The Media Fast

The media fast. If you’re not a part of it, then it’s likely that you know someone who is. The fast is a part of Dr. Chris Hall’s Foundations of Christian Spirituality class. Students who commit to the fast are obliged to abstain from films, music, texting, long phone conversation and web-surfing until night on the end of the semester. Students who successfully complete the fast are rewarded with extra credit points and increased understanding and perspective on their habits of media use.

Though the media fast is noble in its purposes, I question whether it really has a positive impact on its participants or the surrounding community. I have two issues with the media fast. First, it makes presumptuous demands on the Eastern community as a whole. And second, it oversimplifies a complex issue.

When you hear the word “fasting,” what image springs to mind? A holy man in a desert, denying himself worldly pleasures in order to seek God? Or the guy who ruins everyone’s meal because he is on a vegan kick? Probably you pictured something more along the lines of the first guy. But unfortunately, the media fast at Eastern seems a lot more like guy number two.

All Christian fasts are presumably based on Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness. Jesus denied himself traditional comforts, fought temptation and ultimately overcame. But notice where this story took place: the wilderness.

It seems significant that Jesus went into isolation to fast. Imagine the scene if Jesus had conducted his fast during his travels across Israel. “Would you like to join us for dinner, Jesus?” “No, that’s cool. You guys go ahead. I’m actually fasting right now.” “Oh, ok. Um… do you want us to not eat? We can hang out with you instead.” “Oh no, it’s cool,” Jesus says passive-aggressively.

Right. That scene definitely isn’t in the Bible. But many Eastern students could share stories of changing plans or having to go out of their way to accommodate a media fasting friend. Ironic that a fast that is meant to simplify one’s life can actually serve to make things more complicated.

How do I tell my friend where to meet me if I’m in the library? It is an unfortunate time to not be able to text. (Is walking outside to make a phone call really a morally superior act?) But maybe the deliberation caused by the media fast actually is a good thing, because it can convict us of our reliance on technology.

Here’s where the oversimplification part comes in. Were things really better before Internet and texting took over the world? (I remember the 90’s. Outside of Space Jam, it didn’t seem like that great of a decade to me.) Were they better before the invention of the cinema? Or music? You’d have to go a long way back for that.

The alphabet is also a communication technology. Technology has made communication more convenient. But is there really anything wrong with that? Technology is inextricably tied to our lives. This has been the case since the Stone Age.

At a basic level, the media fast makes sense. It’s an attempt to quiet other sources of input so that partakers can more intentionally focus on their relationships with God. But these good intentions are all based around a misidentification of convenience for clutter.

The issue is not the media, but rather immoderation. Before television and texting came along, people were already finding plenty of ways to waste their time. If media is dominating your life, then reducing your consumption doesn’t seem like a bad idea. But cutting it out altogether is likely not the answer, especially on a college campus.

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