The problem with social media fasts and other forms of tuning out

One of the reasons I wrote Tuning In is because I’m sick of the negative, singular narrative about technology coming from church voices.

The assumption is that using technology or social media is somehow merely a pastime or leisure activity, carrying with it a negative stigma that it’s a waste of time and serious Christians should use sparingly. Idle hands are the devils handiwork, right?

In my experience this leads to a simplistic presentation of the “Tune Out” narrative from Christian voices. Very few, if any, of these voices regarding media & technology in the cultural space are overtly positive about their subject matter. The most popular ones dance somewhere between outright conspiracy theorists/fear-mongerers to suspiciously negative.

They gleefully foster false notions, leading parents to believe if you leave a teenager alone for 15 seconds of freedom with their iPhone they will have no choice but to pull down their pants and text their friends photos of their junk.

Newsflash: They won’t.

I’ve often quipped that if I wanted to make more money speaking to people about social media I’d need to scare the hell out of people a lot more.

And that’s my problem: While that sells well it’s not ultimately helpful.

The singular narrative of withdrawal is problematic on three fronts.

First, it negates the utility of technology. It’s not like technology is going to go away. In less than 20 years Facebook’s user base has grown to exceed the number of Christians in the world… 20 years growth vs. 2,000 years. Most people use technology for daily life and social connection, they need to know how to use it in a way that works with their faith, not encouraged to avoid it or somehow feel dirty when they do.

Second, withdrawal from the world comes at a high cost. Part of being mindful of our role as Good News in the Neighborhood (John 1) is understanding how important your impact is on others.  When you tune out of the world around you… allegedly for the sake of bettering your walk with Jesus… you negate the role of Christian witness among the people you know. “I wish I knew more Christians like you.” If you aren’t hearing that on a regular basis you probably need to tune in to the world around you more.

Third, it doesn’t even work. A funny thing happens when you talk to people who try really hard to tune out… they suck at it. Remember in the 1990s when we asked kids to turn their backs on secular music or the early 2000s when we tried to get them to kiss dating goodbye. How’d that work out? It didn’t work. It caused more problems than it solved. So why do we waste time trying to get people to give up social media or fast from technology? My argument is that we do that because it’s the only solution we know. Many Christians believe that by tuning out from “the world” you can better tune in to Jesus. I am asking you to consider the possibility that as you tune in to the world around you that you’ll find you can deeply connect with Jesus there, too.

So what’s the solution? Whether you’re a parent, teacher, youth worker, pastor, or a Christian just trying to figure this out… The solution is learning to navigate the world you actually live in. To be Good News in the Neighborhood you have to intentionally engage with your neighborhood… both the one you physically live in and the one that you connect to on your smartphone.


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