Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lent, Unplugged

Like last year, I gave up Twitter and Facebook for Lent. A couple of weeks ago, I wasn't sure how I would spend the time (yes, I do spend a lot of time on both). My random thoughts couldn't be shared via text... I might actually have to say it to another person.

I'll admit that social media has influenced the way I think and communicate, and not necessarily for the better. For as shy as I can be, I have always been a people person, and my social skills have atrophied as a result of social media. Now, social media isn't all bad. Do I know more people as a result of social media? Yes. Am I close with all of them? No. It's networking in the classic sense. Perhaps my biggest complaint is my tendency to default to social media instead of turning around and saying hello to the person next to me, or cracking a joke in my Monty Pythonesque way. My inability to turn to the person next to me and make eye contact or say anything is wreaking havoc on my life, and I don't like it.

These thoughts have been winding around in my head at least for the past year. The loss of creativity, flexibility and spontaneity I had not so long ago, are a true loss to me. When I came across this article by Fr. James Schall, SJ, I thought that someone finally understood what I had been experiencing. As human beings, we are made for relationship. If we don't have relationship, the part of us that is able to bond to another person will suffer. That part of us that bonds can never be written out of our code... it will always come back to remind us.

Fr. Schall captures this very well...
"The truth of Christ is the full and authentic response to that human desire for relationship, communion and meaning which is reflected in the immense popularity of social networks." But the limits of friendship and finiteness remain. "He who is a friend of everyone is a friend of no one," as Aristotle said. And I suppose that he who communicates with everyone knows no one in any meaningful sense.
Something else that is interesting about social media... real everyday relationships are full of ups and downs and moments we can't control. In the virtual world, we actually have more control over our interactions with other people. We can think of something clever to say, cite our positions with google searches and links, shut down the conversation or delete it entirely. Nobody would ever know that we disagreed with someone, been incorrect, said enormously stupid or vile things. And the people we hurt or hurt us can never see our facial expressions, hear the changes in our voices, or truly know the impact of the interaction with the other person.

The exception to this, is the group of folks that I have met via blogging since 2006. We are a very close group, see each other often, and are a part of each others lives. Damn, I miss them lately too... So much is lost in the digital age.

Including time that we can be spending with people in real life. So I gave up Twitter and Facebook for Lent so that I could do a few things:

- clear my mind
- focus on priorities of my life (which are conveniently forgotten when you're getting attention at will online)
- to spend time with people, in person

And how could I not put at the top of my list....focus on faith. Lent is my favorite season. I'm very fortunate to belong to a parish that is gentle and instructive. Every year I learn more about what it means to have faith and what God asks of us. It's not always fun to educate your conscience, but it sure makes life more satisfying (albeit challenging).

So it has been good so far... I have more work ahead of me, and more brain space at my disposal.


  1. Father Schall is not only a great thinker in the realm of political theory, but a great priest as well. It's a pity more of his Jesuit colleagues over 40 don't take him as an example. Fortunately the under-40's seem to.

  2. Your comment made me think of something I heard during the Madison kerfuffle:

    "we won't see any peace in our society until everyone with a memory of the 60's has died"

    In some ways, I think there is a parallel to some of the people/priests who lived through Vat II. I could go further with more specifics on why, but if you're a fan of Fr. Schall, I think you know why.

  3. He is also a brilliant raconteur, which helps ;-) It's an oddity of history that when I was an undergrad at Georgetown I never saw him or had him for a single class but now, many years later, I get to chat with him at events around town where he is the speaker or on the panel.