The Failed Experiment of Digital Fasting

1444 Hijri, 2023 Gregorian

This year’s Ramadan has been an experiment in digital fasting. This explains (post-hoc) why I haven’t written on my website in some time, and why I’ve been writing but not sharing my work.

At the start of the month, I intended to use social media less, post less, to pick up the phone fewer times. I fell into this goal rather accidentally. On the first day of Ramadan, when I needed to wake up at 4AM, I could not find my phone, to set my alarm. I just woke up before I was supposed to by willpower (duas). Without knowing where my phone went, I could not find my phone repeatedly, daily, sometimes multiple times a day. It was the opposite of mindfulness when it came to objects. 

I keep misplacing the phone.

Without a working Apple watch, I repeatedly am not able to figure out where my phone is. This has happened enough times that I am basically not addicted to the phone. I can go for up to 4 or 6 hours without the phone. This phone-loss was a major win. A year ago, and especially during the pandemic, it felt like the phone was almost my lifeline, the thing I must carry with me at all times, like a piece of government-issued ID.

Case in point: Saturday at the bazaar I was without a working phone.

On Saturday, I went to the MCMC bazaar to shop with my family around 1:30. At 2:15 my husband said he’s leaving, that he’s had enough. I was delighted he came with me, this was probably the first bazaar I’ve done with him in 17 years, and I was rather surprised he would even join me. He actually helped me not buy something that was secretly hideous. He took our child home because there was not enough for the kids to do there. Before I left, I made the dua of entering the marketplace. I have a tendency to either buy nothing, or buy everything I can get within a budget.

Sometime around 3PM I realized my phone was dead. I didn’t have a car. It was a mile walk which my daughter insisted we make, but I was fasting, carrying bags, etc. My neighbor who is awesome but, could not be reached with a dead phone. I called my husband a few times from a friend’s phone, but he didn’t pick up, so I was stranded until I came up with a plan.

Around 4PM, it occurred to me that my husband has a Mamu that lives literally next to the masjid. I haven’t seen them in a while, since some family occasion last year, and this would be a good time to stop by. My daughter rang  the doorbell, and was greeted by family. He and Auntie welcomed us in. We talked about the Tesla Model 3 and cars for a long time. I was starting to miss my husband who would enjoy this conversation. They fed my daughter candy bars and chips, and dropped us at home. It was delightful. 

If I didn’t have a good relationship with them, would I have stopped by? Would I have felt the need to call an uber? 

The thing about family ties my Ma taught me is that if you keep your distance, no one will get hurt. And for the most part, my Ma has wisdom that is beyond me, but as I get older, I challenge a lot of the things that she taught me as a kid. She also taught me to avoid the masjid aunties (of course I became one); she taught me that people who hang out at the masjid don’t have real jobs (also true for me); and that women who wear hijab have something to hide. My Ma could probably write a comic on all her observations, and it would make a ton of money in the current media market.

She’s probably right about the family thing, but I operate very differently. I am someone who just shows up unannounced to peoples’ homes. This is how I met many of my neighbors. Because I take these risks to my ego and am not afraid of rejection, I am usually pleasantly surprised by peoples’ kindness. So far, no one has tried to shoot me, though one neighbor does have signs all over their front saying they can shoot you for trespassing.  I was literally asked for sugar from one of my neighbors and it made me so happy to be called on for anything at all. When I used to fund “social cohesion” as a concept in public health philanthropy, I definitely wondered why I had no time to meet any neighbors. It was because I spent 40-50 hours in an office plus commuting. I had no energy or interest in meeting any of these people on my street except in passing. Now, I am happy to invite them all over for any event I am hosting because why should I eat when they might be hungry? Makes NO sense at all! 

Maybe I am a little bit of a contrarian in every sense of the word. Thanks Melanie – a long time ago mentor – for giving me that great descriptor. Not owning any alarm clocks and needing to wake up at 4AM is also unorthodox. 

Digital fasting has been a good experiment in testing social cohesion principles in my real life. Have you ever tried to go without taking your phone? Have you stayed off of IG or social networks for a greater purpose? Please share. 

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