When I fall out of love with social media

Church pews in Tuscany

I

Are there ever days when you can’t face getting out of bed, when the trauma seems too much, when people seem difficult, circumstances challenging and it all just a little bit too much.

I have those days.

I have the days when crowds are claustrophobic and friends seem faux.

I have days when I am not very sociable, nights when I skip the party and times after church when I walk out the door without talking to anyone.

I have the good days too. Not just those when everything goes easy, when friendships are smooth when fun is effortless. But also those where it is hard.

When eye looks into eye. When words spoken meet ears listening. When hearts opened meet arms stretched.

II

I’ve been blogging for just over two years, tweeting for nearly five.

I’m neither a philistine or a fanatic of the social media variety. I like being social and sometimes I think I do a pretty good job of it.

Do a pretty good job of it? What kind of way of talking is that?!

It’s instinctive I tell people, it’s like a language, you just have to find your voice. Don’t listen to those who tell you rules on who to follow, how to tweet, the etiquette of engagement.

Social media is a world many people don’t know. I tried to explain tweeting to my sister last year and all I got was a blank stare.

Social media is a world some people claim to own. Not in a legal possession sort of way, but in a these are the ways you should engage and you’re welcome regardless, but really, if you’re going to do social media properly, then this is how you should do it. I’ve always reacted against that sort of thing.

Sometimes it is oppressive. I found myself defending myself for not following more people on twitter recently. I’ve tried to keep it to a realistic number, and my excuse is I’m pretty good at engaging beyond that, I’ll almost always reply, I’ll jump into amusing conversations, hilarious memes.

I felt it necessary to defend that I was doing twitter right. Or at least acceptably. Or maybe that my way was right.

III

I chose to blog about relationships.

I chose to write about emotions and feelings, and the way they find their way like water into the recesses of our life.

I chose to make honesty and openness the hallmarks of my writing. I chose to make myself vulnerable, to make myself known across the ether to those who do not know me.

And people read what I wrote. Not loads, but enough. My family, my friends. The odd influential blogger who might tweet about my writing. Retweets that generated traffic, comments from journalists and those the subject of my posts. Attention that I never felt I deserved but started to crave.

The shock finding that according to some algorithm this blog is ranked 5th out of all religion and belief blogs in the UK. Nice but weird. And unsustainable, at some point the new rankings will come and I’ll tumble off that perch.

The cost of my hallmarks was each post got harder to write. Vulnerability cuts deep. I had exposed each layer and to take the next off was painful. Writing about fear, about shame, about doubt, about past experiences or lack thereof. Writing about hopes and dreams and fears and anxiety. And fears.

IV

Walking into church after one of those posts was always hard. When I say I find going to church hard. And then walking through the doors the next day.

I tell myself if I’ve helped some people grapple a bit better with their own struggles with church, if I’ve provided an ounce of hope to those unable to see the light, then that’s worth it.

V

I never hesitate before opening up twitter to share my latest thoughts, join in whatever conversation is the topic of the day, tweet links to my latest post. I only pause a moment before making my most vulnerable statements.

I’ll spend evenings when I don’t feel like going out browsing twitter jumping into and out of conversations, commentating on the latest TV, on whether or not I should watch another episode of Breaking Bad. When I leave church early I’ll banter with people I do not know. I joke in ways I wouldn’t normally. Not in real life.

It’s not like real life.

Yes I said it. Shoot me down. I don’t think social media is real life. It’s a construct, it’s a facade. It has elements of reality mediated through technology and distance that can be great.

I enjoy it, sometimes I love it. I’ve met people I would never have otherwise, and kept up friendships that might have waned. I’ve learnt and I have grown. I’ve had in depth conversations with people I’ve never met.

But I think we ask of it too much.

It is not the same as the person sat before you. The eyes that look into eyes, the words and the silence that speak compassion. The hug at the end of a conversation. Social media hasn’t learnt how to transmute a hug.

I’ve jumped the shark. Any suggestion I might know what I’m on about gone. Any social media credibility abandoned. I don’t think my Klout score will ever recover.

VI

It’s not only the how but the what. Not only how you engage in social media or blogging that is focused through an informal never quite agreed on set of norms. But also what views are valid. What is acceptable, what will be met with nods of approval, affirming responses.

I know I can write that stuff.

Sometimes I’ve shied away from topics because it might lose me credibility. The people I want to like what I write might not like me if I said this about that, or that about this.

The feeling that my words need to speak for themselves. Because they are what I leave.

VII

When I think about the people I love the most. Those closest to me. My family and my best friends.

It is not their words that I value. It’s not their clever phrases or ability to find humorous words to add into Christian book titles.

I have a friend who is annoyingly good at cutting to the heart of situations, of getting to grips with what’s really going on. But that only works when I’m looking into their eyes.

When I think about a community that cares I think of people around me. Those I see and know and am able to touch. Those in real life. Sure social media can give me a boost. It can be loving, it can be kind, it can be compassionate.

But I don’t think it will ever be more than a bolt on to the community of people I call my friends. And if it becomes more than that maybe I’m not giving enough to my friends. Those who I can give a hug to.

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2 thoughts on “When I fall out of love with social media

  1. I tried to voice something like this on Twitter – a wariness. I think we are trying to transport whales in goldfish bowls. We are putting too much onto social media – expecting too much of it. In then end, microblogging is about small things, small greetings, small encouragements, small conversations…Leave the big things to other media, perhaps? Write a letter for once?

    Thanks, Danny. When I get to this section of the book, this is going in…

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