I’ve been blogging for 13 years, and have seen the arrival of social media and its impact not just online, but in “real life” as well. I’ve used various social media tools (Twitter, Tumblr, FB, Get Glue, Foursquare, etc) over the years, but recently have reduced my use of them, sometimes going for weeks without checking them or posting. A few days ago some friends and I were discussing some of the good things, and bad things, about online life and the evolution of social media. It was a conversation with actual words that were articulated and heard, looking at each other, although everyone did keep checking their phone after every beep, whistle or song. After some thought, I realize I have a love/hate thing going on with social media.
- Keeping up with friends (old and new)
- Being able to share openly without having to see an actual face (of rejection)
- Feeling connected (although nothing compares to the connection I miss having with my twin)
- Instant feedback
- Being able to share openly
- Being expected to share everything
- Knowing everything every minute (if I choose)
- Instant feedback
- Illusion it provides
Most likely if I thought harder, I could come up with a much more comprehensive list but I’m not inclined to do that right now. I’m not unaware that I have a degree of control over all of the above. Even though I might be expected to share everything, I have the right to choose to not share everything a right which I invoke all the time. I’ve come to realize that instant feedback is not always the best feedback because we all need time to mull and reflect before responding to situations/questions that require sincere, thoughtful feedback.
If you were to meet me, what you know about me from any of the various social media outlets do not give you a complete picture of who I am. Thirteen years ago when I first began blogging that was not the case as I blurted just about anything “out there.” Age and experience provide wisdom perhaps, because in hindsight, I’m probably lucky that nothing worse than happened, happened. What I blog now has more to do with what I’m trying to work through or process, or questions I’m trying to answer than anything else.
That’s not to say that what I post is unauthentic or “lies” either…it’s just not a complete picture. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, for example, you know more about my dogs and what they’re doing than my day-to-day life. If I’m with a group of fellow friends on Facebook you also might know where I am (if I remember to check in). On Twitter, you know what I’m watching on TV, how the weather is, possibly what I’m reading, and how much I need Starbucks at least once a week. I purposefully do not discuss work other than in banal comments about fire drills, being glad it’s Friday, counting down to a holiday or desperately needing coffee. I do not discuss friends or family without their explicit permission.
Social media was not made to take the place of face-to-face community. As an agoraphobic, that’s important for me to realize (it’s taken me longer than it should have) and I continue to struggle with face-to-face community. We were not created to live in isolation. It’s easy to hide behind the façade of social media and convince yourself that it’s “real” when in reality it’s merely glimpses into people’s lives, little parts, but never the whole.
I have friends who attend church online, and who use the various avenues to encourage one another, to share requests and needs, and to exchange insight. I know that there are lots of online Bible studies out there, and I’ve toyed with participating in them (but have not). I do lurk at an online book study.
The easiest choice for me would be to immerse myself in the online world. I wouldn’t have to leave the house. I wouldn’t have to talk (out loud). No one would know if something said hurt me and no one would need to know what a mess I am and how much I struggle. So I’m definitely not criticizing anyone else’s choice. Nor am I suggesting it is not real in its own way. But I think there has to be perspective and balance.
I’m not sure easiest is always (1) the best choice or (2) the choice God would have me to make. The online world can be affirming, it can bring out the best in people, and at its best, it affords people the opportunity to share and encourage one another. But please, be safe in doing any of those. And please, know that it cannot take the place of face time with people or the place of being involved in community. It cannot take the place of sitting at a table with friends praying together. It cannot take the place of gathering together for a meal. It cannot take the place of a real hug, or a real shoulder to cry on, or a real person to celebrate with.