Like so many of you who are reading this blog post I have been on-again and off-again with Facebook and the social media. Recently I embraced them and began to devote more time to interact with friends and acquaintances via this means. As of today I am taking a “leave of absence” to rest from this medium. I want to rethink what I do with these resources over the next few weeks. One thing I am sure of, I do not need to be a “presence” in this world of social media. I do not criticize those who use this medium for its many good purposes but I have had to take personal inventory over the past few months. Here are my thoughts.
I find several reasons for using Facebook and Twitter that have encouraged and benefited me (and I hope some of you):
I have come to know some readers (who I have not personally met yet) who pray for me and sincerely care for me as a person. Some of these friends I feel as if I know quite well even though we’ve never met face-to-face. You know who you are and there are several hundred of you. There may be more than I know actually.
This social medium has allowed me to reconnect with old (real life) friends from my past. This is clearly one of the greatest benefits I’ve discovered here. These include friends from my childhood, from high school, from college and even some blood relatives that I have not seen for years. This has been a wonderful outcome. In a few cases it has even led to talking to one another and meeting again or for the first time.
The medium also allows me to “think about some issues” in a public forum. I am a public person and thus I want to engage in public dialogue.
Reading what others say, in their heart-felt response to my posts, or in posting their own ideas against my own, is often invigorating. I like this give and take when it is done respectfully. Many do it well.
It is a legitimate way to find different opinions, solid news and resource material I enjoy. The Internet provides global information at the touch of a keyboard without having to buy anything or go anywhere. This is an incredible blessing to any person who wants to learn and grow intellectually and even spiritually.
But I have also found there are some significant negatives that have impacted my life because of Facebook and Twitter.
These negatives include:
Using this medium takes far too much of my time. I would say I sometimes spend 45—60 minutes a day reading and responding to Facebook posts and people. (My guess is that some readers spend three or four times this amount of time using the social media.) I often use my iPhone to respond to posts and comments even while I am trying to do something else at the same time. This is a habit that I did not want to develop so I am stopping it. Reading posts, and comments about posts, in such unguarded moments invites an immediate response. Generally that response is not one that I’ve had the time to think enough about before I wrote it. Many times I have regretted this response. It violates everything I understand about speech from the Proverbs.
I am honestly weary of political comments and continual ideological agendas that are promoted via Facebook posts and comments. To give just one example, the hatred for President Obama is palpable on Facebook. The discussion of race is another toxic subject. If I didn’t believe that racism was a serious problem the social media has underscored for me just how much it remains one of our greatest challenges as a culture. If you have hundreds of conservative people responding on Facebook it is even more obvious. Yes, I have a viewpoint about each of these public debates. I have political views but I am willing to continue to listen and rethink each of them. Truthfully, neither political party represents my views. (I hang up on all political calls and trash all mailings that come to be in the postal form.) My best guess is that neither party will ever appeal to me in my lifetime. (And the “third party” movements often have even less appeal with their strident and militant extremes!) Contrary to what some write in their FB comments about my point of view (POV) I am not a liberal. But I am not a conservative either. (I am not even sure what these labels mean anymore so I reject them as useless in my daily discourse.) But reading Facebook comments, often from the same people every day (and generally people that I do not know), about political and religious viewpoints, does not change my mind. Worse yet, reading these comments does not help me to be a better person. After reading people’s comments you soon know they have a strong POV and you expect that every time they use this medium they will promote this same POV. Some writers, so far as I can tell, have never posted one positive comment about anything that I write. They seem to troll sites like mine to find something to disagree with and then they pounce promoting their POV again and again. Honestly, and I do not wish to be unkind, some writers are so predictable that I have stopped reading these responses. I see their name and skip their comments. I feel sure there are readers on my wall who feel the same about me and what I write but for the life of me I do not know why they bother reading what I write. While there is truth to some of these responses (there is truth to be discovered in every criticism to be completely fair) the social medium feeds several false notions: (1) You really do know me; (2) You clearly understand my thoughts when you clearly do not. All of this leads to a general poisoning of all social contexts. My circle of friends includes people from many perspectives and backgrounds. These include non-Christians, some of whom are very good friends. I also have friends who are liberal, conservative, gay, straight and otherwise. I desire to promote love and broad social tolerance. I do not desire to invest in attempts to dialogue with people who do not know how to dialogue and disagree. Occasionally good dialogue happens on my Facebook wall but more times than not it breaks down. (When this happens you will see me stop responding!) Some readers seek to capture my wall as the place where they can spread broadly ignorant, or even hateful, speech. I know you can delete comments but in some cases you make things worse when you do if your wall is publicly available.
