Social Media and the Divine Disconnection



twabsence [twæbsəns] n. a break taken from use of social media, such as Twitter or Facebook (coined 2011 by Jason Sims and Mathis Sneed)


This post has no point. Sorry.

Or, at least, it has no conclusions. This is me working through feelings about a subject that’s too nebulous to have concrete thoughts on at the moment.

It goes back two or three years. I have a friend who quits Twitter and Facebook. A lot.

These days, you don’t even notice. You get a friend request from him, or see that he’s following you, or that someone’s saying you should friend or follow him. And you realize that he’s been gone again.

The part that’s odd to me is that, frequently, in the time he was gone, he’s become someone else; his user name is slightly different than it was the last time you followed him, indicating that he’s actually creating new accounts each time, instead of just returning to the unused one. Why, I don’t know.

But the subtlety of the way it happens lately is a change from the past. In the past, each departure would be marked with a long period of tweets or statii about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media.

That’s right — he was spending time on social media talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media (talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media [talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media {ad nauseum}]). The solution seemed simple — stop talking about it, and then you won’t be.

It’s not uncommon. Author Anne Jackson, whom I follow on Twitter, recently began a month-plus-long Twitter break, having just returned from another two-month break last month. One can look at her Twitter feed and see where it would be overwhelming. If I used Twitter like she does, I might sell more books. Promoting awareness has always been one of my weak suits, and she’s far better at it than I.

Also not uncommon, and very fascinating to me, is the social media Lent break. At least one good friend of mine has stopped using Twitter for Lent. Another person I follow has stopped tweeting after 5 p.m. for the duration.

Others are curtailing their social media use in other ways for Lent. It’s fun logging in on Sunday and watching them catch up on what they’ve missed saying.

I wrote on Ash Wednesday about Lent and what I was doing this year, but I don’t know that I got deep enough into one of my major issues with the way a lot of people treat Lent — they either give up something bad, or they give up something good.

Many people use Lent as an opportunity to give up something they really feel like they probably shouldn’t be doing anyway. And then, after 40 days, they go back to doing it. If it’s really something you shouldn’t be doing, don’t give it up for Lent. Give it up. Period.

Other people give up things that are actually good things, in order to give something up. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, the time is always right to do the right thing. If you should be doing it, don’t stop.

The better approach I’ve seen is to give up luxuries. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re not needed, and their absence prompts an awareness, and that awareness can lead to the contemplative discipline that I think is at the core of Lent.

The problem there is that, again, there’s often little long-term beneficial take-away from it. People often choose luxuries that they believe they over-indulge in. So for Lent, they give it up. And after Lent, they all to often return to the way it was before. Because nothing has changed. Because the secret isn’t in being able to give something up temporarily.

The secret is in moderation.

Which brings us back to social media.

Personally, and this is just my bias, I disagree with giving up social media for Lent. The reality is, we live in an age when social networking is an important part of how we communicate. As Christians, we have an obligation to communicate. Our job is to share our gospel. In my opinion, at the point where we make ourselves less effective communicators, we fall down on our divine obligation.

I’ve had several people say they don’t use Facebook or Twitter or other social media because they don’t want what it is.

Well, what is it?

Many years ago, I toured William Faulker’s Rowan Oak home in Oxford, Miss., and the tour guide said something I wish I could remember about how Faulkner used the telephone. Basically, the upshot of it was that Faulkner believed that the telephone in his house was not there for other people’s convenience, it was there for his convenience.

Amen, brother.

But we lose track of that. We carry a cell phone so that other people can get in touch with us. It becomes not a convenience, but an obligation.

Me, I believe that’s why my cell phone has voicemail. Leave me a message, and if I believe it’s worth my time, I’ll call you back. Otherwise, I’ll respond in a way that’s respectful of both of our time.

But I digress.

Social networking is no different. It is what you make it.

Facebook, in particular, is one of the most versatile tools to come down the pike in a very long time. For one friend, it’s about keeping in touch with classmates. For another, it’s about rescuing dogs. For another, it’s about promoting her writing. For another, it’s about playing games. And those are just personal accounts, without getting into pages and the like.

The flip side of that, however, is that, because there is so much it can be, it can become more than you want it to be. Let Facebook become how you play games and how you keep up with friends and how you promote your band and how you do whatever else, and it gets to be too much.

Moderation.

Twitter’s more focused, but even in the one or two things it does well, it can become too much. It would easily be possible to follow enough people who are posting enough that it would take all your waking time to keep up with it.

Moderation.

