Lessons from a social media fast

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, January 12th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It:  Resolutions. 

We’re almost two weeks into the New Year now. Maybe you made some resolutions, and now you’re finding it hard to maintain those good intentions.

REICHARD: You’re not alone! Today, WORLD senior correspondent—and mom of four—Katie Gaultney shares a personal look at an area of her life that she’s trying to discipline.

KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: A couple months ago, my 5-year-old, Sam, asked me a hard question. 

SAM: Mommy, why are you always looking at your phone? 

The fact is, of course, I’m not looking at it all the time. But his question tapped into some insecurities I have—wondering if my children notice how glued I often am to my iPhone—and it convicted me. Most of the time, I’m not doing meaningful stuff with my phone. I’m scrolling Facebook, checking Twitter, watching Instagram stories. Wasting time. And if I’m really honest, escaping the duty and privilege of my high calling of being a mom. 

The effects of social media on mental health are well documented. And it’s clearly a huge time-stealer. But my ears perked up when I was researching a WORLD History Book segment and came across a TED Talk by computer programmer Cal Newport: 

NEWPORT: We have a growing amount of research which tells us that if you spend large portions of your day breaking up your attention, to take a quick glance, to just check, “Let me quickly look at Instagram”—that this can permanently reduce your capacity for concentration.

Permanently reduce my capacity for concentration. Whoa. I talked to the women in my church community group about my concerns and my plans to take a month-long “fast” from social networks from Thanksgiving to Christmas. My friend Meg has been off social media for a while now, for reasons I hadn’t considered. 

MEG: It really helps me to think, the people that are posting are typically super narcissistic, and do I really want to feed into that culture? No! 

My community group gave me good advice: Delete the apps from my phone and change my passwords to something really long and complicated. And they urged me to consider my intent: Is this really just a month-long exercise, or would I consider extending it? 

I told them I hope that I find this social media detox so fulfilling—and that I’ll be so successful in breaking the cycle of addiction—that I won’t even want to get on it. Or at least, not in the way I was before, where it was an unhealthy escape from the blessings right in front of me. 

So I jumped in. And I journalled along the way to see any patterns, triggers, observations. I’ll go ahead and share a few journal entries with you. 

Nov. 25 — The social media fast has begun! I called my 7-year-old over this morning to bear witness to the official start of this experiment. She cheered me on as I deleted apps off my phone. I’m about an hour and a half into the detox process, and I’ve only flipped over to where my social media apps used to be twice to try to check them before realizing they’re gone.

Nov. 26 — I start each day with a Bible reading plan. Well, yesterday, I really did notice my mind was less distracted, and I found myself thinking about the passages I read throughout the day. I wish I could say that’s typical, but I think when I have a quiet period where I could reflect, I end up filling it with mindless scrolling instead. 

Dec. 6 — Every Sunday I get a notification about how many hours I was looking at my phone the previous week. I just got my weekly notification, and my screen time was down 79 percent from the previous week! We’ve had more time for read-alouds, art, playing together outside… 

Dec. 8 — I have a confession to make: I got on Facebook last night. But it was only a minute, and my intentions were pure. I got an email notification that a friend from high school tagged me in a post on Facebook. I haven’t seen this guy in 18 years. And my first thought was maybe someone had died, a classmate or  teacher. So I got on, used my computer. Turns out he was dragging me over an article I wrote about religious liberty and adoption. And this is weird for me, because while I tend to waste my time on social media, I don’t get in “fights” on social media. I sent him a private message to see if we could resolve any lingering conflict I may have been unaware of… and I got off Facebook. Because honestly, that kind of thing is the reason social media doesn’t need much of a place in my life.

Dec. 14 — My kids have spent the morning bickering, and I’m not getting through to them. I want to go where I can’t hear them sniping at each other, close the door, drink some coffee and waste time on my phone. I’m realizing there are plenty of ways to do that besides social media. I’ve read articles, I’ve checked my email probably 10 times since I woke up, and I’ve played a word game. I’m convicted right now that I am honoring the letter of this “social media cleanse,” but not the spirit of it. Did I get on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? No. Have I allowed myself to be distracted by my phone? Absolutely yes. So I need to double-down on focusing on Philippians 4:8 and 9… dwelling on the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable… 

Dec. 20 — It’s been a good week since I last checked in. When I’m less distracted, the kids just argue less. There’s an expression that people can be like thermometers, reacting to the temperature, or they can be like thermostats and set the temperature around them. When I’m fully engaged, I’m definitely setting the temperature. And our home is just happier. 

And then, Christmas Day rolled around, the end of the fast. And I didn’t even feel the urge to download those apps I had deleted. My mind feels clearer, I read more, and my heart is more drawn toward my kids. Once I had made a firm boundary between me and my biggest escape, I wasn’t even looking for an escape. For that month, I felt fully present for the sweet moments of the season: Advent readings, making Christmas cookies, and decorating the Christmas tree.

KIDS: I like the Santa one. I like this one of me in PreK. I like the crown one. That just broke. There’s two crown ones.

I did, eventually, check Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see if I had missed anything. And, shocker, I hadn’t. I think there’s a place for social media in my life, but it’s a very small one—only to send a message, or as-needed for work—that kind of thing. But as an excuse for just “filling the time?” No. 

MUSIC: [Switchfoot, Life is Short]

I’m Katie Gaultney.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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