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the social media cold turkey experiment.

Last month, an article I wrote was published on Eagles VantagePoint, a website and magazine which I highly recommend as it provides a fresh perspective on contemporary topics. (The first article I wrote for them was on Marketplace Evangelism.) For my second assignment, the editor of the magazine challenged me to fast from all social media platforms for 72 whole hours and to journal my experience along the way.

Of course, I took up the challenge. Come on, how could JAT pass up on something as fun as that!?

So here’s what I wrote… Click here or here to read the article in its source, or just read on…

***

August 15, 2011

Dear Journal,

Somehow, my exploitation of social media (SM) to maneuver among youths has become known; Sheryl Han, the Senior Executive Editor of Eagles VantagePoint (randomly and suddenly) invited me via email to take part in an experiment for their next publication.

She wanted to find out, through me, if SM has caused us to be, what I call, “altogether separate,” where people get closer yet drift further simultaneously through the rampant and seemingly irrepressible utilization of SM.

I’d be required to go “cold turkey” from all SM platforms. For me, that’d mean no Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram, WordPress, and all online chatting platforms for 72 hours. She even told me that her colleague, Daniel Xu (who obviously stalked me), declared me to be “quite the social media fanatic” and “the perfect person for which to conduct this.”

I feel like a lab rat.

Anyway, I asked her for a week to consider this challenge but secretly, I was always game for something radical.

***

August 22, 2011

Dear Journal,

Sheryl the scientist emailed me again. She took the one week quite literally and even bargained the cold turkey period down to 48 hours to secure me as her lab rat.

Being the kind youth pastor that I am (it’s true), I agreed and asked her for the perimeters of this experiment. I must have made her a happy editor…

And my goodness – she replied immediately. This time, with an intimidating laundry list of experimentation rules and regulations.

Read: lab rat.

***

August 30, 2011

Dear Journal,

My SM fast has begun.

I’ve turned off ALL email and application alerts on my laptop, mobile, and tablet. I’m connected to so many platforms I took 15 minutes just to disable notifications!

Strangely, I anticipate a productive 72 hours. There’s an event to coordinate, a sermon to write, a cell lesson to teach and I’m halfway through my budgeting and ministry action plans for 2012; this is an appropriate time to fast from SM!

Here’s my final 140-character tweet:

“My 3-day cold turkey from ALL Social Media platforms has begun; I’ve turned off ALL notifications and I’ll be back in 72 hrs. Gonna be fun!”

All right, it’s 1:40am, barely twenty minutes into my cold turkey and I already feel the urge to…Sleep. This experiment would delight my fiancée most because she always urges me (out of love) to sleep earlier.

First benefit felt – more rest. Girlfriend and mother are instantly happier people.

***

August 31, 2011 (Day 1)

Dear Journal,

10:00 /// My overnight incoming emails halved! As I commuted to work, I caught up on world, national, and sports news instead of tweets and status updates. The temptation to (conveniently) click on one of my bookmarks or apps is real but bearable.

15:00 /// I find myself wanting to share my candid thoughts (via Twitter and Facebook) and visual observations (via Instagram and Tumblr) but this ban prohibits me. I believe that the need to speak and be heard drives people to be active on SM; to an extent, validation and acknowledgement can be good for the soul and self-esteem.

18:00 /// Several times through the day, I flirted with the idea of using Facebook to contact my youths for work purposes. Perhaps a dearth of SM could prove to be inconvenient if one works with youths? WhatsApp and SMS suddenly become significant again for regular communication.

22:30 /// I desperately want to get onto Facebook now. My fiancée told me that my cousin just posted new pictures of my one day old niece (yes, Jubilee Yim was born yesterday!). I guess SM makes the sharing of the precious moments of life accessible and convenient. This is all Sheryl’s fault!