But the same thing is true of any means of communication. You could write letters all day. You could talk on the phone all day. You could read books all day.

Any of that would be unhealthy. But so would not communicating.

Moderation.

My challenge would be, don’t give up social media for Lent.

Develop a social media strategy for Lent.

But whatever your reason for taking a break, don’t take a break that’s going to return you to being overwhelmed after Easter or in May or after a month or whatever you’re giving it up for.

We share the Word by sharing our lives. And in this day and age, social media is one of the best tools we have for doing that. Every tweet doesn’t have to be about God for it to serve Him. It just has to build relationships. To make connections. So that those may let Him be seen in you.

If you’re a Christian, and you’re giving up social media for religious reasons, my challenge would be this — am I using this in a way that serves God or not. If so, don’t give it up. If not, then don’t just give it up for Lent. Give it up. Period. And ask yourself how it could be better used.

In moderation.

Foe? Sure.


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Enemies.”

 

Me at a DM reunion held a few years ago holding a picture of the photo I used on my columns when I started writing for The Daily Mississippian. Photo by Lain Hughes.

I should have been editor of The Daily Mississippian.

At the end of my sophomore year at Ole Miss, I decided to run for the editorship of the student paper.

I was the only person who met the qualifications to be editor.  They allowed two other candidates to run.  Next, of the three of us, I was the only one to finish the test demonstrating competency to be editor.

Then there was a meeting of the editor selection committee, composed of students, journalism professionals, and members of the university staff. I could relate the stories I heard of what happened in that meeting, or of the outside factors that supposedly biased the selection, but they really don’t matter. Long story short, I wasn’t selected.

I was upset.

In fact, I was bitter. Bitter against the system I felt had cheated me, and bitter against the candidate who won.

I left the official student publication and launched my own local entertainment publication. By any reasonable measure it was unsuccessful, lasting only four issues, but it succeeded in the important area of letting me spread my wings and get experience I couldn’t have gained at The Mississippian.

Over time, my bitterness faded.  The selection committee most likely did me a favor. I had potential; I needed discretion. Losing the editorship earned me some personal maturity and pursuing my own publication  earned me some professional maturity that I would have missed out on had things gone differently.

The candidate who was selected was a different matter. She hadn’t done me any favors. She got something that I had worked hard to be qualified for and she wasn’t. She squandered the opportunity she’d been given. That bitterness was harder to let go.

I saw her once, a couple of years later, at a wedding. Her gang and my gang avoided each other.

Over the years after that, there were only the occasional rumors, friends who had brief contact or had heard news. I didn’t really keep track, but listened when people had something to say, especially if it was bad. I wanted vindication. I wanted proof that the wrong choice had been made.

And then came Facebook. To her credit, she put in the friend request to me. She doesn’t use it much, so we don’t have much contact, but seeing her profile allowed me to catch up a bit on the intervening years.

I’ll admit, I’ll admit that, for a brief second there, I experienced a moment of schadenfreude that her life hadn’t turned out the way it seemed to be going way back when. And, making it even worse, some of it wasn’t even about that vindication I’d talked about. No, she wasn’t in journalism anymore, so there was that. But part of it was things in her personal life.

Ultimately, though, what I saw on that page was this — we’re both just people. We both weren’t who or where we were 17 years ago. She wasn’t in newspapers anymore. Neither am I. Her marriage had ended. So had mine. She’d found new things to make her happy, to fill her life. So had I. We really weren’t all that different. And the editor selection that seemed like such a big deal all those years ago really wasn’t. And the bitterness that seemed so worthwhile really wasn’t.

I’ve prided myself on not having enemies. I mean, sure there are probably people in other countries who would gladly kill me and all that, but I’m talking personally. There are people who I’ve been at odds with, and there are people I believe have done me wrong. But I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at not holding grudges. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at not letting bitterness influence me.

But if I were to be honest, there are probably people out there that I still carry bitterness against. And that Facebook experience was a good reminder that somethings just aren’t worth carrying.

For my 30th birthday, I had a secret birthday party for myself — I planned a reunion of many of my DM fellow staff members that weekend, telling no one that there was an occasion behind it. Back then, I was too petty to invite the person who became editor. If we ever do it again, I hope she can make it.

Did Steve Jobs Just Kill The Web?


Did Steve Jobs just kill the World Wide Web?

Maybe. Kind of.

You could make the argument that he didn’t because he was too late. At least you could if you were Wired Magazine. Back in August, Wired published a very interesting piece  titled The Web Is Dead. Love Live the Internet which argued that the Web is past its prime, due to a combination of two factors.

