Note: This is an article I wrote for the June edition of my church’s newsletter. I thought it was worth posting here as well.
Before I offer anything else, I need to acknowledge that I am an avid user of social media like Facebook and Twitter—I want my bias to be clear from the start. If you don’t know what these are, I’m afraid none of this will make much sense. So, let me define “social media”: tools on the internet used to help people stay connected. For instance, email is a form of social media in that we are able to send messages to people instantly. Technically, the U.S. Mail and telegrams are a form of social media, though not on the internet.
Facebook is a website that, in their own words, tries to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” It’s a way of being connected with people around the world, and even meeting people through friends.
Twitter is a “real-time information network”, again, on the internet, that allows people to post public messages containing 140 characters or less. It’s also a way of sharing and finding out what others are doing, as well as have broad-based conversations about every day things.
I use both these online tools, as well as some others, to talk “shop” with other church folk, stay connected to family and friends who may not live near me, as well as exchange ideas about life in general with people I know and don’t know. I’ve met a number of people “off-line” (code for “in person”) after having been introduced online through a mutual friend—yes, we have to be careful about doing this. They are also tools I use to stay connected to folks within our congregation, mostly on Facebook.
As with any tool, it can be abused (like using a wrench to hammer a nail into a wall, or worse). But these abuses, I believe, do not negate the value of the tool itself. There are over 10 million auto accidents in the U.S. each year, resulting in nearly 40,000 deaths. Yet, there are not many of us who would advocate getting rid of motor vehicles. They serve a larger good that, for most of us, outweighs the potential for abuse. Plus, car manufacturers and the government are working constantly at trying to make them safer and less harmful to the environment (note: the number of auto accidents has remained relatively steady since 1995, though the number of accidents resulting in deaths has steadily declined).
My point is that social media serves a greater good in connecting people across geography, cultures, and ideologies (and all sorts of other –ologies). It is often through social media that I have learned that a friend or loved one is going through a difficult time. I’m able to offer moral and spiritual support to them immediately by responding to something they’ve posted. I’m much better at wishing people happy birthday because I get a notice about it on Facebook (I’m notoriously bad at remembering birthdays, including my own!). I am able to celebrate the every day joys with people because they posted it on Twitter, where I would otherwise never have known that my friend’s baby in New York took his first steps only a few moments before.
There are some folks who have forsworn all things internet. When we listen to the news, we hear about all sorts of evil things that are done through social media (bullying in our schools and places of work, predators engaging in unspeakable conversations and acts with our children, people’s livelihoods being decimated because of unscrupulous acts by immoral people, etc.). But, as with any “tool” there are bound to be those who find ways of abusing its goodness. As with any tool, we must be able to discern its proper use and protect ourselves against those who cannot seem to help themselves in finding ways to ruin it for everyone else. In other words, as with anything in life, we must use our common sense and avoid over exposing ourselves to potential dangers (like wearing a seat belt when you’re in a car, or wearing a helmet on a motorcycle—that might be a sore subject in Arizona, I know).
These social media tools can help promote a sense connection and community, or encourage existing communities when we aren’t able to be together face-to-face. If you are on Facebook or Twitter, I invite you to “friend” or “follow” me, if you wish, and let’s try to build a better community of faith as we seek to continue the work of transformation into which we have been invited by God. If you are not already on these social sites, I invite you to check them out for yourself and see if either might be tools to help you connect with people in your life you aren’t able to see often. If you want nothing to do with any of this, I invite you to then have nothing to do with it. Either way, I’ll see you IRL (“In Real Life”) on Sunday.