A Facebook Fast: the advent of virtual liberation

Last Lent I took a break from facebook, twitter and blogging.  It did me good.

I like to think that I am not addicted to social media but there is no doubt that checking updates, posting comments and engaging in discussions takes up time and mental space.  My son’s comment to me a few months ago that ‘you’re a nicer person without your iPhone’ was mainly due to being distracted by social media.  It was painful to hear but important to listen to.

Going without such online distractions for 6 weeks gave my life more breathing space. It helped me pray and reflect.   So I have decided to do the same thing for this Advent.   And I want to encourage others to do the same.

I don’t want to condemn social media. I like facebook and will continue to use it after Christmas.  But I do believe it is good for us to have seasons where we intentionally do something different. ‘Fasting’ from something we usually do can provide a positive opportunity to deepen and re-order our lives in a more healthy way.

So what kind of a difference could a fast from using social media make?

1.      It could help us engage more deeply in the real world around us.  Sometimes we need some extra reason or added motivation to positively do something else.  Replace the time spent online by connecting with a friend you have not seen for ages, invite the neighbours over, have that conversation you have been putting off, read the quality book that is gathering dust on your shelf, use the time on the train or bus to work to reflect on the day ahead, visit the elderly person on your street who is lonely, spend time talking to the kids who hang out on your street.  Be more intentional about engaging with the real people around you. Focussing less on your facebook friends could be an opportunity to be more intentional about spending more quality time with those around you.

2.      It could help us reject the toxic materialism of Christmas. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spoke out recently about the materialism which spoils Christmas by putting pressure on families.  Yet against these comments, the John Lewis 2013 Christmas advert has had over 8.5 million hits on Youtube.  In response to the acclaim the advert received, Richard Godwin wrote in the Evening Standard:

“We are in a sorry state if we cannot distinguish art from commerce.  This is what he Archbishop is getting at when he says that consumerism puts pressure on relationships at Christmas, making us equate love and money. In short it ‘spoils life’.  Advertising is like warfare, every year our defences get stronger; every year the weaponry gets more sophisticated.”

We have to realise that facebook is not our friend: it bombards us with tailored adverts designed to create discontent and increase our spending.  Withdrawing from social media lessens our exposure to the toxic propaganda of consumerism.

3.      It could help us be renewed by something deeper. If we lead busy lives, then the weeks before Christmas are often twice as busy.  How do we resist what Andy Flannagan describes as ‘drowning in the shallow’ of our superficial culture?


The best way is by rooting ourselves more intentionally and deeply in divine love: the love of a ‘down-to-earth’ God who comes to us as a vulnerable baby, a seed of hope which has transformed the world forever.

Advent is a time to be intentional about spirituality rather than allowing it to be the last on our list of priorities.

If you pray, pray more.  If you don’t, start.  Spend time in silence.

To help do this, you might find R&R’s Advent Challenge useful. It gives 24-days of reflections for each day of Advent that combine silence, readings and prayer which help you focus on the person at the centre of the whole celebration.

It is in rooting ourselves more deeply and intentionally in God’s love that we will find true renewal and a deeper joy than is found at any party or inside any present.


So, these are my reasons for an advent of virtual liberation.  As I found last Lent, the world doesn’t end because you are not on facebook or twitter.

And I am sure that if you take the plunge, you will emerge on Christmas day with a story and a hope which is all the more real and deep; ready and prepared to celebrate more fully the good news of peace at the heart of the Christmas message.

Click here for R&R’s Advent Challenge.

2 thoughts on “A Facebook Fast: the advent of virtual liberation”

  1. what you say Jon is true if you use social media as an excuse not to engage with people, however that is not the case for all, for some it may well be that geographically it is difficult to engage with others or the reality is that it is quicker when you have a busy timetable to write on social media than it is to visit. There is value in knowing that there is a point of contact for the giving and receiving and sharing of the current affairs affecting the way we can or cannot worship. Yes it is good to step back and take a break especially if we go through a phase of just repeating what has already been discussed only in a different format, but it always needs to be appreciated that what is old and tiresome to one person is new and inspiring to another, and that they are on a different part of the journey to ourselves. I also will take a short break (now now) no putting the flags out lol. But it will not be for any of those reasons I will check the daily news and fulcrum is part of my daily routine in that, sometimes I think we are all a bit like Simon Cowell who constantly tells us he wants to see and hear something new, yet actually what we want is the familiarity of the routine of worship in what ever way we do it, and we want what we sing “tell me the old old story” we do not sing it at Christmas usually because Christmas always goes on the Simon Cowell route of “the new” as the celebration of Birth gives way to the New Year. It always becomes that time of reflection with all the good , bad and indifferent memories and enactments. Yes Christmas is seen as “family time” whether that is in your own home or in another type of institution including the church. But really its a time of new things in our own personal journeys. So put your seatbelts on the Roller Coaster starts here !!!

  2. Twitter seems to be highly ephemeral so I think you will not miss much.
    RSS can be left and caught up on or ignored.

    I think people will assume you read what they put on Facebook in the same way they assume you read texts. Thus there is a danger a missing something important – especially for clergy. Facebook may need to be pruned for the mass of posts you get if you admit to liking a rock group or TV program. I see news on Facebook but I would be more in control if I used RSS for this

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