First, they said, Web traffic is increasingly coalescing around a handful of sites. Most notably, Facebook has essentially created a parallel Web, in which a huge amount of information is organized and accessed all through one site. When you go on Facebook, you’re no longer just seeing your friends’ statuses. You’re playing games and watching videos and reading news and any number of other things. All the benefits of the Web, without leaving the comfort of Facebook.

The other factor Wired cited was the growth of apps on mobile devices (and now tablets). On my computer, when I go to Twitter, on my computer, I go to twitter.com. On the web. On my iPhone, I use their app. Same content, without going on the web. A large number of my favorite apps are the same way — Amazon, TUAW, dictionary.com, Living Social, etc. I’m getting the web content, without ever going on the web. While the last point talked about how sites like Facebook are killing the Web, on my computer, I’m still getting there by going to Facebook.com. On my iPhone, I don’t even do that.

Which brings us to the Mac App Store.  The iOS version of the App Store has been very successful, and thus has given people expectations for how an App Store should work. And the Mac App Store is playing into those expectations. When I logged in for the first time, there was Angry Birds prominently displayed, just the way it should be in an App Store. And there’s a free Twitter client. One of the complaints I read the first day was that there was no Facebook app.

Really, why should there be? The app would be designed to run on your desktop or laptop, which is capable of running a full-featured browser, letting you access Facebook in a way that lets you do more than you can in the iOS Facebook app. Arguably, there’s no need for a Mac Facebook app.

But because of the success of the iOS app store, there’s an ingrained expectation that there should be one. And if one were created, theoretically, it would be the optimum version of Facebook — a version of Facebook freed of the mobile-device limitations of previous apps and of the browser-compatibility limitations previously on desktops and laptops. And then not only would there be the option of leaving the web, there would be a reason to.

And this isn’t true just for Facebook. A year from now, will I end up editing my blog from the Mac WordPress app because it’s better than WordPress.com? And will I be getting my weather from the Weather Channel app? What web sites will I stop visiting because there are better ways of accessing their content?

There’s a bit of irony here — for the last few years, the trend has been that everything is moving toward the web, and that web applications will replace desktop applications; that I’ll be doing my word processing through the web instead of using a native application.

If the best analyses are to be believed, two years from now, I’ll be reading Facebook in an app while I’m doing spreadsheets on the web, streaming movies on to my laptop while controlling my computer through the TV. I’ll also be washing my clothes in the stove and cooking dinner in the bathtub.

Just so long as my Garmin GPS music player is compatible with my flying car.

</web>

2010 in Statuses (Extended Edition)


So there’s a Facebook app that lets you create a college of statuses from the year, but it only gives you a limited amount of space. Also, for some reason, mine only let me choose statuses beginning in February. Oh well. Anyway, here’s the mural I created using the Facebook app, and below the cut is an extended version of some of the highlights from my 2010 statuses.

Continue reading

Talking Up Space


I’ve been a bit quieter than usual here lately, and part of the reason is that for the last couple of weeks, a decent number of my spare brain cycles have been going to support an exciting project we’ve been involved in at work.

I’ve written before about the fact that my coworker Heather got approval to write an official NASA blog about her work as an education writer. The blog recently reached the end of its first pilot phase, and is currently undertaking a rather cool project — a live downlink with the International Space Station.

After the space shuttle Discovery launches on its final flight next month, Heather will talk to a member of the crew while the shuttle is docked with the space station for about 20 minutes. Live downlinks are a rare opportunity, so it’s more than a little neat that she’s getting to do this.

Since this is a project for the blog, we’re bringing an education focus to the event, and we’re doing that by working to involve students in the interview. To accompany the blog, we’ve established Twitter and Facebook accounts that we’re using to get student opinions. Due to government restrictions we didn’t have time to get waivers for, we’re doing that primarily in the form of letting students vote on which areas they’re most interested in hearing asked about. Even so, it’s a very rare opportunity for the student public in general to be involved in an event like this.

It’s a really neat project, and Heather’s doing some great stuff with it (and I’m having a lot of helping).  I encourage you to go check it out and follow and like and vote and subscribe and retweet and share, etc.

Unified Dave Theory


Andy Kaufman: You don’t know the real me.
Lynne Margulies: There isn’t a real you.
Andy Kaufman: Oh yeah, I forgot.
— Man On The Moon

When I first heard that exchange in the commercial for the movie Man On The Moon, it resonated with me, a lot. I very much felt that way about myself. There was no real me.

