Sunday, March 6, 2016

the gift and cost of social media

Perhaps you've noticed. (More likely not.)
I haven't blogged much lately.

At first, it was because I finally joined Facebook. That took up much of my discretionary time. Finding and "friending" friends from all the places we've lived was quite an undertaking. Looking at their family photos and reading their walls and checking my newsfeed filled more hours. Within a week I had 300 friends. Within a month 500. Now two months have passed and I have over 600 friends, though I haven't been actively looking for more and have yet to scour my contacts for those I've missed. It all happened too fast to properly "catch up" on each one's journey. I told myself it was a "training" period, and that life would get back to normal. That I would find a new and sustainable rhythm. That I would get back to blogging. But weeks passed.

Other factors interfered.

Mere days after I joined Facebook, George Fox asked me to teach a class for them immediately. I scrambled to put together a syllabus, fill out all the paperwork, and get ready for classes to start. With less than 2 weeks' notice to prepare, this left little time for blogging.

Then there was Danny's 10-day trip to Thailand and my looming dissertation deadline (now past), the girls' theatre performance (see Facebook for details :)), my parents' visit from out of town, a series of meetings at church, etc, etc.

Life has been busy enough that my virtual disappearance from this blog is justifiable. But what's been nagging at me is that time itself cannot explain my silence. On many a quiet evening I could have been blogging, but I didn't. Why not?

My swirling thoughts have coalesced around two reasons. The first is personal, but the second may point to issues more universal.

First, I am teaching. I find that having a regular "outlet" -- real people with whom I can speak about deeper issues -- brings enough satisfaction that I feel less compelled to write. I found this to be true last spring as well, while teaching at Multnomah. I am still speaking, thinking, teaching, but the venue has shifted from blog to classroom. ("Carmen, you mean to say that you blog because you need to write, not because we need to read?" "Um, yes. If you benefit, too, that's a bonus.")

The second issue is deeply ironic. A big reason that I joined Facebook was to have a naturally wider network with which to share my blog posts. I had noticed that whenever a friend re-posted one of my blog posts on Facebook I had a LOT more readers. I figured if I was going to take the time to write, all my real-life friends should know about it, not just the few who think to check my blog. However, Facebook has not only swallowed up time that I could be blogging, but it's sapped the reflective impulse as well. These days, if I have a share-able thought I can release it to the world in a matter of moments -- a few sentences and I'm done. This preempts the deeper reflection and harder work of developing a blog post worth reading. This one, for example, has already taken me more than 30 minutes took me over an hour. I could have made the same point on Facebook in a matter of seconds:

"I joined Facebook so that I could share my blog with all of you. But now I have no time to blog, so all you get is a picture of what I ate for dinner."

Facebook can also leave me feeling scattered. Between birthday parties and memes and videos mocking Donald Trump and articles about ADHD and funny pet stories, I lack the singularity of focus that writing a blog post requires.

It's not all bad. I've done a lot more "listening" over the past 2 months. Facebook has become a virtual reunion, as I've reconnected with friends from all the places where I've lived -- Colorado, Oregon, the Philippines, North Carolina, Illinois -- who are themselves scattered the world over. That is such a gift.

What I didn't expect was deeper connections with people right here in my own community. After all, I was mostly joining Facebook for the far away folks that I won't see in church on Sunday. But pretty quickly I found "friends" from church as well, and we're still new enough here that it's helping me keep names and faces straight and enhancing conversations at fellowship time between services. ("Congrats on your new . . . "; "I was sorry to see that . . . "; "How was your big meeting this week?")

Another fun surprise has been the professional networking. Instead of seeing colleagues once a year an academic conference, I am glimpsing the rhythm of their life and work the whole year through, and I'm seeing them more holistically -- as real people with families and birthdays and ministry involvement and vacations. In the long run, I think this is a win-win.

In the meantime, I still need to find a sustainable rhythm for Facebook and Blogger that will help me stay connected without disrupting deeper reflection. If anyone out there has ideas, message me or leave a comment below. I'm going to post this post on Facebook and call it a day...

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