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R-AGE goes cold turkey!

Over the weekend, I preached a sermon titled, “Shut Up and Get Out!”. In it, I challenged R-AGE to embark on a social media cold turkey experiment like I did. The purpose of this was to eliminate audio and visual noise and distractions from their lives, so that they can enjoy the benefits of the discipline of silence and solitude, with the ultimate objective of hearing from God.

I gave instructions on this absolute abstinence from all social media platforms including the obvious Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress, Blogspot, YouTube, as well as Instagram and FourSquare. They had to disable email notifications from all these platforms too so that they won’t know what’s going on when they’re not logged in.

I told them to tag or text me when they began so that I could cheer them on. The deadline that I gave was to accomplish this before 31 Dec 2011 and to journal their experience, as well as what they heard from God during those 72 hours. I was initially skeptical on the take-up rate, so I was pleased by surprising response.

Immediately after I closed in prayer, I received an SMS from a youth who declared her fast immediately. Later in the evening, I received an SMS from a youth leader who told me that his two younger brothers and himself have commenced too and instead of a 72-hour fast, they will abstain from social media until the end of the year.

On Facebook, an entire youth cell group decided to fast together – I reckon it must have been their leaders’ initiative. I know a couple of other cells have also decided to go cold turkey together. I’ve also received a few other messages from a few more youths who decided to rise up to the challenge… One dialogue that really tickled me (screenshot pictured below) was a conversation between two 14-year-old boys.

Above and beyond this experiment being an exercise of healthy conformism or making a cool statement, it is my sincere prayer that my young people will understand the power of solitude and how silence may help them to listen out for the still, small voice that Elijah heard in 1 Kings 19 amidst the chaos that surrounded him.

May this radical little experiment result in a greater spiritual depth in my youth group! I sincerely hope that in this period of voluntary extended silence, we will learn that:
  • God is always in control of situations where we think we must intervene in;
  • God can manage situations where we thought our input was necessary.
  • God can sharpen our observation and listening skills when we refrain from speaking.
  • God can bring freshness and depth to our words when we finally say something.

Oh, do remember to let me know if you plan to embark on a social media cold turkey experiment yourself after reading this… I’d love to cheer you on! I can almost guarantee success IF you stick to the abstinence absolutely!

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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!

just how big is the internet?

I normally blog only once daily but I found the stats presented here so cool that I had to post a mid-day entry. Although honestly, I doubt its accuracy as the usage of Internet from China alone could own anyone; it’s as if they exist in their own Internet universe.

It got me thinking about how we actually utilise this surfeit of information. For a good number of people, especially youths, their daily navigation do not go beyond three to four websites (I’m guessing Facebook, Youtube, Gmail and their blogs). May I urge all of us to make fuller use of the Internet for all its worth instead of idling our time away on it.

Nonetheless, enjoy the stat attack! (Source: “15 things I bet you didn’t know about the internet” from Curious? Read.) May it give you some interesting perspectives.

top ten Google tricks you probably do not know.

Google has become such an integrated part of our lives that it has replaced Internet Search; you simply Google something instead of Internet searching something. I’m using Mac Safari as my web browser now and only laziness (to transfer bookmarks) is causing me to delay my switch to the better and faster Google Chrome web browser. With Google TV, Docs, Maps, Calendar, Mail, and Groups amongst the other products that I use on a daily basis, I thought it’d be good if I put together the top ten lesser-known tricks in our regular use of the Google search bar, to make virtual activities a little more convenient.

1. Definitions. Key in “Define [insert keyword]” and save some time there instead of checking via an internet dictionary.

2. Blog search. Pretty self-explanatory – search within listed blogs only. (It’s pretty interesting when I see how WordPress reveals how people end up at my blog.)

3. I’m Feeling Lucky. Ever wondered what this button is for?

4. Products. Type in “Better than _[insert keyword]_” and you will get an idea of how good something is. Remember the underscores. If you are someone who’s frugal and wants a good buy, try Froogle. (Clever wordplay!)

5. Translator. This is so good that it translates beyond just phrases, but entire websites and even documents. The amazing thing is that it continuously learns.

6. Conversions. You could just about convert everything. For example, type “123 metres in feet” or “456 SGD in RMB”. Too bad it doesn’t convert pre-believers.

7. Time. If you have a lot of friends overseas and want to know what their local time is, type “What time is it in [insert country]”. Never call at the wrong time ever again.

8. Checking within sites. This lets you zero in on one website. For example, type in “site:joeyasher.com huiyi” to find every post with her being mentioned.

9. Bypass proxy. Not really applicable in Singapore but definitely helpful in Shanghai where just about everything is blocked by thegreatfirewallofchina, including Facebook and WordPress, and for a period of time, Youtube and Wikipedia. Type in “cache:website.com”. Also helpful for annoying company fire walls.

10. Chuck Norris. My favourite, of course, is to type in “Google Chuck Norris” and press the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. Have a good laugh at the result.

Some additional trivia… During the time that I was in China, Google actually legalised the download of music (simply because they can’t keep up with the country’s normalised piracy). But don’t bother accessing it via a Singapore IP address – you’ll be denied.

The groundbreaking thing about Google is that it is a learning organism. For example, everything that is being searched for, including the actual search results and what appears in the search field (i.e. the autofills) is a result of what people key in, find and eventually click on. Google then intelligently learns these search behaviours; that’s why most of time you actually can find what you are searching for within the first couple of pages – because thousands upon thousands of others have searched what you are currently searching for.

Like many others, I’m inclined to recognise Apple and Google as the leaders of our world today – their influence and impact on our society are staggering; they pave the way for change and have a say in just about how we look at and use things. For e.g. iPhone revolutionised the way we look at mobile phone usage and Google revolutionised the way we use the Internet. This phenomena is mind-blowing (and potentially devastating).

Now if only Christians could exert that kind of influence… Hmm…

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