Can giving up social media fix our relationships? Rachel Tjahjadi discusses why she gave up Instagram for a month – and why she’s glad to have it back.
Lent came early for me this year. Or rather, the part where you are supposed to give up some things in your life to make space and time for reflection and prayer. After ChristChurch’s recent talk on fasting in the Lord’s Prayer series, our Connect Group decided to jump on the bandwagon and practice what was preached. We each picked something we wanted to fast, and how long we would like to fast for. Sounds easy enough, right?
That was what I thought too when I chose to do an Instagram fast.
One day fast seemed way too short; one week seemed alright, but being adventurous, I decided to challenge myself to go on a one month Instagram fast instead. So for the entire month of February, I took a break from Instagram and I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected lessons I learned.
My inspiration to do an Instagram fast came from the long-standing belief I had that it was social media, or more generally, technology, that was ruining my relationships, numbing my mind and wasting my time. Conventional discourse about the negative effects of social media seems to back me up on this, with numerous articles and research having been done on the role of social media in making us less empathetic and emotionally responsive, and possibly even making us grow addicted to instant gratification and validation. But upon deeper reflection on my own experience, I have become a bit more hesitant to agree with this view, as it tends to shift the blame very conveniently on the technology itself, rather than its user.
The first half of my fasting month was highly unproductive and unfruitful because I conveniently forgot that I was the one in control of my time and choices, not Instagram. In the past, I had this bad habit of mindlessly scrolling through the Instagram app on my phone whenever I was bored, regardless of the place or situation I was in. Instagram became a convenient escape from my physical realities. I naïvely thought that turning away from it would naturally allow me to be able to repair my relationships, spend more time with God and enrich my life with other more meaningful things.
But it turned out that other than having more time to do those things, I was also given the option of catching up with work, watching more television shows, or spending more time on the internet. It was only after half a month of unproductive and unfruitful fasting that I suddenly understood that I had more underlying issues of the heart that I needed to deal with.
I realised that my struggle with regularly carving out time to pray was because I was insecure about giving up control of my time to God, and my unwillingness to put in extra effort to build meaningful relationships was due to my fear of having to open up and be vulnerable and needy at times. Without dealing with these heart issues, removing Instagram from my daily life was not going to change anything, let alone miraculously improve my relationships or prayer life.
If anything, I have to admit that I’m glad to be back on Instagram. As an international student living away from home, I often find it difficult to keep track of the lives of my friends and loved ones back home, and this difficulty was compounded when I stopped using Instagram for a bit, exacerbating feelings of homesickness and isolation at times. Upon opening the application on my phone after a one-month hiatus, I was greeted by an Instagram video from my best friend who warmly welcomed me back – which very much made my day.
Some disclaimers to end with: no, I’m not being paid by Instagram to write this piece, and yes, I would certainly encourage all of us to try to do a social media fast someday (or any other form of fasting, for that matter). However, I’ve learned that turning away from social media is not the be all and end all solution to our technological woes. It is equally important to start holding some introspective discussions with ourselves about what fundamentally is causing these woes to begin with.