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Entries in Social Media (34)


Is Twitter the enemy?

My brother is not a fan of social media. He is by no means a Luddite, working himself in a industry dependent upon technology. However, he hates social media. And he especially hates Twitter and Facebook.

In the face of the phenomenon of "tweet threads," I sometimes understand where he is coming from. Rather than write blog posts, people tweet lengthy threads. Sometimes these can be easy to follow, but when they start running the length of twenty or so, they are less likely to be appealing for a reader who appreciates seeing an actual paragraph not bound by a particular number of characters.

When I see those threads, I want to yell: "Just get busy and blog the stuff!" 

But I have an idea why people use tweet threads: people are less likely to click away from Twitter to read a blog post. You've got their attention with your Tweet; why ask them to do the arduous task of clicking away to your post? In order to have people listen to you, you gotta do what you gotta do. That is certainly a boon for Twitter.

Language does change, and I'd love to have a glimpse into the world in the future to see how we communicate. Combine twitter threads with GIFs, and pretty soon we won't need words because we can just look for some celebrity making a funny face to express what we would normally do in words. Perhaps GIFs can become accompanied by music, to add a little more emotion. Then we can all carry around cellphones plastered to our heads like phylacteries, with the various emoticons, threads, and hashtags we need to eliminate the need for more than a couple of words. It's never been easier to become a communicator these days.

Writers like Dickens, Austen, and the Bröntes had to use a pen an ink. Their work was far more laborious than anything we produce today. They had to use words to communicate; I admire that. I admire someone who, using nothing but words, can paint pictures and take me out of my immediate world to look elsewhere; who can make me lose track of time. It's beautiful. Twitter is for information, but for understanding, we may have to click away.


What's in the mind when you're sober . . . 

. . . comes out when you're drunk. 

That is a saying I heard when I was a teenager. This was one of the many admonishments my mother used to encourage us as kids not to over indulge in alcoholic beverages.

Sometimes, I feel like Twitter operates on the same principle. What people really think comes out on Twitter. And that kind of approach reveals a glaring problem: people forget that Twitter users are actually people. We have all heard the reminder that we should talk to people on Twitter in the same way we would if we were face to face. However, some people probably do talk to others in that way face to face. Twitter simply gives them more freedom to do so. A bully online is a bully offlilne, too. A boor online is probably a boor offline.

I've been so disturbed lately by how people interact on Twitter. I have unfollowed people I've known a long time because of the way they bait others, insist on on having the last word, and are fuelled by nothing other than indignation. When pastors do it, it angers me, because they are supposed to be setting an example. My parents are not Christians, and one of the things my mother has said over the years is that from her perspective, Christians don't behave any better than she does. And in some instances, she is correct.

One pastor I had to unfollow is one who has often bashed young men playing video games, bemoaning their sloth. Well, what about taking time away from one's flock to demonstrate your sarcasm and disdain for total strangers online? Is that really advancing the kingdom? What kind of moral victory is it to slam someone you don't know online? 

Recently, I saw someone people on Twitter pat themselves on the back for having another Twitter use say something nasty about them. It was, apparently, a badge of honour. Really? And getting blocked by a particular person is something to boast about. Seriously? There are times when I would love to respond, but I don't. I am not going to answer a fool according to his folly.

The problem is that more than just the unbelieving world sees this kind of thing. My young adult kids see this kind of thing and it continues to foster their frustration with evangelical Christianity. They were taught not to conduct themselves like this, but they often see their elders doing so. It is a contradiction to them; they see it as hypocrisy. Those who have influence in Christian social media, if they are not going to use it with integrity should simply not use it. It is not a requirement for discipleship, and certainly there are other things one could be doing.


16th Century Blogging

I'm in the process of writing a book review of the classic biography of Luther, Here I Stand, and starting my term paper on Menno Simons and Anabaptism. Both of these men were engaged in their own kind of blogging: pamphlet writing. Three of Luther's most crucial writings were pamplets: The Babylonian Captivity, Address to the German Nobility, and The Freedom of the Christian Man. Of course, he wrote other, longer works, and other pamphlets, but those three were particularly influential. 

Menno Simons was not as well-known as Luther, but he was a prolific writer. He, too, wrote pamphlets. Just prior to his finanl break with the Roman Catholic Church, he became distressed with the fate of a group of followers from Münster, one whom was his own brother. A group of radicals, they took refuge in an old cloister which was attacked by civil authorities. Simons was distressed that these people followed erroneous teaching and were prepared to die for it. He wrote a polemic against their leader John of Leiden, called The Blasmphemy of John of Leiden. The full title is a bit longer:

A Plain and Clear Proof from Scripture, Proving that Jesus Christ is the Real, Spiritual David of the Promise, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the Real, Spiritual King of Spiritual Israel, that is, His Church, which He has bought with His own Blood. Formerly written to all the true Brethren of the Covenant scattered abroad, against the great and fearful Blasphemy of John of Leiden, who Poses as the joyous King of all, the Joy of the disconsolate, so Usurping the Place of God.

