Monday, August 8, 2016

My Week Without Social Media: Or, Why I'm Not Nearly As Important As I Think I Am!

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of chaperoning a mission trip with high school students from Kenosha’s St. Mary’s Lutheran Church and Spirit Alive Church.  37 of us loaded up in three huge vans and one Chevy Traverse and headed to Detroit.  We were blessed to use Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington Hills, MI as our base camp.
While in Detroit, we spent the bulk of our time supporting the Matrix Center.  This centrally located building is an oasis in the Osborne Neighborhood, just a few miles on the edge of Detroit.  We cleared vacant lots, did landscaping, painting and a whole host of other projects that the busy staff just never had the time to do. The hot temperatures made outdoor work challenging.  The intense summer sun and heat pushed us all to our limits.  Still, the trip was fantastic in every respect.  While I enjoyed the hard work, I also enjoyed the mental vacation from social media.
Mission trip
Image courtesy Victoria Fields.
We had asked the youth to limit their phone use.  We wanted them to ‘be in the moment’ that seems to develop when folks are not forever looking down at their tiny screens.  They rose to the occasion.  It seemed only fair that if I was asking them to step back, that I should do the same.  I added ‘vacation responders’ to all my email accounts, professed to the social media world that I was taking a break from it.
While I hardly ever have my phone’s volume up, I noticed the ‘notifications’ popping up on my screen over the directions app. almost immediately.  When we stopped, I was tempted to ‘just check’ on those emails or that funny tweet that popped up.  I knew I was going to have to do something drastic.  In fact, when I told my 18-year-old daughter what I had done, she let out an audible gasp.  I deleted ALL of the social media apps from my phone.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger.  I even deleted my email accounts.  Besides the camera and photography apps, my iPhone was basically, and somewhat ironically, a phone.  The chaperones were using a group text to keep in touch between vans and occasionally we had to place a random call, so I left those two apps intact.  Almost immediately I felt the relief, but also a bit of anxiety.  The word ‘addiction’ gets thrown around pretty loosely.  I don’t think I’m addicted to the phone, but I have been conditioned to pick it up every time it vibrates, ‘just to check.’
One of the many beautiful art pieces at Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.
Why did I delete the apps?  Mostly because I have so little self-control; I'm just being totally honest.  I knew that if they were on the phone, I would look.  At first, just, a peek, but soon  full-fledged minutes would turn into hours and so on.  Why not just re-load them?  Well, that’s a good idea, but that would have taken time and by the time I had the ‘need’ to check notifications, the need had passed.  So, I embraced the void.  I figured if something earth shattering happened, I would find out soon enough.  I might even just get a phone call.  Remember those?
The soaring sanctuary of Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.
Unfortunately, some horrible events DID in fact happen.  There was an attack in France and shortly thereafter there was another shooting of police officers.  We were alerted to the possibility of violence in major cities across America following these shootings.  I had told the other leaders about my social media ‘fast’ and they were monitoring events.  We shared the bare bones of the events with the students that evening as we gathered.  Seeing their faces reminded me how we ‘used’ to get bad news.  Because we were all essentially processing it together, we had time to reflect, cry and pray.  I think we miss much of this in our 24/7 connected world.  By the time one event hits the news cycle there is another event happening.  We don’t’ have time in this ‘modern’ world to grieve.
The baptismal font is large and centrally located at the Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.
As the week wore on, I noticed that I didn’t even really miss the facebook updates or countless photos of friend's children or vacation images.  In fact, I actually found time to read.  Not as much as I would have liked to, but given the fact that I had 34 noisy teenagers around me all of the time, that I read at all is a miracle!
Detail of a building at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.
I won’t lie. I was very anxious to re-load the apps and check in with my social media accounts.  Somewhat disappointedly, I must say that nobody ‘needed’ me.  Nobody offered me a book deal, that part in the new action film, nor had I won any lotteries.  In fact, there actually very few emails or updates on my accounts.  I’d like to think that it was because I told everyone I was offline, but I think that the actual reason is that I’m just not as important as I would like to think I am.  I say that not in a disparaging way, but in an honest and humble way.  The world will turn.  The sun will rise.  All without me.
One of the structures at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.
And yet, despite the fact that I wasn’t ‘missed’ on social media, I made memories that I will never forget; even if I didn’t document them with a tweet, gram or post.  You could say I got to time travel because I saw the ‘future’ in the faces of the youth.  I spent countless hours with them singing, praying, working and sweating.  The future is indeed bright!
The General Motors Building in Downtown Detroit, MI.
How can you manage your social media ‘addiction?’  Well,  Ibrahim Husain’s POST on Lifehack has some fantastic tips, a couple I would like to highlight.  First, he states that you have to acknowledge you have a problem.  Use one of the many trackers to monitor your use.  MOMENT is one of the best in my opinion.  It literally tracks every time you pick your phone up and seeing those statistics can be quite sobering.  After you acknowledge this, you can start working to curb your addiction.  Husain suggests deleting many of the apps from your phone, permanently.  Do you really need Facebook and Twitter on your phone?  I personally have found that using an interface like TweetDeck helps me efficiently monitor and learn from my Twitter feed.  I haven’t found anything similarly for Facebook.  For now, I’m limiting myself to it by using a timer.  
The beautiful organ at Hope Lutheran Church in Farmingham, MI.
DID make a few changes as I re-loaded those apps back to my phone.  The first is that I turned off ALL notifications except a few key apps (text messaging and calendars).  I will NOT get notifications of new tweets, or posts to Instagram and Facebook.  I won’t even get notifications of email messages. I am sure I’ll miss a few emails late at night or early in the morning.  I apologize in advance to you if that happens. (Three weeks on, I've really enjoyed not seeing those messages on my screen.  It takes a little discipline to 'remember' to check the messages, emails, etc. but that is a much healthier 'problem' than being a slave to the notices.) Who knows, hopefully, I’ll find some time to let my mind drift; it is in that kind of moments I find I do my best thinking.  Maybe my monumental stack of books next to my bed will gradually shrink!  One thing is for sure, my week without social media has had a powerful impact on me.  Give it a try!
The whole crew gathered along the river walk in Detroit, MI.


