social media

Taking a Break From Social Media: One Member’s Reflections


Stephen Bateman has been a member at Midtown since 2008. He has served on our production team, creative team, and helped create the Personal Liturgy app. The following are his reflections on fasting from social media.

In October 2017, I made a rather awkward public announcement and turned off the social media and news faucet. While social media falls inside the “it depends” category that we talked about in week 2, I knew that for me it tends to beg for my attention, shape my thoughts, and affect my friendships. So after a good deal of thought, I decided to walk away entirely.

Over the past several months, I've experienced more of a mental shift than I expected. The following is a summary of my experience.

I needed to acknowledge the addiction.

Social media addiction works because of biology. I'm no biologist, but I'm told that our brains have two systems that work together to get rewards – the dopamine and opioid systems. The dopamine system is built to tell your brain that you want food, shelter, sex, relationship, etc. Seeking those things releases dopamine. Once you actually get the reward, your opioid system is triggered, telling your body that you've had enough.

But the dopamine system has a problem. The shut-off valve sometimes gets stuck on "open.” This is why it's easier to snack on potato chips than broccoli and also why it feels good to get a text message or an email. The brain's reward system forgets to tell the "wanting" system that it has had enough. Scientists have compared the effect of social media use on your brain to the effects of gambling and illegal drugs, in the sense that they both short-circuit your reward system to keep you wanting more.

My first step to breaking social media addiction was acknowledging that it's an addiction. Quitting wasn't easy.

Facebook wanted me back.

Facebook knows. They knew when I quit. They tried to cajole me. They sent an email saying "they miss me" (they don't.). People started to send me messages. They posted on my wall for the first time in five years. I'm not 100% sure that Facebook mounts a "please come back" campaign through friends, but it sure felt like it.

To put it bluntly, Facebook was selling my time for several hundred dollars over the course of my life. They planned on keeping me addicted while delivering little of lasting value.

Peace came with Do Not Disturb.

I turned off all email and phone notifications. I am still working towards keeping “Do Not Disturb” on, but the peace and quiet are transformative. I have a short list of phone applications which are allowed to ping me: Groupme and text messages. I want to pull information instead of having information pushed at me. There's no reason for Yelp or BedBath& to have the privilege of my immediate attention. By pulling most of my information, I'm reducing the number of dopamine hits I get through the day, cooling my reward system over time.

I needed to start with a trial period.

Leaving forever is sad. Leaving for three weeks is vacation. I started by punting social media for a trial period to see how it felt. After three weeks, I had a ton more headspace to think and learn. I evaluated what social media was providing and found that I was having few meaningful, one-on-one interactions with friends. Rather, I spent most of my time scrolling through videos of dudes falling off trampolines.

I see leaving social media as a first step, not the last step.

The temptation to live an edited life is constantly looming. I want you to think I'm happy and funny and a little goofy and politically-savvy and sensitive and wise and good at cooking. But sometimes I'm just a mess. The good news of the gospel is that the God of the Universe has seen me chase sinful desires and He chooses to display His glory in me by giving His grace as a gift, while I was sinning. 

I believe that leaving social media can create some more room to live in community and pursue the Lord. But leaving social media, by itself, won't do much. We need a positive vision for the kind of life we want to live. A life filled with meaningful interactions between real friends. A life of surprise, joy, sorrow, suffering, fear, love, and hope. A life of learning more about who God is and learning more about who He made us to be.

I read the book "Deep Work" by Cal Newport last year. Several of the ideas included here are inspired by his work. That book had a very positive influence on the quality of my work and focus.

Why Did We Start a Blog?

So you may have noticed, but in mid-December, we launched this blog you’re looking at. We thought it’d be good to share just a little about the vision for the blog and why we started it. So here’s some reasons we did it:

  • Vision. We are consistently trying to make sure our whole church understands the vision we have for the church God wants us to be. Before the blog, the best place for us to do that was Sunday night announcements (which is limited to a few minutes), and Twitter/Facebook (limited to 140-ish characters). So we wanted another medium through which we can communicate who we want to be as a church and how we’re getting there.
  • Transparency. We are big fans of open communication at Midtown. We try to be as open as possible with our communication and decision-making as a church, because 1) we don’t have anything to hide, and 2) because we think being transparent is a big part of being trusted. From Family Meetings (where we let members in on what’s coming, let them ask questions, and give feedback), to posting our budgets online for anyone and everyone to see, we want to err on the side of over-communication. This blog is one more attempt to do that.
  • Question Answering. Often we have people ask us things like “why do we do this?” or “how does this work?”, or “why didn’t we do this?” Before the blog, there wasn’t really a great avenue for having those questions answered. We think the blog will be a great way to do that. While we can’t answer every question that everyone ever asks, we hope to answer some of the more prevalent questions here on the blog. If you have a particular question about how Midtown works or why we do certain things, you can submit it here or by using the Contact link at the top left of the page. If there’s enough requests for it or we think it's a question that a lot of people would benefit from hearing the answer to, we’ll write something up and post it.
  • Resourcing. As we grow larger as a church, we sometimes have other church leaders and church planters ask us how we go about things and how we make decisions. We hope this blog can be an easily-accessible resource for people outside of our church to find out about how we do things. We’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but by God’s grace we’ve gotten some things right and would love to serve others with that information in any way we can.

How can you help with the blog? Since one of the goals with the blog is to get everybody on the same page about why we do what we do, the more people that see it, the better. Every time we publish a post here, we’ll tweet about it or post it to Facebook. Feel free to re-tweet, re-post, or link to the post yourself to help us spread the word. The blog is RSS-enabled so feel free to subscribe to it as well. We are currently working at incorporating the blog into, so that it can be a one-stop shop for all things concerning our church.