Taking lessons from a Mormon social media fast: A perpetual motion of digital dependency

Hayley Shauklas

Last October, eight million Mormon women were invited to put down the phone and take a 10-day social media fast.

Of the few thousand women surveyed post-fast by Goodthink co-founder and TEDx speaker, Amy Blankson, 60% reported feeling more productive. Forty percent reported more sleep, and 55% said they were more present with friends and family.

Credit: Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

Media fasts are nothing new, says Blankson, a leading expert on the connection between positive psychology and technology.

Classrooms, businesses, moms and dads are taking notice of the digital grip that social media can hold on a person’s lifestyle, behavior and happiness.

Research tells us there is a grain of truth here. Higher digital media activity may correlate to lower well-being as it displaces time that might be spent on activities more beneficial in a person’s life, reports the 2019 World Happiness Report on the sad state of happiness and the role of digital media.1

Big tech giants are taking notice too. Facebook introduced the “like” feature in 2009. Ten years later, Facebook is trying to advance the conversations we have worldwide about social health and well-being.

As soon as 2020, the social networking site may bid farewell to the number of “likes” on posts—a move, it says, intended to address mental health and self-esteem challenges. The experiment is currently under development in Australia.

Credit: NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Ironically, Facebook’s feature was designed to send out bits of optimism into the world. Could a digital world without “likes” gradually change the way we believe others to perceive our value or worth? We live in a perpetual motion: technology introduces another social currency or language, businesses follow, users adapt, and self-promotion and dependency kick in. Whatever comes around next will captivate followers, creating new behaviors and challenges. 

These concerns call attention to the questions 8 million Mormon women asked themselves when they first heard about the fast: What will you notice after taking a break from perspectives of the world? Will there be a change in how you would rather spend your time and energy? Will your priorities change?

The rise and speed in which we need information has renewed interest in Denis McQuail’s uses and gratification theory—that we use media to satisfy certain needs. Today’s social media practitioners acknowledge that there is a place for strategic social media in marketing, like in the case of micro-influencers, a key part of direct-to-consumer brand strategy.

In the case of the Mormon media detox, Utah female political candidates were quick to say, “not so fast.” A 10-day break could bear negative implications on their elections. The need to carry on with their campaign outweighed the principles of a fast.

It is easy to get stuck thinking about dependency in the digital age. But if you’re not hiding under a rock, the fact is, social media is here to stay. Each platform serves a purpose and a social media fast only underscores the need for each of us to self-regulate.

1 The World Happiness Report is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness that ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be.

This Article Has 8 Comments
  1. Anna Campbell says:

    Haylee you are spot on when you say that “higher digital media activity may correlate to lower well-being as it displaces time that might be spent on activities more beneficial in a person’s life.” I’m going to remember this as I sit in bed reading the news rather than getting up to walk the dog! Social media is addicting and it’s very easy for it to take up too much time in our lives, time that could be spent doing the things we know make us feel healthy and happy.

    I love the idea of a social media fast and I do think the Mormon church leadership was onto something important for womens’ mental health. However, much like the Mormon political candidates, many of us use social media for work, so a full fast just is not practical. The fact that this fast was only for Mormon women carries some assumptions about how women use social media – and whether women work. My own philosophy is that social media and other technologies are tools and all tools can be positive or negative: it’s all about how you use them and using the right tool for the right job. Like it or not, social media is now a tool that is integrated into our work and social lives, and cannot be removed without consequence. Maybe next year the Mormon church will repeat the fast – but include flexible options for women who cannot simply turn it off for ten days.

  2. Such an insightful post, Hayley!

    As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think of a world where we didn’t have phones, the internet or social media sites. I’m sad to say that I think the world might be a tad bit better of a place without social media as there wouldn’t be a place for negativity to brew and fester. On the other hand, social media platforms provide a voice to the voiceless, platforms for people to meet those they wouldn’t have ever come in contact with and opportunities for us all to be more connected than ever. I guess with everything, there are the good and the bad. I couldn’t also help but think of not having a phone on us 24/7. It made me think back to the time when I was in high school and would forget my phone all the time. When I did forget it back then, I didn’t feel naked or feel the need to go get. Instead, I went about my day without my phone, and I was fine. Now if I forget my phone anywhere, forget about it! I feel completely out of sorts. On the same note, I feel like social media platforms give us as communication strategists so many more options to deliver messages. Without them, I feel like our tools would be so incredibly limited.

