Many religions, Christianity included, advocate fasting. Abstaining from food for a time is taught as a way to more deeply realize our own limitations, to acknowledge our dependence on God and his provision, to focus more time and attention on the eternal. In depriving the body, we are told, we open the mind more broadly.
Doubtless, in a society where food is never far away, and where obesity is even more common among the poor than the well-off, this traditional kind of fasting is as relevant as ever.
There is a different kind of fast, however, even more relevant to inhabitants of the 21st century – the media fast. Its advocates say the practice of giving up electronic media and even print periodicals for a day or longer is a spiritual discipline as valuable as abstaining from food.
After noting our daily immersions into Internet news, blogs, e-mail, online forums, TV, books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, radio, memos “and a billion other pieces of information coming at you,” writer Leo Babauta asserts, “Imagine the peace of mind that could come from shutting off the river of information that comes at you daily. Imagine the focus you could find without all the distractions.”
It’s not just focus. A study presented last month noted that most Americans let television programs – not how sleepy they are or how early they have to arise – dictate when they go to sleep, exacerbating our sleep deficits.
One college student wrote after a media fast imposed by her professor that the experiment “showed me how dependent society and I were upon it. Without that distraction, I can discover new things in the real world, or at least be more productive. (Media critic) Neil Postman was right when he said that American society has become obsessed with the trivial and the minute.”
One need not read far or watch long to see the addictive nature of many modern media, from the ubiquitous MP3 players that enable people to be alone in a crowd to video games that sometimes take over whole lives.
The early 20th century philosopher Lewis Mumford questioned the effects of even such ancient technologies as clocks in his book “Technics and Civilization.”
“Time-keeping passed into time-serving and time-accounting and time-rationing,” he wrote. “As this took place, Eternity ceased gradually to serve as the measure and focus of human actions.”
Even a brief respite from media could give us all some worthy new perspectives.
NEMS Daily Journal