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Day 1: Social Media Challenge--Can anyone hear me? Anyone?

It is day 1.  It is cold and quiet here in Minnesota and it is cold and quiet in my social media world.  I woke up ready to be the super social media player I know I can be. I posted my first blog. Yeah! My first success! Then I went back and read the blog, quite satisfied with myself.  As I sat there, watching my lovely blog, something became very clear to me. Nothingness. I just spent a long evening crafting a beautiful entry, but if I was lucky, two or three of my friends, and maybe my mom would read it. The question became clear. Was blogging simply my personal form of shouting into the darkness? Would anyone hear?  Would anyone care? It is like if I opened my front door and yelled into the frozen Minnesota woods--yeah, I'm pretty sure there is no one there.  Even the squirrels are too pre-occupied to take notice of what I have to say.  I think the same could be said for my blog.

So, here is my first social media task: let people know I have just blogged something fabulous. I begin by considering the tools I have.  I will start with what I understand. I have a Facebook page and I know how to do a status update.  In fact, if I do say so myself, I have been known to craft a couple of tremendous posts. They don't come around often, but when they do, I know some people fall to their knees, moved by the 3 or 4 sentences I choose to share with each and every one of my Facebook friends.  Yeah, ok, I am a lurker, not a poster.  Sometimes I think about what I could say, but then look at that big empty space under the "update status" button and quickly hit escape, praying I didn't somehow just send some weird link or swear word by accident to all 224 of my closest friends.

I understand that to be an effective social media minister, I have to somehow conquer this fear of Facebook failure.  But, for now, I am going to use Facebook as a megaphone. I already worked really hard on putting together that blog, so I might as well capitalize on that and use it to jump start my new Facebook life.

So, I get the link to my blog. I see my first problem---the link is like 3 pages long.  I spend another 20 minutes looking through my blog program and find a "URL shortcut" process that renames and shortens my link.  Be aware, you probably don't want to make the link too short or mysterious.  According to United Methodist Communications, people on Facebook like to see where they are linking to. I guess not even my friends will completely trust a weird-looking link.

I provide a blurb, add the link and the Facebook post is up! Then I see something that takes my breath away.  Within the first 2 minutes, someone "liked" it! I actually think it would take longer than 2 minutes to read the blog--but that's ok, I'm not complaining. Someone likes me!  Someone actually likes me! Oh, maybe this social life is better than I thought.


Are you Becoming Your Facebook Profile?  

I gave a presentation last night at the Friends of the Bethel Library meeting and one theme seemed to come up over and over again.  That has to do with how our use of online social networks make our lives more public and our identities more co-created.  I began with the notion that many freshmen students share--it isn't real until it's on Facebook.  In other words, Facebook becomes a place where students can build a cohesive narrative of what is happening.  Together they can figure out things like "is it cool to wear flip-flops in winter?", "is playing a lot of video games good or bad?", "is it o.k. if I miss a lot of class?", and "should I keep dating my boyfriend?" With every picture they post, a clearer perspective of who they are and how they fit into this community develops.  On one hand, Facebook allows students to become part of a community in ways that were not possible before.  If they aren't socially charming or outgoing, that's o.k. because they can be part of the narrative simply by sitting in their room and posting fun sayings or cute pictures.  Facebook helps builds cohesiveness because students see things at the same time and experience the same things together--much like what happened to our country when we all sat together and watched the Twin Towers fall on 9/11.  Facebook builds a cohesive narrative.

The second thing is that Facebook builds what Sherri Turkle calls "a tethered self".  This tethered self is one that is constantly connected to the broader social web.  Whether it be through the computer or the smart phone, our social companions are always with us.  This public way of living can change us.  Instead of thinking through certain decisions, weighing the implications, we simply ask our social companions what they think. What car should I buy? What should I make for dinner? Where should we go for vacation? which classes should I take? I could make up my own mind, but its easier to just get my friends' opinions. Another implication to living a public lifestyle is that we feel obligated to share our feelings. And I mean every feeling. If I'm frustrated with my roommate, sad about a test, worried about the future, or guilty about a behavior, I had better share it with my social web. In other words, if I am having a feeling, I need to find a friend. Or I need a friend, so I need to find a feeling.