That title may be too long for a Tweet, even with the expanded character count.

The pamphlets were not like the kind we get today, glossy and with more images than words. They were well-presented arguments. It was their way of encouraging debate, much like how we would use social media today, except with more words. 

And I don't know if what they had for dinner was included in the pamphlet.


Keep some of ourselves to ourselves

There is a reason why books like Finding God in My Loneliness get written. I got a deal on that book for Kindle over the summer. I haven't read it, but I've read other things by Lydia Brownack before, and I really like her. It is, of course, one of the ironies of contemporary life that in a context where we are flooded with information and the ability to interact with people at the click of a mouse that loneliness has not been eradicated.

Augustine was right when he said we are restless until we find our rest in God. Much loneliness comes from trying to fill an empty space with something that is fleeting. And yet there are Christians who have found their rest in God who still struggle with loneliness. I often wonder how online activity contributes to loneliness among Christians.

It's popular to be transparent online. Sometimes, it really helps someone out. To find someone who understands our struggle is always encouraging. However, for the one who writes those things, there is a risk. What happens when we share our hearts and no one reacts? Does that mean no one cares? When you put little pieces of yourself out there and no one is receptive to them, it can make you feel a little discouraged. There are times when if we want to combat feeling lonely, we need to just keep ourselves to ourselves. Being too open can make us later feel exposed, and that may make us feel lonely. There is nothing wrong with guarding our hearts. Transparency is not a bad thing, but a wise person will know not to be too transparent. It takes discernment and good writing skills to word things in a way that gets to the heart of the matter without leaving ourselves open to feeling vulnerable. I haven't figured out how to do that yet. 

I need to write things to process, so I have been doing more of that offline. Blog and social media circles have become funny things, reminding me more of the high school cliques I loathed than places where one can feel encouraged to participate. I have grown more cautious as I have got older. More than ever, with our culture being so connected, I think we need to foster those face to face connections where we are confident someone cares about our thoughts and struggles. 

And of course, there's always simply taking those things to the Lord.


Be known by the people you know

Quite a few years ago, I was having a chat with my pastor, and I was really surprised when he said he'd never heard of Mark Dever. What? I, in my discovery of all things Reformed, could not believe it. Sure, Dever was not as well-known as R.C. Sproul or John Piper, but I was surprised.

Christian circles are actually pretty small, and just because a lot of Christians have heard of someone, it doesn't mean everyone has. I'm pretty sure that if I were to go out on the streets of my little town and take a poll, most would not know who Mark Dever is, if any. And most, if any, would not know who John Piper is. Now, if I asked if they knew who Taylor Swift was, that's a different story (for the record, I am no fan of Swift, but because of her recent court case, her name was first to pop up in my head as an example. This post is not an endorsement of her).

When we put something online, there is a feeling that we're known. It's like being given our own little speaker's corner. Here in Canada (and I don't know if it's done elsewhere), one of the television networks used to have kiosks on various street corners in Toronto (and I think, Vancouver) where people could record themselves talking about something. If it was outrageous enough or interesting enough, the clips would be broadcast on television, during a segment, obviously, called "Speaker's Corner." Having a blog or using social media is like Speaker's Corner daily; except, of course, for the crucial difference that most people won't ever read our blog posts. Even the "big" bloggers still don't reach people in the way that really famous people do. And even people like Taylor Swift are likely unknown in countries which don't have a steady flow of information. I suspect my Compassion child, who comes from Uganda, doesn't know who she is.

For all that we are aware of this reality, we still tend to post things on our blog, or say things on Twitter, or post pictures on Instagram which reveal that we believe we are known by everyone; as if someone is waiting for our next utterance. In most cases, it's likely that if we stopped posting to our blogs or tweeting that in a few days, people would stop thinking about us. Perhaps even sooner. I don't think about 99% of the people whose blogs and tweets I read beyond that moment of reading. Just because we can read our own blog posts or tweets doesn't mean someone else is reading them, too. And it doesn't mean we are known.

Similarly, name dropping doesn't mean we're popular, too. Seriously, if you know someone who is popular in Christian circles, more power to you. I hope you enjoy that connection. But it doesn't make you well-known, nor does it obligate others to get to know you.

We should desire to be known by those who are right in front of us. We should desire to be known by the people whom God has placed in our lives, face to face, right now. I've been guilty of caring more about what my online friends think. I am ashamed to admit that I've been obtuse to the fact that I've been doing it. We can build some great connections online, but they will never be what they can be if they were face to face.

The truth is, online connections are easier because they require less effort, and I can protect myself. The real test comes when we have to live side by side and people see our warts. We have the perfect excuse to not have to drop everything to care for an online friend, but what about those friends who have needs, and they're five minutes across town?

At time, I find it challenging building relationships. We have to open up, to expose ourselves. But at the same time, I've come to see what is lacking in a strictly online friendship. While I continue to build those online connections, it should never be to the detriment of the others. It's something I'm continuing to learn.