As I did my internet ablutions, which lately have involved checking Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, and Email, early last Wednesday morning (Ash Wednesday), I found that a friend on Facebook had announced on Tuesday night that she was giving up Facebook for Lent. It immediately struck me as a good idea. I gave myself a few hours until noon to decide whether or not I would do the same, but ultimately decided to give it a try. (Honestly, the only reason I could come up with to not do it was that I wasn’t sure if I could. A sure sign that I needed to try.) So, I announced that I was giving up Facebook and Twitter for Lent in both places, moved my Twitter client to an inaccessible location on my hard drive (to prevent accidentally opening it; it wouldn’t actually stop me from opening it if I was determined to do so), deleted my Facebook and Twitter bookmarks from my Bookmark Bar, and deleted the Tweetie and Facebook apps from my iPhone.
Since reading Infinite Jest last summer, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the idea of addiction, both in our culture and in my own life. I’ve also realized, though, that I already know a technique for dealing with addiction: take a break. It’s something I’ve done many times, not always for Lent, and usually with good effect.
I gave up television in August of 2007. My original plan was to give it up for a month. But I’ve never really gone back. I usually watch This Old House when they are producing a new season. But otherwise, I only watch the occasional sporting event or special event. This was one of the most positive life changes that I’ve made in years, and it started with giving something up for a month.
I’ve also given up sugary beverages, caffeine, and eating mammals at various times. None of those produced effects as dramatic as with television, but all of them raised my awareness and changed some habits for the better: I once loved sugary sodas and drank at least a Coke a day. Now I rarely drink any sugary beverage except sweet tea. I couldn’t give that up, though; I’m a Southern boy at heart. The caffeine experiment went completely bust around the time our second child was born. At least I’m fairly aware of my consumption and keep it moderate, though. And some day I’ll probably try to dial it back to one caffeinated beverage per day. The mammals thing is still a long term goal of sorts, but one that I haven’t put much emphasis on lately.
I love Facebook and Twitter. Twitter keeps me engaged in an interesting conversations throughout the day, without usually being too distracting. I already limited my Facebook access to evenings and weekends, but Facebook largely functions to keep me connected to my “roots.” It’s where I stay connected to people that I grew up with, many of whom I like and respect, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye these days.
I realized, though, that I had become addicted. I was checking Twitter a gazillion times a day. Even though I don’t generally find Twitter to be too distracting to my work, at some point it became too much. And while I generally didn’t check Facebook during the workday, I was still obsessive about scrolling back through the entire day’s posts in the evening. Just like a rat in a cage, I was pushing the lever over and over again, hoping for a pellet. So, I’m taking a breather.
My four days away so far have been fine. I have certainly missed the connections, and I’ve noticed that my awareness of local happenings has dropped precipitously. But I’ve already confirmed for myself that forty-six days away from Twitter and Facebook isn’t going to hurt me. It might actually do me some good. I will definitely be returning to Twitter and Facebook. But I’m hoping that some time away will give me a better, less obsessive, approach to them when I return.
(My triumphant return to Facebook and Twitter will probably be sometime on Easter, this being a Lenten effort. But I have the odd situation of flying to Singapore on Easter Day. By the time I get to Singapore, while it will still be Easter morning at home, it will be nearly midnight local time. I don’t know what the internet situation will be upon arrival, or if I’ll even feel like trying to get on Facebook or Twitter. I do know enough about jet lag, though, to know that what I should try to do upon arrival is go to sleep. So we’ll see.)