23:30 /// Contrary to popular belief, the absence of SM didn’t lead me to accomplish exceptionally more work. Yes, I did redeem time by not drifting away in SM, but I didn’t save the world by stopping myself from updating my status, tweeting or posting a photo. So there, nothing mind-blowing, history-making or world-changing happened today.

***

September 1, 2011 (Day 2)

Dear Journal,

09:30 /// SM helps me to stalk my youths; I’m subscribed to nearly 150 blogs via Google Reader and frankly, it’s barely enough because I aim to track down every one of the 300 youths in my ministry. I tell them that I stalk them out of love (strange, but true!) so it’s a good thing that this ban lasts just 72 hours. I miss busybody-ing over their lives! When I view their blogs, I read about what’s happening in their lives (and heads) and this gives me an adequate enough preview of how they’re doing as a whole. Of course, nothing beats meeting up but I can’t meet everyone so I try to read about them instead. Either way, their blog content also provides good conversational currency during meet-ups. Furthermore, (I reckon) most youths think it’s cool that their youth pastor reads their blogs. So yes, SM can be immensely useful as a networking tool among youths.

11:30 /// I believe I’m neither addicted to nor in need of SM. The urge to check Facebook or Twitter wanes as the hours pass. I’m halfway through the cold turkey and (unsurprisingly) I haven’t had any withdrawal symptoms. Life goes on. SM, you are overrated!

15:00 /// Half the day has passed, and I must admit that this ban has helped me to be more effective and efficient at work because I’m more focused. It has also increased my concentration and productivity levels. The cause of distraction isn’t the voluntary checks on Facebook or Twitter but the notifications that come in to take your attention away from the task at hand.

17:00 /// Honestly, I think three days is too short a period to determine the effects of SM in our lives. You won’t be able to accomplish anything out-of-the-norm that’s worth a shout out. So what if I can’t share my life online? I’m not losing anything of worth.

23:45 /// It’s been a long day. My day begins at 7.00 am tomorrow and I still have today’s work to complete. The last thing on my mind now is SM. Tonight, I told my fiancée that I’m actually enjoying this cold turkey and I may continue it in some aspects.

***

September 2, 2011  (Day 3)

Dear Journal,

06:45 /// 48 hours have passed and it’s enough for my postmortem. For me, SM is a social utility, not a social necessity. You use it, not need it, to make life more convenient and work more effective. But SM will continue to alter the way we communicate with real people. Frankly, anyone who deals with youths (whether a pastor, social worker, parent, teacher or youth leader) should employ SM as a key weapon in their arsenal for reaching youths, but not deploy it diagnostically. It provides only a synopsis, at best.

22:45 /// It’s been such a hectic day that I don’t even have the mental capacity to think about SM. Three days is more than enough to wean off SM and I’m living proof of it. The cold turkey ends in a couple of hours but there’s little or no anticipation. It merely marks the end of this experiment. No confetti necessary.

01:30 /// The hour cometh and proves to be an anticlimax as expected. This was how I signaled my return via Twitter:

“I am back. I have not missed you. Life is better without you. You are helpful to me. I shall control you. You shall not consume me. HELLO.”

***

September 3, 2011

Dear Journal,

I’ve counseled youths who are capable of spilling their hearts on their blogs and yet incapable of sharing anything beyond the superficial vis-à-vis; they’d rather tweet than talk to people about it.

Some of us may frown upon this undesirable behavior, but there is almost nothing we can do to stop this mentality from proliferating. So if we can’t halt SM, we must learn to manage it and ride along with those who have already been institutionalized by it.

Like it or loathe it, SM is here to stay and has become (an integral) part of our lives. We should neither shun nor slime it, but subsume it into our daily routine. However, due to its highly addictive nature (that may potentially consume us), we must learn to set perimeters for using it, otherwise it will distract us from and destroy our priorities.

I will be the first to admit that SM is important, not because I need to use it, but because it is important to the people I love and care for; hence, it is of value to me. I will use SM as a tool to reach and communicate with this generation of youths for it is their preferred platform of conversation.

