The Reboot. Deleting Your Facebook Profile Each Year as a Spiritual Discipline

Source: Zach Hoag

–The following is a guest post–

Last year, I began a personal discipline/tradition based on the growing influence of social media on our daily lives.

Once a year, I Reboot.

Specifically, I enact the full deletion of my Facebook profile. Poof. Gone. And while for some that may seem insignificant, for me, a bonafide 21st century digital boy, it is significant. And if this recent article (and many others like it) are any indication, then it is significant for lots of you, too. (For the reason why I don’t delete my Twitter or Instagram, see the very end*. Also, see my rant on why Google+ is ridiculous.)

Let me begin with the disclaimer: I am not anti-technology or anti-social media. At all. While I appreciate the neo-monastic or even anabaptist impulse to eschew all artificial forms of human connection and the fast pace that technology often applies to one’s life, I am more moderate. The impulse I feel is to interact intentionally with technology and media, to understand the “message” implicit in the “medium” and, hopefully, to find a way forward that combines engagement with thoughtfulness.

I have seen, for instance, my own tendency to constantly live back and forth between “two spaces.” The first space is physical space with the persons sitting or standing physically next to me. Or the cars driving beside me. The second space is electronic space (better than “cyberspace”), the space into which we enter through electronic portals and within which we find information, communication, and entertainment that is somehow less than physical (although one could argue it’s getting closer and closer to physical everyday). The electronic space, like the physical space, is not bad or wrong in itself; they are both neutral; but no one can deny that the tension involved in living back and forth between them can easily and quickly become negative.

Consider, for instance, these two negative effects of the tension between the spaces:

1. Ill Communication. While this has been an issue with electronic media in general (e.g., email or chat), it is especially true of social media. And it’s one that probably all of us have fallen prey to at some level. In the tension between the spaces, we have a tendency to be more and more shallow in our communication in the physical space, while we become more and more temperamental, reactionary, and daring in our communication in the electronic space. In both of these spaces, the result is negative – inauthentic relationships, marked by detachment (physical) or flame-warring and (sometimes passive-)aggression (electronic).

2. Distraction. This one is obvious. 5 years ago, virtually no one had a smartphone that easily accessed the internet. (Comparatively few had laptops.) Now, EVERYONE DOES. And the result is distraction in the form of every person walking down the street or standing in line or sitting at the dinner table looking down at a glowing electronic portal in their hand. I actually remember the day when you couldn’t do such a thing. But I’m not an old fogie – I look at mine a lot, too; and that’s the problem. My wife has often noted my distractedness from the the physical space because of my attachment to the electronic one. Sometimes it takes three “Honey’s” of increasing volume to get my attention. And now that I have two kids, that just isn’t good. (Quick note: I recently deleted the Facebook app entirely from my iPhone and iPad. The amount of wasted time spent combing feeds has been drastically reduced. It’s awesome.)

But why this Reboot? How could it potentially bring more positivity into the tension between the spaces?

The annual Facebook Reboot works (for me, at least) because Facebook has become the most powerful and pervasive form of social sharing/connection in the electronic medium. 2011′s The Social Network marked this fact, and the demise of Google’s attempts at competing (Wave, Buzz, and now, the slow death of Plus) confirms it. Thus, impacting our Facebook usage has the potential of impacting a greater part of our life in the tension.

The mechanics of the Reboot are quite simple: first, delete your Facebook account (being sure to maintain connection with any Pages you manage**); second, take at least a one-week break from any and all Facebook activity; and third, relaunch a brand new Facebook profile (starting with ZERO friends) after the new year.

And here are three ways that this could be a positive thing for your (and my) life back and forth between the spaces:

1. Mindfulness. Simply, doing something like this makes you think. It makes you think about what will happen if this particular medium is absent from your life for a while, and how much you depend on it, overuse it, etc. It makes you think about negatives and positives – and that’s positive. Even now, I’m trying to figure out whether to delete before or after Christmas – because of not being able to post Christmas updates and photos. I think I’m still gonna delete it before and have no Facebook over the Christmas week! Scary!

2. Intentionality. Building off of mindfulness, being intentional in all of life is a mark of following Jesus, which is what I’m trying to do in everything. I fail a ton, but failure is almost always linked to me not seeing the connection between small actions and their effect on other actions, forming habits, other people, the world, etc., not to mention their effect on myself and my connection with God. Further, Facebook is a tool for sharing and connecting with others. Deleting my account causes me to think about who I’m connected to, how I’m connecting with them, and why I’m connecting with them through FB. I have to be intentional about re-friending, and allow that slow build-up; some folks may not accept the friend request a second time, and maybe that’s good! But positively, I WANT to connect and share with people on Facebook – it’s great! I just want to do so intentionally, and this will help me do that.