I honestly wonder, “Who spends all this time on the social media and why?” What real life do such people have who are online so much? I cannot answer that (I am not judging others only myself) but for me time spent on Facebook means time lost to other things; in particular my everyday important relationships. In most cases I miss other things because of this medium; e.g. listening to great music, enjoying the simple things in my life, engaging in the relaxing things that I do for pleasure (without interruption), the time to read, etc. Unplugging has proven to be a life-changing choice for some friends. I am going on a temporary retreat to determine if I will unplug completely or completely reconfigure how I use this medium.
Real friends, even social friends I’ve never met in person (some of whom have become real friends much as happened via letter writing in a bygone era), do not need to know where I am or what I am doing 99.9% of the time. Folks, I am not that important. Neither are you! The allure of this medium can pull you into this stuff even when you tell yourself that you do not intend to do it. (At least it did this for me. My bad!) Again, some use this to simply share their coming and going with real friends and this is valuable. I do not judge.
It is hard to cultivate civility on Facebook. I believe this is for reasons that are related to all that I’ve said above. I am committed to writing and contributing to the church and community by using my gifts. I will still write blogs because they can be read and shared and responded to. You can make comments which I can monitor before they are made public. Blogs can also be read and commented upon without the immediate need to respond, as is the allure of Facebook. Blogs also are accessed and read months and years after a Facebook “hot button” post has gone dark, which seems to happen in about 48-72 hours at most.
My primary work, even at age 66, is to lead a mission: ACT3 Network. This is my passion and my divine calling. My purpose is to “empower leaders and churches for unity in Christ’s mission.” This mission is supported by the prayers and financial gifts of people. Without gifts it will not succeed. We do not need large sums of money but we do need support. To my knowledge the social media, and Facebook in particular, has done virtually nothing to support this mission. While some of our best donors follow me on Facebook, and even comment on my wall, most of them support this work because they know me, believe in me and earnestly believe this mission is important enough to invest their money in it. With the limited time that I have (and I am not a fundraiser) I need to devote more of my efforts to those who truly support this mission and want to help me advance this mission. If you want to understand me, and this mission, then go to ACT3 and watch the ABC Chicago 7 broadcast that is there with the title: “Sanctuary.” There is no better way to understand me, what I do and why I do it. In addition, I believe the most important thing I write, and I do this once a week via email, is my ACT3 Weekly. I share prayer requests and an article of 600-800 words that is widely appreciated. Again, the medium is calmer and more reflective and those who subscribe are generally friends.
So, I will keep my public Facebook page set to share my blogs when they post. For now this will remain a public place but I cannot interact daily with people daily. I will not post articles from other writers or links to other posts which include my comments above the post, pro or con. These posts take the largest amount of my time and then get the most negative response of the kind that I have referred to above. Last week my posts about the same-sex debate generated more of this response than anything I’ve posted in months. What this tells me is that people want to respond to “hot button” issues. Rarely does this actually change minds or foster unity. The only context in which I’ve seen this actually happen is inside a circle of love and true friendship. Facebook cannot be used for this as a public forum. I do think responsible use can generate interest and draw new friends, which I hope my work has done.
I may eventually keep a Facebook page that is private. It would be designed only for real friends. It would allow me to share personal requests and prayer with a large degree of privacy. It would not be a public page that everyone can access or read. I can also create an ACT3 page that is public. I will think about this decision for a season and consult with those who advise me and help me advance the mission of ACT3. My guess is that the end result will be far less time on Facebook and Twitter and more time invested in what I truly love – mission, family and friends.