Lent is in full swing, and so are the commitments to 40 days without Facebook. In this framework, Facebook use is seen as negative and an addiction. It becomes just another one to add to Americans’ list of overindulgences, of things that push us away from each other and further into self.
"The idea of giving up Facebook for Lent goes with Internet use as addiction," says Alexandra Samuels, who penned ‘Plug In Better’: A Manifesto’ on The Atlantic. "I think one of the things that we experience, certainly those who spend a significant amount of time online and especially on social media, is you develop this sort of porousness between self and other when you’re constantly disclosing thoughts via Facebook, Twitter, email. The intellectual habit of writing your thoughts as you have them has become widespread. It is a distancing kind of experience." But is that act an addiction, or just a byproduct of using social media?
Duluth-based freelance writer Felicia Schneiderhan decided to give up Facebook for Lent this year. She says that she didn’t think too much about the decision, but that it’s turned out to be pretty hard.
"I use it throughout the day just to check in," Schneiderhan says. "If I am online and I need a mental break, I’ll just glance at it quickly."
Like everything new, the first few days were the hardest because Facebook had transcended just a random, once-in-awhile kinda thing. It had become a habit.
"Last night my son was in bed, I was tired, I went to my computer and didn’t want to do emails – I wanted to see Facebook," she says. "But I can’t. I’ve been calling people more, like my brothers, but I’ve been missing events."
The break from Facebook has helped Schneiderhan realize how much she actually uses Facebook for legitimate purposes, and has helped her rethink how to use it more effectively.
"Once Lent is over, I think I’m going to restrict my time to just once in the morning and once at night," she says.
For Schneiderhan, Facebook is a useful tool and not an addiction. Yet there is still a cultural undertone which implies that Twitter, for instance, is as addictive as alcohol and cigarettes.
"Addiction has become this framework we use in our culture to contain and medicalize dysfunctional behavior," says Samuels. "So anytime you stop doing it, you will have withdrawl symptoms. You have to ask yourself, what do we eliminate and obscure by framing that behavior as addiction?"
Samuels suggests that this framework is indeed counterproductive because it purports that people should quit Facebook cold turkey. To Samuels, this sounds "hopeless and counterproductive." Instead, she offers some practical advice.
"Ask yourself: Is my use of the Internet helping me create the life I want? I think part of it is that people are not clear with what they’re trying do with their life," she says. "If you get up from the computer on a regular basis and you wonder where the time went and you don’t feel very good, maybe you should reassess your Internet use."
But for those devoted to a Facebook-free 40 days of Lent, that’s not going to happen. We’re talking about the devout here.
"I’m doing it again this year," writes Rosie Perera on the blog Faith and Technology. "I’d been planning to just give up procrastination but one of my biggest ways of procrastinating is checking Facebook ("just one quick little check" and then I get sucked in), so I think that really needs to go too."
Perera takes it one step further, suggesting that people who want to give it up actually deactivate their accounts. She files her blog post under the topic "Tech Sabbath."
But the idea of giving up Facebook completely may not really be a positive thing.
"When I go back to regular non-Lent Facebook usage, I wonder if I’ll go back to my old pattern," says Schneiderhan. "I don’t think Facebook is a bad habit to have, for me. And that’s a good question because I thought it would be a huge time-waster."
If you’re still devoted to a Facebook-free Lent, be sure to check out the Pope’s Twitter feed. He’s tweeting Gospel themes or messages until Easter.