What do you usually give up for lent? Sweets? Meat? Alcohol? This year the classic choices for abstinence in the run up to Easter are joined by a group vowing to give up social networking sites.
Alongside chocolate, alcohol and cigarettes a new craze is sweeping the globe: kicking the Facebook habit. Online groups mobilized on Ash Wednesday to delete their profiles on the social network and not send messages, write on virtual bulletin boards, or look for friends for a full seven weeks. Hundreds of users have joined the boycott.
The message on the German language group "Facebook Fast" is clear and concise: "We're wasting so much time on Facebook and other social networks, time that we could be better investing in our relationship with God," writes the group founder, who goes by the name ‘Marcel." The idea is to spend the next 40 days drawing closer to God rather than surfing on Facebook.
Returning to the important things in life
A German woman named Lisa wrote on the new group's "forum" page, saying she wanted to try. She readily admits to wasting time on Facebook, but hasn't been able to kick the habit, and hopes the opportunity to renounce it for lent does the trick. The group's tag line states: "Let's stop using Facebook, and focus on the important things in life!"
Whether the motivation is religious, a way to gain more self-awareness or just simple defiance, the Say-No-To Facebook forces are supporting each other on forums. Some say they enjoy the challenge of abstaining. The Evangelical Church in Germany is backing the campaign. "The idea of fasting can refer to all areas of life," says Pastor Jan von Camphausen, a theologian with the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).
In Christianity, explains von Camphausen, the practice of fasting is not an attempt to please God, but to win more freedom for oneself. Everyone must decide for themselves which burden they wants to shed for lent, he explains, and inevitably some will see the path to greater human freedom through cutting links with Facebook, which currently has about 15 million members in Germany.
For doctors, going offline could have health benefits. Chairwoman of the Medical Association of Fasting Cures and Nutrition, Eva Lischka, says: "It feels good to free yourself of something that you don't need." Users are more relaxed and calm when they don't feel they have to check what's going on at any given moment. "Mood improves," she added.
Will power is proven to be greater in groups than when people struggle on their own, Lischka adds. The planned en masse withdrawal from Facebook could therefore have a good chance of success.
Back online, user Nour Attieh has fired a passing shot at the initiative. It doesn't make sense, he writes, to call for a boycott of Facebook on a Facebook group. "If I want to join this group, I have to log on to Facebook first!"
Read the original article in German