Several months ago, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invited all teens around the world to launch a seven-day social media fast.
“Everyone posts their most fun, adventurous, and exciting pictures,” President Nelson said in his global broadcast, “which creates the erroneous impression that everyone except you is leading a fun, adventurous, and exciting life. Much of what appears in your various social media feeds is distorted, if not fake. So give yourself a seven-day break from fake!”
As a father of teens and as bishop of our ward in Woodstock, Virginia, I decided to give the challenge a chance. Though I rely on social media for work and to connect with my readers, I confess I’m no different than most teens and I sometimes spend far too many minutes — cough, cough, hours — scrolling through the world of cat videos and filtered photos.
I began my fast with a simple post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram explaining what I was doing and why it would seem I’d been kidnapped for a week. By the end of the first day, I wished I really had been duct taped and stuffed in a trunk. “Take my wallet!” I shouted to my imaginary captors. “Just don’t touch my newsfeed!”
On the second day, I realized my fingers were so conditioned to opening the social media apps, I’d have to delete them from my iPhone. It was a tough goodbye and it strangely felt like a funeral.
I wore black.
Thankfully, as the days drifted by, the twitches faded and I learned lessons that will last longer than any status update.
Perhaps most surprisingly, I realized just how much my work suffers when I’m distracted by Facebook. Without notifications popping up like unannounced, hyperactive houseguests at my front door and with my newsfeed beyond my click reach, I found the focus to attack long-dormant writing projects.
Speaking of distractions, midway through the fast I went fishing with my sons at one of our favorite river spots. When my youngest caught the smallest bass I’ve ever seen on a hook, my first thought was to take a photo and post to Facebook and Instagram. #mobydick #worldrecordcatch #therealmegalodon
Instead, I quickly took a photo for his mother and helped him free the fish. Who cares that 100 people didn’t like the pic? Mom loved it.
When we walked the aisles of the grocery store and saw a woman we knew, my first thought wasn’t to compliment her latest funny video, but to compliment her little one for behaving so well in the shopping cart.
When we had guests over for my wife’s legendary fried tacos, I actually enjoyed the meal hot instead of staging a photo and eating the tacos at room temperature.
I read. I left my phone in the other room while watching a movie. I destroyed my kids at a raucous game of Uno.
Then, when my week came to end, rather than diving back into the social media ocean, I extended my “break from fake” for another day — just because I could.
Yes, social media can be a fabulous force for good. I genuinely enjoy seeing photos of old friends spread around the globe. I love updating followers on my books, video projects, or sharing links to my latest column — like this one.
One friend often posts cool, close-up photos of the scripture verse he’s studying that day. What’s not to love, like, or share about that?
No, social media is not evil. In today’s 24/7, always-on culture, the digital inventions around us aren’t inherently distractions — we make them so.
Addicted to social media? Don’t blame Zuckerberg; embrace moderation. Stuck on Snapchat? Let those silly streaks go and give the app a break. It’ll be there when you get back.
I had no idea when I took the challenge just how much I’d enjoy it and how it would reshape my approach to the apps we allow to run our lives. Being reminded that social media is there to serve us and not the other way around might be the greatest takeaway of all.
Whether you’re a member of The Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints or not, the value is the same. I invite you to put President Nelson’s challenge to the test.
Try a seven-day social media fast. The lessons might surprise you.