Written by Phyllis J.en, Singapore
About two years ago, I decided to delete or deactivate most of my social media accounts for a while. Things remained that way for the next six to nine months.
It took much thinking and hesitation before I was able to bring myself to do it. “Can I live without it?” “How do I contact people?” “How will people take it?” After all, social media had become a big part of my life.
But there were two main reasons that propelled me to do so. First, I wanted to go offline to reconnect with people face to face. Social media had affected the way I treated and viewed people. I wasn’t being loving or intentional in my relationships with people. During meal times, I would rather text or scroll through my social media newsfeeds than talk to people and get to know them personally. I found their timelines and posts more interesting than their actual persons.
Secondly, and more importantly, I realized that social media had become an idol in my life. Whenever I did my daily devotion, I would keep glancing at my phone, unable to concentrate on what I was reading or writing. And whenever my phone alerted me with notifications, I would put the Bible aside to check them. It was scary—I couldn’t seem to be able to restrain myself: I had to check my phone immediately. I felt like I had to reply immediately even when it wasn’t about something urgent.
In fact, it was an incident of this nature that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. One day, I got really angry when a friend I messaged did not reply me quickly enough. When I cooled down and reflected on my reaction, I realized that it was irrational and showed how emotionally dependent I had become on social media.
But I didn’t delete or deactivate my apps all at once. What I did was to delete apps that didn’t really matter to me first. Snapchat was the first to go. Next was Instagram, followed by Facebook. The last to be deleted was WhatsApp, which I was the most reliant on, as I used it the most often to contact my friends and disseminate information—I was a subject representative in school and had convey information from my teacher to the rest of the class.
Initially when I “lost” everything but WhatsApp, the loss didn’t feel so apparent. It was only when my WhatsApp was gone that I felt the impact fully. Deleting WhatsApp was the most painful and difficult thing to do, partly due to my dependence on it, and partly due to how people reacted when I told them about my plans.
“Are you crazy?” some said. “That’s so drastic!” “Why must you be so extreme? Don’t you know that’s going to cause a lot of inconvenience to people around you when they want to contact and connect with you?”
But a few affirmed my decision, calling it a “wise” one.
I was hurt by some of the comments. But being the stubborn person I was, I decided to carry on with it. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how lost and empty I felt. The sudden silence and disconnect was disconcerting. I didn’t know what to do. I found myself checking my phone often—even though I knew that there would be no messages. I even contemplated downloading the app again. I was more addicted to it than I thought.
Although being offline changed my lifestyle a lot, it did not automatically change my mindset. The vacuum created by the loss of social media was filled by other forms of entertainment. K-drama, anyone? I watched so much K-drama that I got tired of it. Then, slowly, I started to spend time reading the Bible and praying. And that’s when I came to the realization that only God can satisfy. None of the other things could fill the emptiness in me.
Deleting my apps also made me realize how much time and energy I had been wasting. With the amount of energy and time spent on social media, I could have been doing more important things such as evangelism, meeting, and praying for others. Going offline made me more intentional about the relationships around me, and improved my spiritual walk. It made me realize that I had not been fixing my eyes on God’s kingdom.
The other thing I learned was about my over-dependence on people. Prior to the “loss”, I would turn to my friends and family for help and advice every time I faced a crisis—and not the Bible. As for prayer, it was usually an afterthought. Don’t get me wrong, turning to friends and family for advice is not a bad thing. They just shouldn’t be the first people we turn to.
So I am really thankful that through this social media fast, God helped me learn how to depend and listen more to Him.
Although I’ve since reactivated my Facebook account and reinstalled WhatsApp, these platforms don’t appeal to me as much as they used to. In fact, I send mostly text messages to my friends; WhatsApp is reserved for those friends who I know have limited number of text messages they can send out every month.
But even though the temptation is not as strong these days, addiction in any form will always be an ongoing struggle. What I find very helpful is to keep praying and asking God for wisdom and depending on Him daily. Also, having an accountability partner helps!