it an “intermittent fast”. But once I crossed the three week mark, I think intermittent was out the window. And now, if I’m being honest, I don’t really want to ever get back on. But, if you’re reading this, it means that I decided to get back on for one reason or another.

I first got on social media because I had to for my job as a recruiter back in 2009. My first thoughts were that this technology had potential for disaster like the Yahoo! article comments section on steroids. But, when I started thinking about the possible implications for bringing people together across differences and exchanging thoughts and ideas, I surrendered to the promises of “connection’. However, for many of us, it turned out not to be a medium for connection at all. Rather, it has become a tool for division and distraction–our virtual lives drawing us ever further from the virtuous lives that true connection invites us into.

“You assume what you consume.”

On way too many occasions, I have asked my daughter to get off of SM because I know that many of us assume what we consume. And, there is way too much on these sites that does not represent the best of what we’re capable of as humans. So, I try to disrupt the content flow when I can in service to her formation and well-being.

However, I also encourage her to speak her mind and to call out what she sees as incongruity–even with me as her parent. So when she asked me why I told her to get off the only site she uses when I use more sites than she does, I gave it some thought. Although I try to use it largely for educational and relational purposes, rather than solely for entertainment or as a distraction or escape, I am not totally immune to the rabbithole myself. And since I subscribe to the Gandhian teaching that you should be able to do anything that you ask someone else to do, I decided to do an “intermittent” social media fast for 24 hours to test my relationship to the medium. What follows is what I witnessed arising in my consciousness as I watched my thoughts on social media challenge my choice to abstain.

“It is hard to ignore someone incessantly ringing your doorbell.”

I decided to keep my notifications on so that I could maximize the opportunities to pay attention to what came up for me throughout the 24 hour period. So, every little notification that popped up was like someone constantly ringing my doorbell and yelling, “Hey Pedro. Are you home? All of your friends and followers are here.” 

It was pretty interesting to see just how many notifications I get and how it feels to not at least check them a couple of times in a day. So, to make sure I didn’t fall into temptation, I gave myself a consequence of either 25 sit ups or 25 push ups if I ever unconsciously clicked on a notification and went to a SM page. 

By way of background, the SM platforms I subscribe to are:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn 

I get notifications from these platforms throughout the day. So this is what I will be resisting and reflecting on.

08:15  First Day – Justification/Bargaining #1

“Is LinkedIn even really SM? Of course it is. But, it definitely feels different than Facebook and Twitter. And it isn’t just the aesthetic. It just feels less phrenetic. I am able to go to Linkedin pretty purposefully and I don’t feel like it hooks me in general. I usually know why I’m going onto LinkedIn and I accomplish my purpose with very little distraction. But, I have to stay on task. No LinkedIn today.”

After accepting that I was going to skip LinkedIn, I felt a little excited to see what I was going to learn from my SM fast. 

BTW, my daughter said Linkedin isn’t really social media. What do you think?

“I should post about this on Facebook.” 

It was comical to realize that partway through the day I had the thought of posting that I was on a social media fast on Facebook. That just goes to show how automatic some of these behaviors can become. They are habits. Or as some would suggest, addictions. Fortunately, I was witnessing my thoughts as they arose. So, I didn’t have to do any pushups or sit ups. I just laughed at how the programming was trying to get me.

“Did I mention…?”

A little later, I saw a notification that someone had mentioned me in a post. I hadn’t thought about that. Is someone mentioning you in a post or commenting on something you wrote the same as receiving an email or a text? Is it rude to ignore the person’s comment or mention? And is there a hierarchy to social media recognition or feedback? In other words, is it more acceptable to ignore a comment as opposed to a direct mention? I guess I won’t find out today because I am not going to check and see what they said.

“There aren’t enough hours in a day.”

Even though I intended my fast to be only 24 hours, I soon realized that I didn’t have time to chronicle the gems that came up for me that day. So, I revised the parameters of the fast and decided that I wouldn’t return to SM until I wrote something substantial. And so now, on October 18 at 4:56PM, I still haven’t gone onto my social media pages.

“I’m not following that logic.”

