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Facebook Famine Ends with Celebration of Empty Calories

by Nichola Gutgold

With the economy in a freefall, thrifty folks everywhere have decided to make sacrifices.  There is a group of people not buying new clothes for a whole year, and another person who hasn’t driven a car for fifteen months. In TIME,  Joel Stein laments that it isn't as easy as he thought it would be to go off the grid for the National Day of Unplugging.   Being Catholic, these sound to me like one continuous Lenten sacrifice. 

When Lent arrived this year, I thought about a guilty pleasure and what it would mean to do without it.  Instead of the usual “no chocolate” (I always cheated by the second week of Lent anyway) I thought I’d give up something a little different. 

What is more valuable than anything else?  How we spend our time.  And since I seemed to be spending more and more time on the social networking site, Facebook, I thought doing without it would make me consider if I really needed it.   Used in moderation, I think Facebook is fun and harmless, unless you are a teenage girl sharing romance failures or a professor looking for a hitman.   

I don’t think I was addicted to Facebook, but I was feeling the same way I feel about being the one in the family who always makes dinner.  It isn’t the cooking that requires so much effort, it is the thinking about the cooking.  I was spending too much time thinking about what status updates I would post, whether something I was feeling was really “postable” and how much of myself I was disclosing that I may live to regret.   But I felt too Catholic to share with my entire Facebook friends (of all denominations) that I was fasting on Facebook.  Besides, in Gospel of Matthew we are told not to announce our sacrifice.  So, without any status update to tell my Facebook friends, I decided to slip the nebulous bonds of Facebook for forty days.  

When I told one of my Catholic Facebook friends of my plan he quickly pointed out that a priest once told him that there are forty days of Lent without fasting on weekends, so I should consider posting on the weekends, but it seemed like too much of a Catholic loophole to me, akin to an annulment.   Curiosity got the best of me so I counted the days and in fact, it is true that this year there are 46 days in Lent if you count Ash Wednesday (Feb. 17 and you do not count Easter, April 4).  Feeling resolute, I wasn’t planning on using the extra days to post.  I let myself read other posts, and I responded to whoever sent me a message, but I did not update my status and I did not post photos (or anything on my wall) or comment about anything anyone else posted.   Without shutting down my account, I simply stopped using it.

I thought I was unique in my quest to “fast” from Facebook, but even the urban dictionary had an entry “Facebook fasting”:  to refrain from going on Facebook for a certain period of time. This often comes after the realization that too much time has been wasted on Facebook resulting in real life problems.  A quick Google search reveals many other Catholics fasting from Facebook.  So much for originality.  Still, I thought my fast would be a good sacrifice for me and it might even turn into a mini research project that would reveal:

1)      If anyone noticed I wasn’t on Facebook

2)      If I missed not being on Facebook

3)      If I got more work done

The first lesson:  I received a few messages on Ash Wednesday and the next few days, a couple of friends posted comments about a photo I posted, and then … nothing.   For five days.  On the sixth day, one friend posted:  “Dr. Gutgold must be very busy. I really miss her daily entries.”  

By the second week of Lent I got the impression that all my Facebook friends sort of forgot about me, but Facebook didn’t.  I was getting messages from Facebook that read:  “We miss you.  Please re-connect.”  I received several of these “come back” responses from Facebook throughout Lent.  So, yes:  a few friends missed me  a little and Facebook missed me a lot.

The second lesson:  I did miss Facebook a little.  Facebook is a good way to send and receive information.  Facebook for me, functions like a phone call to my sisters.  It feels so good to catch up, even if there isn’t much to catch up about.  The brand new four foot fluorescent bulb that didn’t work that sent me back to Target for another one.  

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