Photo: Wikimedia, CC
NASCAR driver Michael McDowell was fiddling with the Facebook and Twitter apps on his phone recently when his 3-year-old son, Trace, wanted to go play.But McDowell, distracted by social media like so many others these days, wasn’t done updating his status.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, wait â€” I just gotta finish this,’ ” McDowell recalled. “Like it was important, like it had to get done.”
In the big picture, it wasn’t important. So when the topic of life’s distractions came up at a weekly Bible study McDowell and his wife, Jami, host at their home with other NASCAR drivers and their wives, McDowell made a decision: He would take a 30-day break from social media.
On Monday night, after the Bible study session had concluded, McDowell tweeted:
“I am signing off be back on Twitter and Facebook in 30 days. It is time for a social media fast.”
[NASCAR drivers are, of course, dependent on their many sponsors who look to their social media presence as a measure of how much exposure they’re paying for. So this move has potential financial consequences down the line.]
He immediately deleted the apps from his phone — before he even read the responses from some of his 35,000 Twitter followers — and hasn’t checked the account since.
McDowell still has an auto-posting service tweeting daily Bible verses, but he won’t be making any personal status updates until the brief NASCAR offseason concludes next month.
“For me, it’s like it’s become almost an addiction,” he told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “It’s something you almost have to do; you want to see what people are saying and you want to keep your fans up to date and you want to be engaged â€” but you don’t realise how much time it actually takes.
“We don’t have much downtime, and with two kids, I just got to the point where the season is going to start soon and I want to make sure I’m engaged with my family with the time I do have while I have it instead of constantly checking Twitter.”
Fans who responded were largely supportive, even though McDowell hasn’t seen their responses. He instinctively reached for his phone several times, though, which showed him just what a difficult habit it is to break.
“You’d be blown away by how many times I go into my phone and I go into the folder and it’s not there and I go, ‘Oh, hey! It’s not there anymore,’ ” he said.
McDowell views a dependence on Twitter and Facebook the same way he looks at a reliance on something such as energy drinks — as “idols” which can become consuming and overshadow what really matters in his life.
“The only thing we should be dependent on, for me, is God,” he said. “I don’t want to put anything before that. If I have time to go look at my Facebook and Twitter for an hour, surely I have time to open my Bible and read it, you know?”
McDowell was one of NASCAR’s social media pioneers. He joined Twitter in April 2009 before the vast majority of drivers — and was the first driver to attend a NASCAR “tweetup” (a meeting of people on Twitter). He’s long used social media to connect with his supporters, who he refers to as “McFans.”
He emphasised he’s not turning against social media as a whole and said there’s “a lot of good that comes from it.” On a personal level, McDowell said, he just needed a break.
“It’s got nothing to do with anybody else, other than I was spending too much time on it,” he said. “I’m cutting it out because I saw something unhealthy in my own life, not somebody else’s.”
McDowell hasn’t announced his complete 2013 plans yet, but said he expects to be back in Phil Parsons’ No. 98 car in the Sprint Cup Series. There’s also a possibility McDowell could drive some Nationwide Series races again (he drove five Nationwide events for Joe Gibbs Racing last season).
The 28-year-old is entering his sixth full season of NASCAR competition. He’s made 114 starts in Cup with a best finish of 20th and has 15 top-10 results in 83 Nationwide races.
Follow Jeff Gluck on Twitter (AT)jeff(UNDERSCORE)gluck
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