Ed Cyzewski – Reconnect: Non secular Restoration …
Detox from social media
A functional check of
Reconnect: Spiritual recovery through digital distraction
Paperback: Herald Press, 2020
Buy now: (Amazon) (Kindle)
Reviewed by Paul Gregory
In the past ten years I have considered deleting my Facebook account several times. I've even gone so far as to look up instructions on how to save my pictures, posts, and other content. I write these words just minutes after checking the latest posts on my Facebook page. Is anyone following with me? Have you tried unsuccessfully to restrict the use of social media but can't crack the code? Don't fret too much, you are one of many looking for a more balanced diet using technology and social media. Ed Cyzewski's Reconnect: Spiritual Recovery Through Digital Distraction offers the reader a comprehensive review of social media technologies and the way they affect our spiritual practices (and our lives). The book also contains informative suggestions for everyday use (see chapter “Starter Manual”) to reduce the use of these technologies.
The decline of social media
(A reading guide)
The structure of Reconnect is clear and concise and Cyzewski's writing is down to earth and honest. The first three chapters of the book deal with past and present technology. The author writes about the positive and negative goals of technology, the way technology changes our lives, and the way technology hinders our spiritual life. Chapter four is a discussion of the role of technology in the church, particularly how social media enhances and hinders their ability to truly connect with people. Chapter 5 discusses the goals of spiritual training and how they can improve our relationship with God and others around us. The author reminds us that practices such as silence, contemplative prayer, and meditation that enhance our spiritual lives rarely thrive in a social media world with constant stimulation and feedback. Chapters six, seven and eight give instructions on how to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with the spiritual life. Detoxing from social media is a long and slow process that requires persistence and patience. Developing the habit of prioritizing self-sufficiency is as important as recognizing technologies that can be used that way.
Three points stood out as the most important at Reconnect. First, social media companies have hidden agendas that some users don't quite understand. The author rightly points out that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram generate significant revenue based on how often their websites are used. An increased number of visitors leads to more data collection and increased advertising opportunities. As a result, these companies (and others) spend a ton of money developing technologies that enforce high usage and often result in significant loss of time.
Second, most social media users (that's us!) Base their use on their need for social interaction and / or connection. People believe that their use of social media increases their connection with the world, their family and friends. And while admitting that these technologies allow a minimum of interaction / connection, Cyzewski suggests that the type and level of interaction / connection we actually receive is sorely lacking. The reality is that these time consuming technologies are not delivering rich connections / interactions. Rather, research shows that chronic use of social media technologies leads to frustration, loneliness, less real connections, and deterioration in the mental health of some users.
Third, and arguably most important, Cyzewski's focus is on how digital education robs us of spiritual education. Digital education refers to the often covert technological goals of companies that make smartphones and build social media websites and apps. Cyzewski and others suggest that "Technology … is designed to make us regular, if not compulsive, users to collect data and profits by training us to always have a reason to use our devices …" ( 37). These goals ensure that social media users continue to depend on technology, especially social media, which requires them to spend a lot of time staring at tablets, smartphones, or computers, which Cyzewski claims to give us richer experiences ( i.e. spiritual education) robs.
The term spiritual education refers to practices that some people would agree to create real social connection / interaction. Cyzewski's definition of social education leads to things like "… patience, focus, silence, loneliness, silence, community and regular practice" (25). The main point of Reconnect is arguably the tension between spiritual and digital formations. That is, the author suggests that these spiritual practices that promise to improve our lives fly in the face of digital structures. Both compete for our time. Cyzewski suggests that digital formations fail to keep their promises (deeper interaction / connection) and actually take time from our spiritual formations that improve our lives.
Reconnect is fair criticism of technology, especially social media technologies. It is important that it is not a manifesto that goes against everything technological. On the contrary, Cyzewski admits early on in the book that he, too, uses social media technologies, albeit in a way that recognizes their real usefulness. And reconnect contains a lot of nourishment; It's not just another book on The Ten Ways To Reduce Your Social Media Use. Some readers say that this book offers a nuanced version of an ancient argument about the dark side of technology. Others may claim that Reconnect makes a unique contribution by focusing on the way modern technology deprives us of important spiritual practices. Of course, readers who do not value silence, stillness, focus, or other spiritual practices may be generally dissatisfied with Cyzewski's reasoning.
Ultimately, Reconnect is a book about choosing between digital and spiritual education. Cyzewski provided substantial resources to help make this decision. There are three main points worth repeating. First, social media technologies don't improve real interaction / connection. More chronic use of these technologies leads to frustration, loneliness, or worse. Second, increased personal interaction / connection is not the primary goal of technology companies. Making money through data collection and advertising is the vehicle that drives social media technologies. And finally, silence, contemplative prayer, meditation and real fellowship are the practices that support our individual and collective life. Cyzewski's Reconnect suggests that these spiritual practices are key to spiritual recovery and I believe he is right.
Paul D. Gregory is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater. His interests include corrective treatment, especially meditation. He is a certified meditation teacher and has taught meditation classes for the criminal justice population and at a local yoga studio in Wisconsin. Paul also enjoys hiking and camping.