Interview: Jodi Cole Meyer on Month Four of the Excess Experiment—Fasting from the Media

Jodi Cole Meyer has been on a journey with the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (B & H Books) by Jen Hatmaker. In past months she’s limited herself to seven kinds of food or seven items of clothing, and she’s given away something every day of another month. Now she’s given up consuming media. Except for The Banner, I’m sure.

 

Q. You are fasting from the media this month. How long has it been? Did you approach this one with more or less trepidation than the food or the clothing fast?

A. On the first of October I turned off the TV and radio. I am also using only the Internet sites that I need for work. For all the previous fasts, there was an element of anticipation—a challenge to my creativity, an opportunity to see things differently, to live differently, to try something new. This one was different. I have been dreading it. I love the news and am a pretty avid follower of a few TV shows. This month doesn’t seem to offer anything new or different, just less. I did not approach this one with the eagerness that I had for the last ones.

 

Q. As an American citizen, you are in the middle of an election season. Does that make it a good time to avoid media?

A. No! I am such a political junkie—I care passionately about elections. My area of study is political rhetoric and persuasion, so election season is better than my birthday . . . and it only happens every four years. I am missing all of October—the absolute height of the election, and although my “council” has given me permission to watch the debates in order to be an educated voter, I can’t watch the spin or the reactions or the commentary. It has made me realize how little I actually shape my own opinions based entirely on what the candidates say and how much I depend on additional input to make decisions. I don’t think that’s all bad—situations and responses are complex, and I depend on people with more expertise than I have in many of these situations. I am starting to think more critically about which sources I can depend on versus the ones I do depend on.

 

Q. What's the biggest change you’ve noticed in your days since you started this one? Do you find yourself with a lot more time? Are you bored? What has taken the place of your media connections?

A. The biggest change? I am talking to myself in the car. A lot. Actually, I don’t really have more time. The spaces left by TV shows have been filled pretty quickly by books or table/board games, which I have always enjoyed anyway. The radio was usually something that was on while I was doing something else. I thought I would find a lot of empty holes in my day, but I really haven’t.

I do, though, have more space to think. Normally, I would listen to news on the radio while I cook or drive, and now these are times for reflection. I think that is valuable—I form opinions more slowly and thoughtfully rather than quickly and forcefully. I just have an opportunity for considering ideas or reactions or situations at more length. Sometimes this can lead to some obsessive thought patterns, but most of the time I think it’s healthier.

 

Q. Are you normally someone who is often online? Do you usually use media for social purposes or mostly for informational purposes?

A. What’s interesting about this question is that I would have answered it differently two weeks ago. Going into this fast, I thought I was primarily online for informational purposes, but I have found that although I may go to a website for information, the second, third, and fourth clicks are often for entertainment. An article about politics or national news often ends up at YouTube. I use Facebook to communicate with a couple of groups for coordination (like the cast of the show I’m directing), but I vastly underestimated the time that I spent on Facebook just looking at what my friends and acquaintances are up to.

 

Q. Do you feel cut off from the world? If so, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

A. I do feel a little cut off, and I don’t much like the feeling. What I am realizing, though, is how constant attention to media created an artificial sense of urgency in me. Various political crises have arisen without my knowledge and have been handled without my input. I do think that living apart from the media is more peaceful, but I also feel a little under-informed in some areas. The old adage about ignorance being bliss makes a bit of sense, but it’s still ignorance.

 

Q. What media do you miss the most? Which do you hardly notice missing?

A. I miss the news! Actually, I also miss Slate.com, and “Parenthood” and “The Daily Show.” And seeing what my kids are posting on Facebook, and the articles in The Atlantic. I miss it all. I wish I was surprised by how little I missed something, but I really can’t think of anything.

 

Q. This is less of a “material” thing that you are fasting from. Does it feel any more or less spiritual to you? Do you feel a change in your spiritual life because of it?

A. This is harder, and I struggle more with keeping the fast. In part I think that’s true because I don’t feel like I’m giving up something that is dangerous to me spiritually. I see the dangers of materialism and greed, of self-indulgence and surfeit. I don’t associate my time spent with media as frivolity; I see it as informative. So while I absolutely see the danger of frittering away a life on meaningless entertainment, I choose to think that it’s not such a danger to me. One thing this month is starting to teach me, I think, is that it’s more of a danger than I thought it was.

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