Those who are one with SM will never understand my liberation until they embark on a cold turkey themselves. To celebrate the end of my SM fast, I have decided on two simple applications:

  • I’m not reactivating my email notifications. I know this will change my life.
  • I will only spend the excesses of my time on it, capped at thirty minutes per day.

Final word: You have nothing to lose except your time.

Joey Asher Tan is a 27-year-old stalker in his youth ministry of 300 young people (aka a youth pastor) in Grace Assembly of God Church, Singapore. He attempts to use (and sometimes abuse) social media to remain young. To see what he’s been up to (and how this cold turkey experience has changed him), follow him on Twitter @joeyashertan and check out his blog at joeyasher.com.

***

Now that I’ve led by example, I’m going to challenge my youth ministry to do likewise as I preach it over the pulpit this weekend!

Forgive the resolution - it's snapped on my iPhone 4!

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a September stock-take and an October onslaught.

It’s always therapeutic to do a stock-take after an eventful week, which would have been impossible to pull off and not fall exhausted on my face, if not for the grace of God that saw me though. Warning: long post.

Monday: attended QC (Questions and Contributions) time and a monthly mentoring session with Ps Edmund Chan; ’til this day, I still thank God for the divine appointment in which He has connected me to Ps Ed; what a privilege and honour.

Tuesday AM: led worship at the Tuesday staff devotion with Ps Meng Cham; that’s how I will do it from now on – being accompanied by a seasoned musician makes it so much more enjoyable (because I won’t need to practice with my guitar!)

Tuesday PM: prepared for and sat through a staff meeting, which was a heart-wrenching experience and threw me off my momentum; I’m thankful for Ps Ronald who patiently listened to me rant and vent my frustrations. This forced me to come before the Lord that evening to seek His face. And I’m glad I did. The Lord spoke to me through Genesis 13 and Hebrews 6.

Wednesday AM: Caleb crashed at my place the night before and we watched Man Utd surrender a 2-0 lead to Basel and equalised in typical United fashion at the dying minutes. I struggled through the second half, to be honest. I’m really getting old…

Wednesday PM: led worship at the weekly Wednesday church prayer meeting (J333) with Rafael.; exposing youth musicians through my J333 duties gives me renewed purpose when I find my name on the worship leading roster. My next session is on 30 November and I’ll go over-the-top because I’ll be teaming up with Ps Ronald and the church will be praying for R-AGE.

Thursday: presented the 2012 R-AGE budget in front of the Head of Administration, accountant and finance manager of Grace AG on Thursday (my first time presenting with Excel spreadsheets); administration is really not my strength. Thank God for Ps Ronald who rescued me by answering on my behalf on a few occasions.

Friday AM: had a delectable dim-sum lunch at Royal China @ Raffles Hotel with Sheryl from Eagles, together with Daniel and Xavier too, and joined the Vantage Point magazine editorial team. (I just received my first email from them!)

Friday PM: sat through another staff meeting, and wondered what it would be like next year when I’m chairing it.

Friday EVE: spent time with some of my favouritest people on the planet at the GII Shepherds cell, and facilitated our Harmony of the Gospels lesson; Yixian said if we continued at this pace (in-depth but extremely slow), we’d take two years to finish the book.

Saturday AM: led the R-AGE 2012 manpower deployment discussion with Caleb, Keith, Kenneth and Rachael; yes, R-AGE leaders, we were deliberating over your fate next year! HAHAHA. I can’t wait to see youths lead youths!

Saturday PM: preached an apologetics cum evangelistic sermon (my first attempt) for the Same Same But Different evangelistic service at R-AGE@GII. I actually enjoyed my preparation more than my execution. It was intellectually stimulating to read in greater detail how atheism, pantheism and polytheism (among many other -isms) stood against theism.

