Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Advent is just around the corner, and I know that a lot of us are thinking about what we can do to minimize the number of times this season that we lock ourselves in closets to scream “I CAN’T TAKE THIS STRESS ANYMORE!!!” Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, if you’re thinking about what you can do to maximize the peace and minimize the franticness as you prepare to celebrate the birth of the Lord, consider doing some kind of internet fast. Whether it’s a full week without technology, or just taking one day a week off of social media for the duration of the season, the practice of disconnecting can have a lasting impact on almost every area of your life. Here’s how:
It teaches you patience: One of the first things I learned when I undertook my own technology fast was that I’d lost the concept of waiting for information. Whether I wanted to come up the name of the nerdy character in The Breakfast Club or the capitol of Ohio, I was shocked when I couldn’t simply turn to my computer and make it appear within a few keystrokes. It was a good reminder that sometimes you can’t get what you want as soon as you want it.
It strengthens your relationships: So what did I do when I needed some information but couldn’t use the internet to get it? I picked up the phone and called a friend. Not having Google forced me to reach out to the people around me in a way I hadn’t in 10 years; and having to make a phone call, rather than dashing out a text or an email, opened the door for longer conversations, which had become all too rare thanks to online communication.
It improves your social skills: One thing I love about texts, emails and direct messages is that they’re so efficient. “Dinner @ 6:30 OK?” I might text my mom. But I’d come to lean on this quick, informal method of communication too heavily. Having to make phone calls and have in-person conversations forced me to strengthen my social skills; instead of bare-bones, to-the-point notes, I had to go through the typical social customs for when you engage with someone verbally (asking how they’re doing, how their day is, etc.) and it led to a lot of great conversations that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
It breaks you out of a “slot machine” mentality: When I found myself yearning to open up my laptop and get on Twitter or Google Reader, I realized that I was seeking a high. I was drawn to the internet the same way some people are drawn to slot machines: each time, I was hoping for a virtual jackpot—an exciting email, a life-changing blog post, a hilarious Youtube video, a retweet from someone with a zillion followers on Twitter, etc. It was good to step away from my virtual slot machine for a while, so that I could learn to appreciate the good stuff in the online world without it leading to addictive, high-seeking behavior.
It improves your focus: This one probably goes without saying, but there are far fewer distractions when you’re unplugged. I think I got more done around the house in my week without my computer than I normally accomplish in a month. The lesson has stuck with me, and now I’m in the habit of shutting down my laptop and ignoring cell phone text notifications when I have a long household to-do list I’m trying to get through.
It shows you that you don’t need to be connected as much as you think you do: I was pretty sure that my entire life—nay, the entire world—would fall apart because of my week offline. I felt certain that my entire social network would collapse when other people couldn’t get in touch with me via email, and that I’d miss critical information by not looking at text messages for a week. Oddly enough, it was completely fine. It was humbling to see how well the world carried on without being able to reach me by text or email. Also, it neutralized that burning sense of urgency I used to feel if I was ever disconnected for more than a couple of hours. Now I have no problem spontaneously unplugging for a day here and there when I feel like I need to.
It inspires others: If you’re going to do a fast from your main mode of communication that lasts more than a couple of days, you’ll probably want to give people you know a heads-up—and you might be surprised at the response you get. Before I unplugged, I sent an email to a bunch of folks that explained what I was doing and listed my phone number in case anyone needed to reach me. When I got back online, there were dozens of effusive emails from people saying that they were inspired to do something similar.
It brings you silence: If there is one top reason to undertake some kind of technology fast, it’s this. There is simply not enough silence in modern life, and a large part of that is because of social technology. I think I grew more spiritually during my week-long internet fast than I had in the entire year leading up to it. I realized that I’d often used the “noise” of the online world to drown out the still, small voice of God in my life, and without those distractions, not only did I have more time for prayer, but I was forced to face challenging convictions that I would have otherwise avoided.
It’s been months since my last technology fast, but the lessons I learned still impact my daily actions. If you’re looking for ways to minimize your stress during Advent and Christmas to keep your focus in the right place, consider unplugging for a while. It’ll undoubtedly increase your peace throughout the season, and will teach you valuable lessons that will stick with you for months to come.