  1. IT's all part of media overload. We need to get away from it...

    1. Agreed. Even making these changes I still feel the overload. Really need to take these 'breaks' and make them more a part of my design.

  2. Todd, what a great post and what a memorable experience you had with your mission trip. Proud of you! Some sobering thoughts there. I need to rethink my time on social media. I like the idea of a timer.

    1. Thanks Sherri,
      I appreciate your kind words.

  3. Such beautifully stained glass photos in this church! Thanks for sharing your experience, Todd!

    1. It was a beautiful week all around! Thank you Tina!

  4. Inspring pos tis so many ways, Todd. This is the1st time I've checked in today and I spent the day connecting w/nature, family, and exploring anew city. Your kids did great work, the pics were phenomenal, and this post is helping me in my fast.

    1. Kathy,
      Good for you. We all need to take a 'fast' like this as often as we can.

  5. Some of us were alive before social media, and we got along just fine. You've proven that it can still be done. Let the social media serve you, not vice versa. Thanks for your post and the pictures of this beautiful church!

    1. What? You mean there was a time without it? :) I agree. Thank you for the kind words.

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Todd-- lots of good food for thought here.

    1. It's pretty humbling to realize you aren't nearly as important as you think you are; and that is a very good thing.


  7. What a great trip, Todd, and I know you were more in the moment through your commitment to be media free. I've considered disconnecting from all media for awhile, but haven't been gutsy enough to do so!

  8. Hi Chaperone,

    It's hard to get in touch in social media if hands

    are wet or sticky or otherwise icky from
    bread baking
    play-doh making
    yard digging
    mountain trekking
    garbage collecting
    & a host of other

    When we took our family vacation this
    summer we loved the freedom of not being much in touch.

    Habits or addictions are much much harder to break that most folks realize.
    It helps if they can be replaced with something that also brings
    a zing to the neurons.

    I loved all the fabulous pictures & congratulations to your youth team!