3. Identity. Lastly, and most importantly, Facebook and other social media are becoming increasingly linked to a person’s very identity. The recent announcement of “Timeline” in Facebook (which I hear has been delayed because of copyright disputes) confirms this; the claim is that social media is a necessary and valid representation of one’s identity, cataloguing and arranging the major events in one’s life through updates, photos, and videos in order to give a “full” representation of who they are. The Reboot obviously prevents any more than a year-long catalogue, and I think that’s a good thing. Electronic media may help me share my interests, thoughts, longings, etc., but allowing it to be a long-term irreplaceable record of identity is a negative. Further, when one begins to so identify with the online presence that relationships are also defined more by it than by physical interaction, there is a similar problem. As followers of Jesus, our identity is in the Messiah and his community; sharing and connecting ought to flow from there out into other media.

(Update: Facebook Timeline just officially launched for all users!)

On this last point, I will also say that this year was an interesting one for me in seeing the really negative side of social media as it pertains to relationships. Namely, it became a medium of attack and suspicion. It was an unreal way for some who were breaking actual relationships to maintain an aggressive virtual relationship. I found myself deleting a few friends in order to curb any further unreal interaction.

In cases like these, and lots of others, what could be better than a Reboot? And a clean slate?

And maybe starting over will change the way we use it in the future.

So – will you join me in this year’s Reboot?

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* I love Twitter. But I don’t reboot Twitter because for me, it is an entirely different medium than Facebook. But, as I’ve used it more, I have considered adding it to the reboot event. We’ll see…
** If you manage one or more Facebook Pages for personal or business use, like I do, be careful before you delete. The best way to preserve your management of Pages is to start your new account BEFORE you delete your old one. And, add the new profile to the Pages as an admin. Boom!

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Bio: my name is zach hoag. i lead in a missional church called dwell in the least religious city (burlington) in the least religious state (vt) in these united states. i also write dexter’s gospel & promote equal shred. i love jesus, kalen, gemma, and pippa, too.  you can connect with me on my facebook “page” (non-profile), twitter profile, and blog.

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  • http://inmylittletown.blogspot.com/ Ltokie

    An interesting idea. Over the holiday break, I’ve taken a two-and-a-half week hiatus from facebook (mostly), and have enjoyed it. My paranthetical “mostly” is because it has become, for some of my friends and family, a medium for important communication. I increased my notifications via email, and have checked in on a couple of things. I appreciate your thinking on intentionality, mindfulness, and identity. Well-said.

    • http://zhoag.com zhoag

      Thanks! Taking a break is key. 

  • Cliff Bragg

    You ask at the end, “What could be better than a reboot?” I’ll tell you: A power-down.

    Don’t reboot; turn it off completely.

    • http://zhoag.com zhoag

      Turn it off, as in don’t have a Facebook account? That’s certainly an option, but my approach is thoughtfully engaging with social media.

      • Cliff Bragg

        I’m not confident that’s what you’re doing, Zach.

        Strictly based on the issues you raised as problems with FB/Social Media, merely “rebooting” fails to rectify the harms you highlighted and, in fact, “reboots” the problem. You are rebooting a virus infected PC, if you will: It does nothing more than relaunch you into an infected system. 

        So you start over at the beginning of a new year, spending the whole year ahead working yourself back into the situation you were in before (i.e. Ill Communication, Distraction, etc.). You may even further exacerbate the problems as you try to reclaim the friends and connections you lost by rebooting, exerting more time and effort to catch back up. You have built a house over a period of time; choosing to tear it down and start again takes much more effort than simply focusing on patching up the cracks in the walls.

        If you have determined the whole thing needs to come down because of a faulty foundation (or system in this case), building back upon the faulty foundation is unwise. You will certainly find yourself in the same situation as before.

        Aside from all of this, I’m not so sure social media needs to be thoughtfully engaged. 

        People do. 

        Social media does not. 

        Social media is, in essence, (based upon the issues you identified, as well as those in the HBR article) a shallow, distorted, and insufficient means by which to engage the world.

        It’s your choice because, well, it’s your life. What I’m offering you is my take on what you express as problematic. The “reboot” idea, as hip a title as it is, is logically inconsistent.

        I hope you will follow these genuine concerns you have with Social Media to their logical end and “Power-Down”. I did it myself over a year ago and, I’ll tell you: the air was fresher, my heart rate slowed, I slept better, had more personally meaningful interactions with people at levels of tactility and tangibility, and experienced the same refreshing, interpersonal gains with God.

