Not a week goes by that I don’t think about how much that computer fast I did back on October has benefited me. Going an entire week without the “noise” of the internet gave me the space I needed to take a good look at where I was in my life, think and pray more, reorganize my days to put my computer-related activities in their proper places, and recognize the ways that my computer (the internet in particular) was both positively and negatively impacting my life.
As Lent approaches I’ve heard some other people say they’re considering doing something similar, so I thought I’d offer my suggestions for having a fruitful internet fast:
1. Consider expanding the fast to include all texting and computer use
At first I was only going to fast from the internet, but I realized that I tended to get way too sucked into my computer any time I was on it, even if I was working offline. Shutting down my computer altogether really helped give me the mental space I needed to focus on other things for a while. (Obviously, those of you who have jobs that involve computer use wouldn’t be able to do this completely, but it might be worth considering not using the computer outside of business hours, not using it at work for recreational purposes, etc.)
I also included texting from my phone in the fast; that kind of constant influx of information and incessant communication was the main thing that I was trying to get away from.
2. Push the limits of how long you think you can be offline
When the idea of not using my computer at all for a whole week first came to mind, it sounded impossible. Maybe it’s because of my high tech background, but my computer is like an appendage of my body. My primary method of communication with friends and family is email, I keep up with current events through news websites, I like to keep my blog updated, I read other blogs to relax every day, etc. But more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that maybe — just maybe — the world wouldn’t fall apart if I didn’t have a computer for a week…and that I desperately needed a reminder of that fact.
A week might not be the right time period for everyone, but whatever amount of time seems right for you, I recommend challenging yourself to go a little longer than you think you can go.
3. Set reasonable exceptions
Since the goal of the fast was to reduce stress, I decided to set some reasonable exceptions. The infrastructure of my life assumes that I have computer and internet access, so there were certain situations in which the stress caused by not using my computer would outweigh the benefits. For example, our entire bill-paying system is set up to run through Quicken; I decided that if I needed to pay a bill during the fast I could get on my computer for that since it would cause me a lot of stress in the long run to have to go back and re-enter the data from bills I’d paid manually.
The two parameters I recommend for exceptions are: 1) Set the exceptions ahead of time and try not to add new ones on the fly, and 2) if possible, try to use another computer (i.e. one that doesn’t have all your stuff on it so you’ll be less likely to get sucked in).
4. Plan ahead
As your fast approaches, make note of any key information you have on your computer or online accounts that you might need. Before going offline I printed out some recipes and phone numbers, and sent an email to friends and family members to give them my phone number in case they needed to contact me that week.
5. Be open about it
One of the things that made it work for me was that I was open about what I was doing. As I mentioned above, I sent an email out to people with whom I regularly text/email and told them that I was going to be offline for a week, and gave them my alternate contact information. I happened to go to a social event during the fast, and when someone I met said she’d follow up with me by email, I explained why it would be a few days before I could get back to her. (As an aside, I was amazed by the positive responses I got. People were very interested to hear about what I was doing, and many enthusiastically commented that they’d like to do something like that themselves.)
6. Keep a journal
I found that keeping a journal was key for articulating what I was learning, and then implementing those lessons once the fast had ended. Some suggested questions for reflection:
- What are the circumstances during which I’m most tempted to get online? What does that say about how and why I use the internet?
- What am I doing with the time I normally spend online? What are the fruits of those activities compared to the fruits of being online?
- When the fast is over, how can I restructure my life to minimize the negative ways that the internet impacts my life while maximizing the positive?
I also found this to be the perfect opportunity to do a lot of high-level life reflection, e.g. examining whether or not I was really living according to the values I claimed to hold dear, how I was doing as a wife, mother and Christian, etc.
7. Consider including other types of “fasts” as well
While you’re unplugged from the internet, it might be worth considering unplugging in other ways as well. Especially if you’re not fully able to get away from computers and the internet because of work, you might want to consider:
- No artificial lights after sundown. We did this once, and I was amazed at how much I grew from the experience (I wrote about it here).
- No television.
- Limiting phone calls to certain times of day.
- Any other suggestions?
Again, I can’t recommend some kind of computer/internet/texting fast highly enough. If you’re looking for some inspiration, here’s my post about all the cool things I learned during my fast in October.
While we’re on the subject of Lent and fasting, I’d love to know: Have you ever done a “fast” (broadly defined) that was particularly fruitful? If so, tell us about it!