I'm not Catholic, but every year when friends and family give up wine, cheese, or bad TV shows for the 40 days of Lent, I get into an ascetic spirit. I convince myself to drop, say, white flour, then decide three minutes later that all things are OK in moderation. Who really needs 40 days off croissants, anyway?
But I think maybe I do need a break from Facebook. Checking Facebook first thing in the morning, all day long, and just one more time after I brush my teeth is probably not the best use of my time. My children, my marriage, and my houseplants need me more than that guy I met one summer in art school.
It turns out I'm not the only one considering the social-networking fast. The Wall Street Journal unearthed the Facebook group "Giving up Facebook for Lent," and a variety of similar groups filled with self-proclaimed addicts who want to test their religious mettle starting on Ash Wednesday. (That's this Wednesday, folks--two days from now.)
There's just one problem: One Facebook addict's self-improvement project is another Facebook fan's snub. A sudden break from your social network--virtual or otherwise--creates a social minefield for anyone concerned with online manners. With more than 175 million active users on Facebook, at least one or two will want to "friend" you in the next 40 days. What to do?
Here's a simple guide for anyone wanting to go Facebook cold turkey:
Set your status. This is an obvious first step in any Facebook fast. Tell all the friends who might be tempted to tag you in yet another 25 things/Album cover/Senior Year of High School meme that you really, really won't be spending your dinner hour trying to remember what you did after prom--at least not until April.
Write down birthdays. Don't rely on Facebook to remind you that your sister turns 30 next week. Jot it down on your Google Calendar or--gasp--on paper.
Relax about application requests. Really, you don't need to sign up every time a friends asks you to plant a flowering pony for a cause. Most Facebook users who send inane application requests mass invite everyone they "know" and won't notice if you don't plant a virtual gnome garden.
Consider changing your photo. What happens if your high school ex-best friend (the one who stole your girlfriend) tries to find you on Facebook during Lent? If you're worried that he'll think you're an A-number-one jerk for not accepting his olive branch, consider replacing your profile photo with a text block that reads something like, "Off Facebook for Lent." The downside to this technique? If you're not religious, it may confuse people, and if you have a common name, no one will be able to confirm that you're the Tom Smith they're looking for. Or maybe in the case of the ex-friend, that's a blessing.
Don't forget to turn off your Twitter forwards. Use Twitter (or some sort of microblogging service) to update your Facebook status? Even if you don't visit Facebook.com, updating through a third party during Lent would be cheating.
Have any of your own Facebook fast suggestions? Please comment. I might even post them to Facebook--in April.