        Warm Regards,

        Cliff

        P.S. I see you lead a church named Dwell. I used to facilitate holy experiences and environments on university campuses we called Dwell. 

        Small world :)

        • http://zhoag.com zhoag

          I appreciate the approach you’ve taken, and I don’t think mine is logically inconsistent, as the outcome in the new year is always positively “different.” I’m sure there is a sense in which your conversing in blog comments is consistent with your denunciation of social media, too  ;).

          • Cliff Bragg

            Dan and Zach,

            Strictly speaking, blogs are not in the category of social networks. [Though one could make the argument, as you both have, they are, I do not consider them as such]. For instance,  I am not maintaining subscriptions, keeping up with friends, connecting with co-workers, facilitating community, or supplementing day-to-day interactions via blogs or any other internet platform. Even if a case for “blogs-as-social-networks” could be made, simply commenting on a single post on a blog someone else maintains certainly cannot be considered social networking, most specifically because I am not doing any networking of any sort.

            Now, as to my comment about “power-down”; I have not disavowed technology or the internet in general. Zach, your post was specifically about social networks, more specifically Facebook (while giving a pass to another social network in Twitter). 

            Dan, I think you realize this.

            My comments were in regards to those things Zach highlighted. He spoke about rebooting Facebook. I spoke about powering down from Facebook.

            I think I made this clear in my response.

            Zach, I believe you don’t think your position is logically inconsistent. Hopefully you would not advocate for a position you acknowledge as inconsistent. 

            That being said, your position is, in fact, inconsistent. 

            The outcome of your strategy is not different. It is the exact same outcome each year. That’s precisely what you’re putting forth: do the “same” thing each year…reboot Facebook. What’s implied by the suggestion is with each year, one has reached a problematic point in his or her life; he or she has gotten wrapped up in a harmful pattern of social interaction and engagement, leading that person to a point of needing to step back from it.

            It seems unnecessary  to quote Einstein here on the definition of insanity. We all, of course, know what he had to say about that.

            Zach, insanity is what you are asking people to embrace. You identify a flawed and harmful way of life that is facilitated by Facebook, yet you ask people to reboot and jump back into it, all over again, expecting a different result (something “positively different” in your own words).

            If the system (i.e. Facebook) is the problem, then coaching people to engage it is destructive. 

            On the other hand, if Facebook (or, more broadly, Social Media) is not the problem but, rather, how people use it, that’s another story. That’s not how you presented it here, though.

            Time to power-down from the blog for the evening.

          • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

            I see your point, Cliff, but I did not see your parsing of social media in your first comment.  When I read:  I hope you will follow these genuine concerns you have with Social Media
            to their logical end and “Power-Down”. I did it myself over a year ago
            , I did not see a definition of Social Media that included FB/Twitter/etc. but excluded blogging and blog commenting.  I’m not sure I agree with your division even now.  I did sense a note of superiority that you may or may not have intended, and reacted to that with a sense of irony that you were using what I would consider a form of social media, to comment on another’s critique of social media, all the while decrying the medium itself.

            You moderated your position significantly, I think, with this second comment:  On the other hand, if Facebook (or, more broadly, Social Media) is not
            the problem but, rather, how people use it, that’s another story.
              I completely agree.

            Your point is well taken, that there’s a logical fallacy in merely “rebooting” a system if that system is, in fact, the problem.

            Peace!

          • http://zhoag.com zhoag

            Nope, not inconsistent because my premise is not that social media is in itself harmful. And, in actuality, the Reboot has thus far produced a more intentional and careful engagement with Facebook when I embark on it. It works for me! Maybe it’ll work for others.

        • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

          With all due respect to your concerns, Cliff, if you truly “powered down” how are you commenting on this blog?

  • Erin

    I totally see where you’re coming from and agree with your points. When engaging the youth I’m in community with, we need to agree sometimes that e-devices will NOT be used in our physical interactions so we can be mindful of each other. However, in terms of the wisdom of stability, is there a way for people to be rooted and stable in their online forums? Or is technology simply too fast and too demanding for such wisdom to apply here? While a re-boot can certainly cleanse our own selves, is creating a truthful social network where people are certain they will know what to expect from you time after time worth pondering too? I know that might sound silly, but we do live in an e-age that creates incredulous questions. Just mulling…

    • http://zhoag.com zhoag

      Really good thought. For me, it’s important to subordinate my social media reality to real reality – so in that sense, some instability is a really good thing. It reminds myself and others that social media is a helpful secondary communication tool, but it is not (and must not become) indispensable for real relationships and community.