    I found it fascinating in your blog post that Mormon women who were running for election found that they couldn’t do the fast because of the needs of their elections. I almost wonder if they had taken the fast whether that would give them a leg up above their competitors because it might appeal to voters who would see them as someone who puts themselves first above winning. That could be a great perspective for their campaign. Overall, I’m inspired to take a 10-day social media fast to see how I feel after…that might have to wait after school is over!

  3. Haylee – awesome topic to blog about. I was especially interested in the section where you discussed Facebook and the possibility of the company removing their “like” feature. I’ve heard that Instagram is also experimenting with this. Personally, I believe this would be really beneficial for mental health and would cause a decrease in social media usage. We post in order to get the “like” gratification – so if that is removed, why would we post? It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    I also think that we will eventually see laws that regulate what social companies can and cannot have on their platforms. We’ve seen regulations with ad posting (i.e. Kardashian’s favorite hashtag #ad), I think it won’t be long until we see regulations on features such as likes, filters, and other things that cause mental distress and misinformation.

  4. Alisha S. says:

    Great write-up, Hayley. I am very intrigued by the prospect of Facebook removing the ability to see number of likes on a post. Those push alerts are [proven to be] addictive and I feel embarrassed about how often I’ll check and re-check my accounts sometimes to see if likes/views have picked up.

    I’ve benefited from social media detoxes in past, but they’re difficult. Even though the Utah politicians’ frustrations with the detoxes were self-serving, they connect to perhaps my biggest personal issue with detoxes: disconnection. While it does my brain good, I have a hard time staying in touch with family & friends and am less aware of current events any time I go cold turkey with Facebook or Instagram (the two platforms I use the most).

    In the end, I suppose social media detoxes are all about balance, and we have to figure out what’s right for each of us.

  5. Kristin Schlotterbeck says:

    Very interesting, Hayley. The research you’ve compiled here reflects my own personal experience. Several years back, I cut out social media entirely for almost 2 years. It was a difficult adjustment at first, but did have a significant impact on my well-being.

    Now, similar to Anna, going cold-turkey on social media is just not an option because of my job. My main difficulty, currently, is figuring out how to compartmentalize and keep my work life and personal life separate. Working in the field of violence against women, being engaged in social media for my work life often means following stories of difficult or traumatic news closely. That’s tough to maintain 24/7.

    Perhaps after nixing the ‘like’ button, Facebook can research tools to help people separate work life and private life, particularly monitoring.

  6. Enton says:

    Unpopular comment here!

    I can totally see the harms social media can cause to one’s mental health but I can also see the benefits they might bring. Here is a study from Michigan State University on how social media can improve adults mental health and reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.

    https://psychcentral.com/news/2019/06/29/social-media-may-improve-mental-health-for-adults/148223.html

    I found this study very interesting since I do get both good and bad from social media. There were times that social media made me feel more connected with people back home, and posting through social media also help build up my self-esteem.

  7. Drew Hanson says:

    Interesting take on this, Hayley. Much life everything in life, practicing moderation can go a long way toward our health and happiness. I think just a parents teach their children that too much TV will “rot your brains” (direct quote from my mom), too much social media will do the same. I think we have all experienced this to some degree — scrolling through post after post after post of all the great moments happening in our broad social circles. Everyone is happy, everyone is on an adventure, everyone is enjoying their best life in “real time”! But it’s all manufactured. We’re deliberate and intentional in what we share. So, I think there are two things happening here: 1. it’s easy to lose perspective when consuming the best bits of other peoples’ lives and 2. if you’re overdosing on this manufactured content then it could negatively impact your self-worth and confidence. If you’ve read this far, put the phone down and go have an interpersonal moment with a family member or go for a walk outside. There is plenty to do and see outside of our manufactured social media boxes.

  8. Shelley Smith says:

    When I got a new phone recently, I downloaded Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and kept all the notifications turned off. I found I forgot to check up on them and lost interest in posting content. Reading your post, Hayley, made me think “Techlash.” Turning off notifications, and doing a social media fast are just a couple of techlash actions. Just a coupe of weeks ago I read something about turning screens to greyscale can help fight getting “sucked in” and I’m tempted to try it.

    One thing I have done on my social media is curate good feeds. I get the information I want, and I also get a lot of content based on my interests, so it’s a pretty positive place. Facebook has a lot of groups and friends, Insta has visual content for the podcasts I follow and influencers around social justice. Twitter is all comedians. Of course, content I have no interest in makes its way onto my accounts, but its pretty rare.

    Being in communication, I really should get a Linked In page going, and I will eventually. At the moment, I’m able to enjoy social media at a moderate level with content that I find supportive and interesting.

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