With a modicum of sanity left, I took off from home in search of what I had lost. I found it in a lawn chair underneath the Carolina sun, listening to the Vespers: rest. For those who know me it would seem an odd place for me to find anything. The great outdoors and I don’t exactly get along. Needless to say, when I agreed to spend the Easter weekend visiting family out in the middle of nowhere I wasn’t sure I would survive. How could I? With no cell phone service and no WiFi, it was like re-living the Stone Age (also known as the 1990s). The more I thought about it, however, the more I wondered if this vacation wasn’t exactly what I needed. If I am being honest, I must confess that I have a problem: I am addicted to social media. As it turns out, being forced to have an unplugged Sabbath is just what I needed to reorient myself.
Day 1: Media Detox
Much of my media consumption is purely an impulse driven by routine. No sooner have we arrived at our boreal destination than I have pulled out my laptop and attempted to get online. Of course there is no Internet connection, and I know this, but I can’t help myself. I default to this habit not once, not twice, but three different times. The aimless meandering begins soon after. Clearly I have no clue what I am doing or how I am going to spend my day. Have I really become so dependent on social media? A walk helps.
Our micropolitan community is in the heart of Southern Ohio Appalachia. But even there the sights don’t compare to being out among these tall pecan trees and dogwoods. I used to spend long weekends down here visiting my grandmother, but I’ve forgotten the serenity and beauty of the area. Truth be told, all this natural beauty would have been easy to ignore and depreciate from behind the glow of my little screen. I need this break. When your consumption of media has become so impulsive that you are blind to the world happening around you, it’s time to reevaluate.
Day 2: Hopeful Turn
I got up this morning wanting nothing more than coffee and Internet access, but I settle for one of the two. The coffee keeps my hands warm as I sit out back in the crisp morning air. “When was the last time you did something like this?” I ask myself. I am learning a lot about myself as I reflect on the lack of cell service and Twitter access. Early on, I can already tell this day will be a completely different kind of day.
There are lots of meaningful conversations happening. I certainly value the connections I have via Facebook, and I love the myriads of conversations that I can and do have online. But they do not compare to the investments I have made with these people face-to-face. There’s something completely different about talking to people, laughing and hearing them laugh. It’s worth the media break to remind myself of this.
I tend to make connections easily. It’s a feature of my extroverted personality. But those relationships are often only surface-level. Facebook can easily facilitate this shallow communion. But today I am reminded of how powerful human contact is. The sound of laughter, the visible responses of someone listening to you, the meaning communicated by a touch, these are all more powerful than text on a screen. This is an important reminder. When the primary way I develop relationships is via Facebook, I need to rethink my socialization.
Day 3: Sabbath Unplugged
It’s Easter Sunday, the day for reflecting specifically on the resurrection of my God. Of course the way I’ve grown accustomed to reflecting on and worshiping Jesus is with a whole slew of technological advantages. Our church uses screens and projection software, light displays, and loud music. None of that existed for me this weekend at Friendship Baptist Church. The pastor talked about planting beans, a reference that doesn’t resonate with me. The pipe organist played old hymns that I don’t sing anymore. It was all a world that seemed both foreign to me at this stage in life, and yet oddly refreshing. I wonder if perhaps my worship is too dependent upon technology and style, and not focused enough on Jesus.
The rest of the day has gone well too. I haven’t even thought about my isolation from the online world. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch—the grilled lamb was spectacular—and I spent most of the evening playing with my kids and visiting with family that I rarely get to see.
I realized some really wonderful things as I reflected on the weekend. I realized that I need these breaks. For several days I was completely inaccessible to those beyond my immediate surroundings. I was free of distractions, and nothing was competing for my family’s attention. Of course the real issue is my heart, not my laptop. More than anything this trip exposed the way I allow myself to be owned by my technology. I need a regular Sabbath unplugged if I am going to hold myself accountable.
Social media does have its place. There is incredible value in being able to access friends all over the world. It is also one of the most effective tools that our church has in disseminating information quickly. Facebook and Twitter help our congregation stay plugged into the life of the church even when we’re not together. But if we’re not careful, digital reality can easily become our only reality. And in the process of updating Twitter I will miss the beauty of the creation around me, and the power of face-to-face relationships. A Sabbath unplugged can be a powerful corrective. The unplugged days can actually help protect me when I plug back in.
Dave Dunham is associate pastor at Revolution Church in Portsmouth, OH. He is not a hipster, he does drink too much coffee, and he blogs at www.christinthecity.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @pastor_dave619.