When I received an alert from Instagram saying that I had a new follower, I let my daughter know because it was an adult who was influential in her life. My daughter asked me if I was going to follow the person back. To which I replied that I couldn’t because I was on an SM fast and couldn’t engage until I finished writing about it. Now, you would have thought I did something extreme like kicking a puppy because my daughter proceeded to tell me how rude it was for me to ignore someone’s follow. “Dad, not following her back is like sending her to voicemail and never calling back. You have to follow her back. She is going to think you are rude. You can’t just not follow someone back. Why don’t you just give me your phone and let me follow her back.”

First of all, I can choose not to follow someone back if I want to. And secondly, it is not that serious. But, apparently to some people not following them back when they follow you feels like them showing you a picture of their new baby and you responding, “Interesting”. It just doesn’t feel right. However, I let my daughter know that I was committed to learning what I needed to learn from this experiment. So, if someone made up a story about what it means for me not to immediately follow them back, I was going to have to bear that burden in love. She said she didn’t get me. But, I am hoping that I modeled for her that she doesn’t have to reactively do what social media essentially tells her to do with the perpetual notifications. We have volition, if we choose to accept it.

“The rest of the story.”

As days turned into weeks, I started to feel more positive effects from fasting from SM. In a word, it’s restful. Often when I go on and see people’s feeds, I see just how disconnected we really are. Most of us are just in our own worlds liking and posting distracting content that pulls us out of life rather than more into it. Either we’re comparing our lives to other people’s or we’re watching something that pulls us from the people that are actually in our lives. And even though I did a reasonable job of avoiding going down the rabbithole, it has gotten me at times and I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for folks with less resolve. It probably feels like if they are not engaging on these platforms it’s as if they cease to exist in some way.

“Oops. I didn’t mean suicidal media. But…”

I got a notification that someone mentioned me on a SM platform. I knew that I was going to see that person in a meeting soon. So, I texted them to say that I didn’t see their post because I was taking a break from “suicidal media”. As you probably imagined, my phone auto miscorrected the term social. But, when I saw it, I realized how true it really is. And I am not just talking about the fact that social media has been shown to increase the risk of suicide in some segments of our population. I am just talking about how it seems to be killing our relational capacities, which leads to the killing of our communities and ultimately the killing of our futures. 

Does that sound extreme? Look around. I don’t know if it is accurate to say that we are more divided now than we’ve ever been. But, what is becoming increasingly evident is that we have more justifications for our division than we ever had before. Whether it was intentional or not, the internet facilitated by social media has become, for many, the confirmation bias super highway. There are people I care about who are so entrenched in what they think they believe that there is almost no talking to them about anything that challenges what they have digested through these platforms. But, for a long time, I was willing to engage them thoughtfully and hear them out because that is how I would want to be treated.

But as my time away from SM increased and those engagements got further behind in the rear view mirror of my consciousness, I have less interest in participating in exchanges with folks who, despite their sincerity, are often just parroting whatever someone told them was the right thing to think. And before you think I am speaking about a certain group let me assure you that I have the exposure, experience, and expertise to authoritatively say that no so-called side has a monopoly on polarization. 

Man in the middle.

One surprising discovery from being off SM is the realization that I was using it to perpetuate a lifetime pattern of being in between different sides of an argument. Ever since I got in between my parents as a child, I have operated in the tension of perceived opposites. Whether it was politically or racially or religiously, I have lived my life listening to people tell me why the other side is wrong and I have tried to see the right in either side. Because just like the little child I was who loved both my parents and wanted them to figure out a way to love across differences, I want the same for all people. But, just like my parents never found the strength to reconcile, I have come to accept that I can’t want for others enough for them to want something for themselves. So, I am no longer the man in the middle. I officially surrender.

Somewhere I belong.

You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great… — Maya Angelou

For 10 years, I was a pastor who developed a habit of thinking about my parishioners every time I posted anything online. In many ways, it was an extension of my ministry. I  didn’t even post a photo without thinking about how what I shared led into how we would be community together going forward. And beyond the parishioners, I also thought about the wider community I served and even my faith tradition itself. Let’s face it, it is increasingly true that when people hear the term Christian, they rarely think of the person of Christ at all. They don’t think of love, sacrifice, grace, peace, justice, Oneness, acceptance, forgiveness, or any of the virtues I think of when I think of the teachings of Jesus. What do you think of when you hear the term Christian? Be honest. What image comes to mind? For far too long, I let this break my heart and subconsciously took on a role of trying to communicate in a more invitational way that didn’t rely on shame, blame, or guilt, because I had experienced the teaching as the Way of Ever-Expanding Love. And while I still experience it that way, I have no compulsion to try and talk people out of their painful experiences with the institution of church as a business model.

