It's a good idea in Italy and not a bad idea in America, either. Today there are dozens of Facebook groups focused on giving up the social networking site for Lent. It was very much the rage among American college students last year, meant to "reclaim their analog lives" from digital diversions.
How addicting are the social-networking sites? The Pew Research Center reported that nearly half of all 18-to-24 year olds visit such sites at least daily, compared to just 13 percent of Internet users overall. But a significant portion of their parents have also been hooked, finding on Facebook an ongoing reunion with high-school or college classmates or an online platform to gossip with the neighbors.
Just like sweets and soda, electronic communication isn't sinful in itself. Gian Maria Vian, editor of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, insisted that text messages were "by their nature a neutral tool, neither good nor bad in themselves. It depends how they are used. If text messages are a proper way of communicating, I don't see why we should deprive ourselves of them on Good Friday or any other day." But just like too much sweets or soda, we can partake in electronic-messaging excess.
Expert pundits in Rome told the London Times they were pessimistic that young adults would listen to their bishops and take the headphones out of their ears and their face out of Facebook. Giving up electronic toys -- even the TV -- is hardly living in the desert in camel-hair clothing and munching on locusts like John the Baptist.
But thinking through the habits of our high-tech lives should make us wonder if we're too absorbed in ourselves, or worse, too absorbed in a popular culture that demands we bathe ourselves in sensory overload, demanding an ever greater "fix" of sensation -- sex, violence or music filled with rage. A message that we might try better and calmer "patterns of rest, silence and reflection" might not be an invitation to the desert. It may be the oasis in the desert that we really need.