Think about some of these implications.  Instead of feeling something, thinking about it, mediating on what God is trying to show me, considering how I might be at fault, then strategizing how to respond, I simply whip out my cell phone and share my feeling with my 100 best friends.  As we live our lives in an increasingly public way, we lose that sense of self that stands in between the relationships.  We lose a sense of who we are and who God wants us to be.  Instead, we become who our social web says we should become.

Living a public life can be fun and can provide terrific ways to communicate the things that are important to us. What we need to be aware of is that when we increasingly become the person our Facebook profile says we are, we miss out on the depth of understanding our complexity, our unique giftings, and our ultimate purpose. Instead of shaping ourselves in the image of Jesus Christ, we begin to shape ourselves into the self that has been conveniently socially constructed for us.  Sometimes, there is a big difference.  Sometimes taking  time to untether, de-publicize, and disconnect may be just what we need to really find out who we are and why we are here.


Jesus' Facebook Page

You have to visit this link.  It has a great description of the Passover week from a Facebook perspective.  As we complain about how things like Facebook have diminished our depth of thinking and relationships, I think this parody demonstrates how this new medium can unearth some new aspects of people's stories and help us experience things in a different way.


Lazy Days and Lazy Friends: The Facebook Effect

I just checked. I have 169 Facebook friends. Some people might call me popular--you know--well connected. However, as I take a look at all of my "friends", its not quite so impressive. Many of them are former students who I rarely see. Some are friends from high school who I never see. Some are family members who I see way too often (just kidding :), and some are people I'm not even sure how they got in there. Only a very small percentage of my Facebook friends are my real friends who I care alot about. So does that make the time I spend reading through my mini-feed a waste of time? Is Facebook in some way eroding my experience of friendship? Has Facebook truly become the great harbinger of over-mediated and under-committed friendships?

As much as many college faculty colleagues of mine would like to hold out Facebook as a symbol of all that is wrong with today's culture, I would have to disagree. At the same time, I do have concerns with how I see Facebook slowly eroding my willingness to shut off my lap top, pick up the phone, and be a good friend. Facebook, as with any other technology, is only as good or as bad as the choices I make with it. Those choices, unfortunately, are often difficult to isolate as I automatically pop open my Facebook page and thoughtlessly scroll through the daily events of my friends' lives. Without being intentional about my Facebook use, I may slowly lose the deeper sense of connection I get when I am fully engaged in the life of a friend. Especially when I get busy, I find myself settling. The thing is, God wants more for us--he expects more from us. Friendships--true frienships--take time. They are messy and require us to sacrifice the time and energy we work so hard to keep for ourselves. They require us to break out of our cozy telecocoons, padded with wall posts and mini-feeds. The primary commandment is to love the lord our God with our entire heart, mind and soul. The second commandment is to love others as ourself. That requires commitment to quit settling for the Facebook version of friendship.

So what might that look like? I'm not saying we should unplug our Facebook connection. What I am saying is that we should truly plug in to our Facebook connection. That means really paying attention to the status posts left by our friends. I have found to do this well, I need to focus in on just a handful of friends. I can't commit to becoming truly involved in the lives of all 169 of my friends. I can, however, respond to a few true blue friends. My husband is especially good at this. As soon as he reads something interesting on a post, he picks up the phone and calls the person. He finds out so much more about what is going on and he communicates to his friend that he or she is someone of value. When I see on Facebook that someone is having a hard day with the kids, I pray for them or offer to babysit. When I see a student is studying hard, I'll send a private note of encouragement. With a little bit of intentionality and commitment,Facebook doesn't have to turn us into lazy friends. Facebook can be the manner in which we search for new ways to truly connect.