Social Media: Virtue or Vice? Pinterest Tops the 2012 Lenten Index

You can take our tweets. But do not -- do not -- take our pins.

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Lent is upon us. For the next 39 days, Christians (and non-Christians who find appeal in the idea of strategic self-denial) will give up something they love -- or at least something they tend to over-indulge in -- in the name both of sacrifice itself and of self-and-social-improvement.

Traditional sacrifices include: meat, sugar, coffee, booze, TV-watching, snacking, gossiping, lying, procrastinating, complaining, and complaining about procrastinating. And while, recently, Lenten forfeitures have come to include additions to, rather than subtractions from, people's daily routines -- "I'll exercise more," "I'll eat more vegetables," "I'll make a point of paying someone a compliment every day" -- for the most part, the sacrifices made during the 40 days before Easter rely on the classic dialectic between addiction and destruction. You give something up both because you love it ... and because you know it's bad for you.

So it's interesting that the list of Lenten sacrifices has recently expanded to include another category: social media. People, taking the digital sabbath concept to a days-long level, are giving up Facebook. They're giving up Twitter and Tumblr and Foursquare. And if the love it/leave it dichotomy holds true, their self-imposed abstinence from those platforms indicates not only sacrifice, but also the general sense that the services being sacrificed are, on some level, destructive. Their popularity as sacrifices suggests, actually, the negative feelings people have about social media services. 

Lenten abstinence, in other words, can offer an unscientific-but-still-revealing insight into how people are feeling about social media. A Big Mac Index for our feelings about Facebook.

So how are our current popular services stacking up? I did a search of tweets posted over the past day; and, within that day, there have been tons of references to giving up Facebook.

There are fewer, but still substantial, references to giving up Twitter.

Foursquare got a few sacrificial shout-outs, as well.

And so did Tumblr.

But! Take a look at the results for Pinterest. Some people are, indeed, giving up the service:

But the general consensus seems to be that Pinterest is too valuable to give up, even for six weeks:

So people can happily spend 40 days deprived of TV and dessert and (yes, even!) coffee, and of Tumblrs and tweets and Facebook's photos and messages. Pins, on the other hand? That's a sacrifice most aren't willing -- or able -- to make.

Image: Shutterstock/Pan Xunbin.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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