Recently, I joined the exclusive and burgeoning millennial monastic order of Socialis Instrumentis Refugatus (the order of the Social Media Refugee). I live in the technological wilderness, where I forget about birthdays and require verbal summaries from friends and family about what the Donald is up to. Now, before you fall over from sheer amazement at my staggering piety, allow me to disabuse you of the notion that this departure is somehow a feat of grand ascetic accomplishment. I did not forsake social media because I am teeming with self-disciplinary strength. Quite the opposite, in fact. You see, I am far too weak for social media. Since I do not want to get in the habit of despising any common grace instruments handed down from our heavenly Father, or shirking the stewardship of wealth (in this instance, technological wealth), I hope to build up some resilience and one day re-enter the fray.

And this is why I feel not the slightest embarrassment for the fact that you, my dear reader, most likely found this little meditation on social media. Our exchange is one of a confession from a weaker brother to a stronger brother or sister. (It is also possible that you are a weakling like me, listening in on this confession. If you find yourself identifying with my infirmities and decide that you too are in need of a holiday in the wilderness, Socialis Instrumentis Refugatus has room for you). The social media detox is taking time, however, which is why my weaknesses will be itemized in bold, in true tweetable, skimmable, bloggable form. I have not yet kicked the habit of writing for the reader on the go, in a hurry to plumb deeper into the bottomless ocean of the feed. I have left social media for the following four reasons:

I am far too vain

This is in truth the chief reason for why I had to leave social media, and the chief reason I had such a hard time doing it. You must understand—and I must ask you to refrain from scoffing at what I’m about to say—I love to write. In fact, I’d like to become a writer someday. Now, I already have several obstacles in the way of this dream. First of all, I am, for whatever reason, quite slow to heed the council of my betters (like Dr. Jason Duesing, who—if reading this—has surely lost count of my adverbs. Kindly forgive me, Dr. Duesing). For one so handicapped as is, I’m not doing myself any favors in the realm of publication by leaving social media. Publishers, I am told, like to see that inquiring authors have a following on social media. They like to see their authors active in self-promotion and such, and for good reason. Publishing groups, after all, are business, and authors are makers of the products those business push. They want to see that the investment of a publication a work is a good one; one that promises a fruitful return.

I don’t despise this reality at all. What I despise is my own lust for praise. My egomaniacal desire for “platform.” The way my heart warms at the fire emoji responses to my articles. The shares. The retweets. The likes. It’s all just far too delicious. I am an addict on the road to recovery. (After this article goes live, I will be jonesing for a report on how well it does. Please don’t be an enabler.)

I am too prone to overreact with cynicism or sentimentalism

The former is fed by, and expressed in, the snark. The cheap sarcasm. The dehumanization. The dismissive meme at the expense of them. The lazy, uncritical, uncareful trolling. My wife once read me a Facebook comment that read somewhere along the lines of, “If your *@#$! kid invades by dog’s space I’m glad if she bites him! My dog’s feelings are no less important than your snotty little kid’s.” I am capable of responding to such tomfoolery with a number of reactions, but one that is all too often missing from my reservoir is a cool-headed application of Proverbs 26:4-5. I simply do not have the self-control of keeping myself from cynicism.

Or sentimentalism, for that matter. This is the pendulum’s other side, which is showing up in dramatic fashion now that we’ve experienced years of its counterpart. Once we despair of cynicism, we react with a form of “if you don’t got noth’n nice to say, don’t say noth’n at all,” which often transforms into, “if there’s noth’n nice to say, make someth’n up.” Before leaving social media, I saw this in the form of cool-cat evangelicals expressing how much they missed Obamah’s presidential decorum (“sure he was religiously committed to making infanticide widespread, but look how well-spoken he was!”). If you’re wondering if sentimentalism has crept into your social media feed, do a word search for “nuance” and see if any straightforwardly dividing question has been gagged and bound and nuanced to death. The overreaction against cynicism to sentimentalism compels Christians on social media to disqualify satire or criticism or public rebuke wholesale. But if we adopt that principle, we will have a hard time with Paul’s “tone” in 2 Corinthians 11.

I am too tribalistic

This is one of those self-discoveries of my own weakness that didn’t show up until after I left social media. It was an issue I was aware of in principle before I left, but it was a bit like a fish knowing the principle of “wetness” having nothing to contrast it with. It’s a special kind of fear of man that postures you toward agreeing with one party and disagreeing with another before considering the topic on its own terms.

What do we believe again?

What’s my line?

He just made a pretty good point… But let me check to see what Russel Moore (or whoever) has to say before I know if I can agree with him or not

I am too undisciplined with my time

“I don’t have enough time in the day,” I tweet, after ten minutes of mindlessly scrolling and before ten more. Before I left social media, I was prone to lament my anxiety and stress and fidgety disposition, while remaining completely unwilling to limit my time on social media. This is ironic because there is now no question at all about the adverse sociological and psychological effects of social media overuse. The science is conclusive: spending too much time there really does increase your stress, anxiety, and depression.[1] This is why our iPhones now have the capability to set time limits on our apps. This is a wonderful thing, but when all is said and done, it must be coupled with the level of self-discipline required for declining the “15 more minutes” offer—a level of self-discipline this millennial monk clearly lacks.

Ultimately, self-discipline is all about what you value. Because I valued that jolt of dopamine you get from checking for “notifications” above having three minutes of uninterrupted contemplation, I was squandering my time. I find now that I don’t really lament my lack of minutes, because instead of watching them sink into Instagram stories, I am busy enjoying them with G.K. Chesterton or Carl F.H. Henry.[2] When you find yourself in a midday lull with several minutes to spend between tasks, just remember: the cost of minutes it takes to work through your notifications can also buy you a Chesterton essay entitled “What I Found in My Pocket.” Before waving away such an essay as just as big a waste of time as a cat video, know that such a judgment would make you miss out on sentences like these:

“Now I deny most energetically that anything is, or can be, uninteresting. So I stared at the joints of the walls and seats, and began thinking hard on the fascinating subject of wood. Just as I had begun to realise why, perhaps, it was that Christ was a carpenter, rather than a bricklayer, or a baker, or anything else, I suddenly started upright, and remembered my pockets.”[3]

I rest my case.

One day, “Samuel_Parkison” may return to twitter, to begin the rewarding labor of acquiring followers. But because of the aforementioned deficiencies, I think you’ll agree it’s better that day doesn’t arrive anytime soon. For now, the wilderness suits me. Selah.


[1] This address by Felicia Wu Song is particularly enlightening and disturbing in this regard. https://www.pastortheologians.com/podcasthomepage/2019/10/14/cpt-podcast-episode-34

[2] I have been enjoying Lexham Press’s recent publication, Architect of Evangelicalism: Essential Essays of Carl F. H. Henry.

[3] G.K. Chesterton, “What I Found in My Pocket” in In Defense of Santiy: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton, 36-37.