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3/3/10 | 1 comment |
Facebook: The fad fast
Giving up the social networking tool is a popular Lenten sacrifice for many this liturgical season.
“Are you online?”
It’s one of my favorite lines from “You’ve Got Mail,” the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan flick that chronicled the beginnings of the average person’s obsession with the Internet. At that time, in the mid- to late-’90s, it was dial-up and America Online. These days, it’s high-speed and Facebook.
Maybe that’s why for Lent this year more people seem to be forgoing the typical 40-day sacrifice of chocolate or soda in favor of a more virtual fast. Circa Ash Wednesday, several Facebook friends posted that they were done updating statuses and scrolling through the News Feed until Easter.
Spending six weeks without aimlessly clicking through the photo albums of a person twice removed from your acquaintance might not seem like much of a challenge, but for many people, Facebook has become a multiple-times-a-day method of communication. Even some who pledged to stop signing on until Easter admit they can’t, for practical reasons, give it up 100 percent. Instead, they’ve re-funneled their time, focusing on their own lives rather than the lives of others. And by forgoing glazed computer screen-eyes and thoughtless clicking, the season of Lent has been allowed to slip into sharper focus.
Laura Seibert, a parishioner of Our Lady of Angels Parish in Woodbridge, often kept Facebook open on her computer most of the day, checking in every once in a while to see what was going on in the lives of her family and friends. During Lent, however, she has cut back, signing in only when she has a specific task to perform and closing the Web browser window when she’s done.
“I’m more deliberate about what I’m doing on Facebook,” Seibert said. “It’s a lot of wasted time browsing through the News Feed, getting lost in what so-and so’s-doing.”
She acknowledges that cutting back on Facebook means, to some extent, cutting back on communicating with people who are important to her.
“It’s almost saying, ‘I’m going to give up calling you,’” she said. Besides family and close friends, she uses Facebook to communicate with the young adult group at Our Lady of Angels, sending out event invitations and updates. Regardless, signing on to Facebook less is a post-Lenten goal for Seibert, as well. Less time in front of the computer means more time for the mother of two small girls to rest or catch up on spiritual reading.
“See you at Easter, Facebook!” reads the most recent status update of Father Steve Shultz, parochial vicar at St. Timothy Parish in Chantilly, written Feb. 17.
His Lenten fast from Facebook has allowed him to spend more time ministering to the people of the parish, he said. “I’m finding that the extra time that I have is certainly being taken up with helping our parishioners here at St. Timothy have a more fruitful Lent.”
Before stopping his updates completely, Father Schultz posted a quote from Pope Benedict XVI’s Lenten Message from 2007 and a photo of Jesus hanging on the cross — a final thought before his liturgical season silence.
Using Facebook as a tool for evangelization is common for young priests. Father James Searby, parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Lake Ridge, often posts quotes from saints or a passage from the daily readings to catch people’s eyes during the day. But he also found himself scrolling through lists of status updates while sitting at stoplights or waiting in line — basically passing the time. By giving up Facebook, Father Searby said, he’s giving up wasting time. He’s deleted the application from his phone and will instead spend that time communicating with God.
“When you have a moment with nothing to do, you might normally check Facebook,” he said. “Every time I want to do that I’m just going to say a prayer.”
Because of the widespread Facebook culture, both priests had been checking in occasionally to make sure they were getting all their messages and updates.
“In some ways, some of those features of Facebook have become indispensable because we use it to keep in touch with all the kids in our youth group and there are a lot of invitations that come out for groups in the diocese,” Father Schultz said. “It’s a challenge.”
Like Seibert, it’s a challenge that Father Searby plans on continuing to tackle after Easter.
“We’ve become so connected that we’re disconnected,” he said. “We’re so multi-tasked that we don’t do just one. We’re oversaturated with information. I know for myself I’m not going to go back to being that connected.”
So, to answer the question posed to Meg Ryan, are these local Catholics online?
Yes. But less than they used to be.