That being said, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I censored myself when I was a pastor or filtered my content in as much as I refined it and was very intentional about trying to communicate in a way that people could understand. This was a skill I wasn’t very good at prior to becoming a pastor. So I am grateful for developing that capacity. I used to feel like if I was misunderstood, it was just as much the hearer’s responsibility as it was mine. But, at some point prior to going to seminary, I decided that when communicating, I would take responsibility both for what I said and how people heard it.

By way of analogy, I would try to learn people’s language and try to speak to them how they hear rather than get bothered with them for not understanding my language. But, in the wake of George Floyd, when Black people started opening up about how exhausted they were, I realized that I was exhausted too. Even though I wasn’t code-switching, in the sense that many people have come to understand the term, the mental gymnastics that I had to do in order to be true to myself while translating for and between others on top of having grace for the inevitable mistakes people make when they are learning was too much. So I needed to stop for my own sake. And I did in January of 2022 when I left my role as a pastor.

When I left that role, I no longer had any obligation to communicate in a way that the parishioners or other people who knew me as a pastor could grasp. And yet, my body and mind had the habit. Until now. The biggest benefit of going on the social media fast is getting the rawest expression of my voice back. And perhaps that is why a 24 hour fast turned into a 1,564+ hour fast or 65 days. That’s how long it took to get back to a place where my thoughts are between me and the Creator and I am not feeling a responsibility for how people understand or misunderstand what I communicate. I can now speak from my essential belonging.

As the Linkin Park song, Somewhere I Belong says:

I will never know myself until I do this on my own
And I will never feel anything else, until my wounds are healed
I will never be anything ’til I break away from me
I will break away, I’ll find myself today

In the final analysis…

Since I got off of social media, Elon Musk bought Twitter, Ye fka Kanye West solidified his reign as the naked emperor, the Georgia runoffs came to a conclusion, and Deion Sanders divided the nation by choosing to come to Colorado. And the world survived without my opinion and I survived without theirs. However, come to think of it, there have been massive layoffs at Twitter and Facebook since I got off. So, maybe I had more impact than I thought. LOL.

But seriously, by being off of SM, I have confirmed what I suspected, the world is just fine without my thoughts. And so, if I choose to share, I can do so with less pressure than I had been putting on myself previously to get it right. So, I can have more fun with it if I choose to come back with any frequency.

In addition to not posting to social media, I chose not to write any new blog posts until I wrote out my thoughts about the fast. The reason for this was twofold.

  1. I wouldn’t be tempted to share whatever I wrote on my socials
  2. I would feel the full pressure of what it takes to reclaim my voice. Blogging was like a pressure release valve for me. By not blogging, I felt the intensity of my shifting more painfully and potently. This is often what it takes for a new behavior to stick.

When I told a friend that I started this fast in order to encourage my daughter to take a break from it, she asked me if my daughter joined me in it. She did not. But, my friend pointed out that even though she didn’t get off, I demonstrated to her that someone can choose to be on or not. And that I now had cultivated the capacity to engage the tools on my terms and the authority to help others do the same. Who knows? Maybe she is right. What I do know is that, now that I am liberated from the pull of these tools, I will only use them at their highest potential.

One Final Note

I can attest to the fact that a lot of our creative potential gets wasted messing around on social media unconsciously. Each of us is filled with so much potential. But the world is often robbed of what we can offer because we are too distracted. I got so many hours back by not posting on social media or blogging that I was able to use it to get myself in the studio and finally record and release a song that I wrote 4 years ago called Take This Life. The song is all about realizing our highest potential and not being held back by the illusions we’ve been sold and shining our light in the service of others.

When the song went live, I was still on the fast and couldn’t share it as I wanted to. But, with the completion of this piece sharing my lessons, the fast is officially over. So, now that I am reengaging these tools on my terms, I’m using Take This Life to create a #makeitlight challenge to highlight good being done in the world. So, if you decide to share it online, consider using the #makeitlight tag.

When you shine your light
It isn’t just for you
It’s for everybody else
That’s been watching what you do.

Take This Life (Make It Light) Pedro Silva and Asha Romeo

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