Saturday EVE: chaired the Bare Bones 2012 coordination meeting with Nicole, Keith, David and Grace – who have proposed some spectacular ideas for the year-end conference. It’s gonna blow Grace AG away; everything is going to be significantly leveled-up! I’m delighted to be working with such exceptional youth leaders. Watching Man Utd defeat Norwich 2-0 capped my day.

Sunday: preached the same sermon at R-AGE@GI. I took the opportunity to clear up some personal administrative work while waiting to have lunch with Huiyi and Yixian. After a short nap to recharge my batteries, I resumed studying for my 60% News Studies paper (the next day), which I have burned midnight oil for in the past seven days. Little by little, I’ve conquered the paper.

Monday (today): praise God for a relatively easy exam paper! It’s different when you understand what you are reading and memorising instead of mugging just for the sake of. I managed to finished the paper with an hour to spare, so I brought forward my appointment with my hairstylist. It’s 4pm now (at the point of writing) and my head literally and metaphorically feels lighter.

I’m going to complete this blog post before I go ahead to prepare the slides for the R-AGE 2012 Ministry Action Plans (which I’m presenting to all pastoral staff tomorrow!) Then I’m going to head out to China Square to treat my family to a nice dinner of Crab Bee Hoon @ Don’s Pie Club. We’re celebrating my sister’s belated birthday (1 October), as well as my 8th 21st birthday in advance.

This week, I also managed to meet Caleb and Lucas for lunch and mentoring on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. I thoroughly enjoy investing time into young men who possess a desire to grow. Lucas’ huge appetite for growth reminds me of me, especially in the way that I pursue my mentors. I told him to never lose his hunger (okay, boy?).

After our  mentoring session over coffee in Starbucks@Tanglin Mall, he asked, “How do you do it, Bro Joey?” It being managing the many things on my plate. I couldn’t find an adequate way to answer him except to say, with all sincerity, that this capacity is a God-given gift; how could I take credit for the grace of God? I told him to ask God for it as well, because I think God will give it. (I didn’t tell him about the price of increased capacity though, but I’m sure he’ll figure that out himself.)

September has been an exceptional month in ministry. Besides starting R-AGE on the Spiritual Disciplines: Training in Holiness sermon series, I’ve also been planning for R-AGE in 2012 and meeting up with lots of youth leaders who might be serving alongside me next year. I am convinced that it’s my time with the Lord everyday that’s keeping me afloat.

I’ve also been reading non-stop throughout the week (and at an aggressive pace too). Besides the Bible during my daily devotions, sermon preparation materials and academic texts, I’ve also been feasting into Edmund Chan’s Cultivating Your Inner Life, Philippe Auclair’s Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King and Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters. I think I’m concurrently reading eight books – and I love the variety! This is effective for someone like me who gets bored easily.

On a more personal note, I’ve also been spending lots of time with Huiyi with our wedding preparation; we’ve reserved Sunday afternoons to visit bridal studios and photographers, as well as to plan for our big day. The highlight of these trips is to catch a sneak preview of my wife-to-be when she emerges from the changing room in glorious, gorgeous white; she’s gonna be the most stunning bride in all of Singapore next August – you have no idea how much we are looking forward to be married to each other!

I’d probably be packing my luggage midway when this post is published; Jetstar is going to take me to Perth at 5:45pm (Tuesday). I look forward to hanging out with Chin Seng, Ervina and Liang Zhi, but the highlight of my trip is to spend time with Ps Edmund and Ps Ann. I’ve been looking forward to this trip ever since I purchased the air tickets (super cheap!) a few months ago.

When I began my mentoring journey with Ps Edmund around this time last year, he emailed me his traveling itinerary and invited me to follow him on one of his countless trips; so here I am, excited and still starstruck, counting down the hours before I get to spend quality, uninterrupted and extended time with a God-given mentor, whom I’m sure will sharpen, challenge and inspire me!

October, I am ready for your onslaught!

Quenching my spiritual thirst with living water! (@ The Pinnacles, Perth, Australia)

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