The goal of the web is to engage you, to get you to click, scroll, double tap, laugh, cry, and share, to get you to stay up late online and then wake up in the morning and do it all over again. And I would be dishonest if I said I didn't want the articles on desiringGod.org and the Ask Pastor John podcast episodes to get built into the daily rituals of your life. Of course I do, and I am deeply grateful when they are. So this is a counterintuitive article about how to step back from social media for a short season for the purpose of recalibrating your life habits and priorities. I want your engagement, but far more importantly, I want you to find digital health and balance in a world without digital brakes.
To that end, for most of us smartphone users, we need seasons of digital detox.
Offline on Purpose
Like most of you, I cannot go offline completely, or escape my laptop or texts or daily emails, but I can digitally detox and pull off a two-week fast from social media. Two weeks seems about right, and if this sounds like an eternity of impossibility to you, as though some part of your inner life would die from malnourishment, then a digital detox is already long overdue.
The stats are alarming. Facebook’s average user is now on their family of platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger) for fifty minutes every day. That number is on the rise, all by the brilliant design of Mark Zuckerberg who wants nothing more than to grab more and more of your attention. And many of us are all too willing to give it to him.
So how do we push back against the urge to tap the social media icon on our phones and jump into the slot machine of digital randomness, all served up fresh and sugary, moment by moment, to the eyes? Here are twelve steps.
1. Get real with social media.
The first step is to admit that many of us slide into an uncritical and naïve view of web giants like Facebook. We need a moment of prescription-grade reality, and one dose of straight talk comes from marketing guru Seth Godin (who is intentionally not active in social media).
"ocial media wasn’t invented to make you better, it was invented for you to make the company money," said Godin recently, perhaps overstating the case, but helpfully so. He continues, "By [social media] you become an employee of the company. You are the product they sell. And they put you in a little hamster wheel and throw treats in now and then.... The big companies of social media went from being profoundly important and useful public goods that created enormous value, to becoming public companies under pressure to make the stock price go up."
And the stock prices are going up. Twitter's value fluctuates, but the company is valued between $10–40 billion. Pinterest is now valued between $10–16 billion. Snapchat is worth $16 billion. But at $350 billion, Facebook is the social media behemoth, now the sixth most valuable company in America, and projected to reach the $1 trillion mark in the coming years.
Social media platforms reach valuations in the billions only if the hamsters in the hamster wheels keep spinning out content and shares and likes. These companies feed off you and profit off your time.
Not to mention, as we turn to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, more and more as a filter for the trending news, those platforms control what we see (and what we don’t see), leading serious recent allegations of algorithm bias.