Vacation this year was a true get-away. No social media, no emails and limited use of the cell phone. I called it “Project Unplug” and for the month of June I was virtually off the grid. The thought of checking-out for a few weeks was appealing. It would be a return to the days when phones were attached to cords that only stretched so far—certainly not beyond the front door. Written correspondence required a stamp and passed through many hands before arriving in a mail box several days later. And photos had to be developed before being placed in frames and scrapbooks.


Janice Six

I began by deactivating my Facebook account, which was something I had been
considering for months, simply because I felt it was misleading to have one. I say this because I rarely opened it. Having a Facebook account and never checking it is like having voice mail and never listening to the messages. Of course, it’s only misleading if “followers” assume I check the site on a regular basis and know what’s going on. Hence, more than once I’ve learned of engagements, break-ups, and births weeks after they’ve occurred, and only then by chance. When surprised by the news, the most often retort is, “It was on Facebook.”

It’s been a month since I “unplugged” from social media and I haven’t missed it, but that’s only because I wasn’t looking at it anyway. For those who check it numerous times throughout the day, I’m sure the experience would be far more dramatic. My friend is an example. When she heard about Project Unplug, she was inspired (not to the point of deactivating her social media) but to “hide” the Facebook icon on her cell phone screen for one day. Later that afternoon, her daughter noticed the icon missing and when she asked why, my friend explained that for one day she wasn’t going to look at Facebook. Immediately the young girl did a fist pump and exclaimed, “Yes!” My friend was stunned. She had no idea that her daughter would react so strongly.

To my friend’s credit, she went 10 days before restoring the Facebook icon to her phone
screen. She later texted, “I desperately want to get rid of it all together. I hate the time I spend ‘scrolling’…It’s a mindless action that requires zero brain power…it has a grip on me.” She’s certainly not alone. I recently read that two years ago, Facebook had 1.6 billion users clicking the “Like” button more than 6 billion times every day. Imagine what the numbers must be today! What my friend shared next is perhaps the best reason to put our smart phones aside and step away from our computer screens. She confessed, “I compare so much to what others are doing that it steals the joy I could be feeling over my own life.” Again, my friend is not alone. In fact, there have been psychological studies to support her insight.

In the book “America the Anxious: Why Our Search for Happiness Is Driving Us Crazy and How to Find It for Real,” Ruth Whippman, a British journalist, writes of her own experience of moving to the United States and being struck by people’s near frantic search for happiness. Intrigued by this, she delved into the topic and discovered various studies and psychological research that validate my friend’s experience. My favorite chapter in the book is entitled, “I’m Not a Happy Person, I Just Play One on Facebook.” Whippman observes, that most of us walk a thin line on social medial between “sharing proud moments” and “totally warping reality.” She explains by saying, “This is social media’s basic Faustian pact: You believe my Facebook fiction (and allow it to make you slightly envious and insecure), and I’ll do the same for yours.” Do you agree? The book is both interesting and entertaining and I recommend it.

Project Unplug also prompted me to experiment with the “Do Not Disturb” setting on my
smart phone. When activated the quarter moon icon appears on the status bar. By setting up a group of “favorites” the phone will only sound when someone from the group calls. All other alerts, notifications and calls are silenced. As a pastor who likes to be accessible to members of the congregation at all times, activating the “Do Not Disturb” proved to be more difficult than deactivating social media. I found that I kept adding names to my “Favorites” until I practically had the entire church directory!
The only other “unplugging” I did was to leave “away messages” on both my email accounts. This gave me peace of mind to ignore my inbox, knowing that folks wouldn’t be expecting a reply until July.

As I reflect on Project Unplug, the good news is that I’m not nearly as dependent or being
“connected” as I thought and it confirmed what I’ve known all along: When I choose to step off the tilt-a-whirl of day-to-day living, others continue to enjoy the ride! In other words: Life goes on. Being reminded and assured of this is liberating! July has arrived and Project Unplug is now over—at least for the most part. I’m back to checking and responding to emails. The quarter-moon icon is no longer shining on the status bar
of my phone, and if you call I’ll most likely answer—anytime of day or night, but I’ve yet to reactivate my Facebook account and there’s a good chance I never will.

Janice Six is associate pastor of First Central Presbyterian Church

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