  • http://www.facebook.com/coffee.dahlstrom Richard Dahlstrom

    This might well be a perfectly legitimate way to simplify one’s life and cleanse one’s soul.  But….I’m suspicious.  I’m suspicious sometimes the ‘latest thing’ is far more appealing than the time honored thing(s).  As for me, I’m kicking off the new year with a renewed commitment to the practices of silence, solitude, generosity, Bible reading, and prayer journaling.  I believe that prioritizing those things will align my life priorities and save me the time of both refriending everyone and explaining why I blew up my account. 

    If, in the context of resurrected spiritual disciplines, I find facebook to be too distracting, or in need of some sort of fresh start, I’ll follow your advice. 

    • http://zhoag.com zhoag

      Fair enough, thanks for commenting Richard!

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Interesting idea, Zach, but  perhaps predicated on an assumption that need not be true.  You refer to social media almost as though they are an entity in themselves, which I suppose they can be.  But they’re really only tools.  Last night I joked with my 14-y-o son that he was back on the screen with his “digital friends,” and he corrected me that this was a “digital representation of real, flesh-and-blood friends.”  In his case, this means kids he interacts with regularly in the flesh at school as well, so he was not wrong.

    In my own case, my FB and blogging identities have brought me into relationship with probably half a dozen guys I’ve still never met in person (Kurt being one), but whom I regard as dear brothers in the faith.  I wrote about this last summer in my post The Church Virtual in case you’re interested.

    I think the real issue is owning the tool rather than being owned by it; using the tool rather than being used by it.  Your “reboot” may be a valuable path to this end, but be sure you are mindful of what you’re actually accomplishing or not accomplishing in the process.

    • http://zhoag.com zhoag

      I’m not sure I’m following, Dan. Social media is a tool – agree. It sometimes connects to flesh-and-blood friends, sometimes to folks you have never met or possibly will never meet – agree. How do those things chasten my approach?

      • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

        Only in that I see you critiquing your own and others’ possible misuse of FB, but then prescribing a solution that implies to me that you’re blaming the technology more than the application of the technology.

        • http://zhoag.com zhoag

          Ah, gotcha. But I think I’m clear in presenting it as *a* way to be more intentional about how one engages social media. It’s kind of like this. Food is a tool for acquiring calories necessary for performing bodily functions. If someone becomes obese, it’s not the tool’s fault, it’s the user’s fault. Well and good (although we all know genetics play a part). But no one would chide a person for cutting out sweets from their diet for a while or staying away from soda in order to get their weight on track. It’s a way to be more intentional about engaging different types of foods in the future, building more self-control or healthier eating patterns. And it’s clear that some tools – Twinkies, for instance – are often questionable in their value to begin with. There is inherent potential for unhealthiness. 

          Not saying that Facebook is the same as Twinkies, but Twitter definitely has more protein :).

          • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

            Not saying that Facebook is the same as Twinkies, but Twitter definitely has more protein :).

            (Chuckle!)  Funny, my experience has been quite the opposite.  Have had some really instructive conversations on FB while Twitter is mighty hard to filter imo.  I use the former; the latter I barely touch.  I guess the old “your mileage may vary” still applies…

            Regardless of the material approach, I completely affirm your call to more intentionality!

  • Barend

    I deleted my Facebook account a while ago because it was ‘eating’ my time with the ‘real’ people in my life, and more importantly time with the Person that really matters.

    It was also damaging great relationships with close family members because of their ‘incorrect’ perceptions of content I posted. The lack of body language greatly limits the effectiveness of electronic communication.

    Social media dilutes you. I don’t like being a mile wide and an inch deep.

    I am still connected to others via social media, but it is in a professional capacity that actually makes me a better person. Facebook helps you to be a connected person, but I am not sure whether it really makes you a better person.

  • Shelly

    I do something similar, albeit less extreme.   I do FB “fasts” where I go a period of time FB free. If people need to contact me they can ring, email, or drop by if I am nearby. It is ALWAYS refreshing.

  • http://charismanglican.com/ Charismanglican

    It’s been my practice to fast from facebook through Lent.  It’s amazing how it changes your life to do so for someone like me (tech gen, etc.).  But deleting the account goes against my philosophical conservatism…I don’t *want* to accidentally or purposefully reinvent myself.  I have a story.

    Twitter.  I don’t get twitter.

    • http://zhoag.com zhoag

      would you say, then, that Facebook is an indispensable part of your story?

  • KingsofZion

    i’ve deleted mine a few times to be more focused on the people I have a greater-faceted relationship with. I suppose it’s a personal thing, but when i sense myself getting drawn into a reality where it’s easy to idealize the “words” on the other side of the techno world that are only a part of the people represented there, I usually close my account. I guess that’s kinda rude depending on the health of the relationships there so I think I’ll just take a break from it instead of just “poof” with the disappearing act.


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