A friend of mine posted those lines on Facebook the other day, and it reminded me that I needed to write the post I’d been planning, on how I found myself through social media.

I considered it one of my strengths as a reporter, how easily I could fit into what ever situation I was in. I noticed it in college; I could have a great evening enjoying kitschy Japanese cinema with one friend one evening, and be someone else entirely with another friend the next. In newspapers, it gave me the ability to be “one of us” working with a variety of sources; I just sort of fit wherever I happened to be.

Four years ago, if you knew David Hitt, who you knew would depend on where you knew him. There was the upstanding, proper guy you would meet at church on Sunday morning. The knowledgeable space geek you would encounter at work. The clever wit at improv rehearsal.

Around the time that movie came out, I did feel like there was no real me. All of the things I was were true, but none of them was the truth. None of them overlapped with the others, and none of them was more me than the others.

I got married, and the person I was with my wife became the “real me.” Who I really was was the person I was at home every night. I was that person more than any other, that person seemed less like an expediency than any other, so that was the real me. There were still several versions of me — work me and church me and whatever else still existed — but I knew which one was “real me.”

And then I got divorced. Which had two major impacts on the idea of the real me. First, I lost that grounding. Without a wife, the real me couldn’t be the person I was with her. Second, I lost that identity. The real me was married. He was her husband. He was her niece’s uncle. Key elements of who the “real me” was just evaporated.

Today I have a better sense of self than I ever have. What happened between then and now? Three things:

First, and most importantly, I’ve gotten to know myself better. I have a better sense of who David Hitt is to identify the various traits that are intrinsic to who I am. I’ve come to have a better sense of who God thinks I am, and those things are, without question, the real me. Whatever He thinks, chances are, He’s right.

Second, my participation in Face2Face Improv has had a huge impact on me. Making a fool of myself on stage has made me less self-conscious; doing it well has made me more self-confident. I’m more willing to be myself in any situation, which lets me break down the walls between different versions of me and carry traits over. The traits that become more universal are the things that define the real me.

But — and this is the one that’s most fascinating to me — then there’s Facebook. And Twitter and my blog and so forth, but I think it started with Facebook.

On Facebook, there’s only one me. And that one me is friends with people from every part of my life. My family. Fellow church members. Members of churches I used to attend. High school classmates. Improv troupemates. Coworkers. College friends. My counselor. Former employees of former employers.

And that one me shares updates about all different parts of my life. Most of those pictures above have been my profile picture at some point. They’re all different versions of me, but they’re all me — the author, the iPhone addict, the improv troupe member, the hiker, the NASA education writer, the church member, the Ole Miss alum, the loving uncle, the actor.

The thing that Facebook does that changes the rules is bring those things together. Back in the day, the people who went to church with proper, respectable David wouldn’t see him making a fool of himself at improv the night before. The people I work with wouldn’t see me hiking the Walls of Jericho. Nobody but family got to see Uncle David. And things like broken engagements didn’t play out for the entire world to see.

But now, everybody sees everything. Improv people don’t just see improv David; they see the guy that geeks out about seeing shuttle launches, does a whole lot of writing trying to figure out this God thing, enjoys spending time on a mountain, and occasionally gets to do cool things like hang out with astronauts.

And those things — the combination of all those things — that now everyone gets to see are me.

The real me.

Like A Good Neighbor


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Your Neighbors.”

I’m a bad neighbor.

I couldn’t tell you the names of anyone I’ve lived next to since high school. Anywhere. Ever. Eighteen years, and I don’t know the name of a single one of my neighbors. I think the last name of the guy across the street is Yim, but I’m not positive about that. And I don’t know that from talking to him. I know that from one of my friends getting insurance information after somebody hit somebody’s car, which has happened a bit too often in the seven years I’ve lived in the house I’m in now.

Making it worse is that I’ve lived next to some decent people. The aforementioned Yim has helped me with lawn-mower problems before. Another former neighbor helped out with car problems once. And me? I don’t know that I’ve ever offered help with anything. I’m always glad to help when asked, and have done so on multiple occasions. But being aware enough to offer? I’m too oblivious.

I feel a little bit like I’m missing out, just on enjoying the benefits of that sort of relationship. It would be nice even to have the sort of acquaintance that I would feel OK asking a neighbor to get my mail if I’m out of town, but I don’t.

By and large, however, I’m pretty OK with that.

My Wednesday night Bible study group was recently assigned a curriculum by the church on gospel-centered life, and in one of the lessons, the author talked about the call to love his neighbor. He was doing a bit better than me; he at least knew one of his neighbors, he just didn’t care much for him. He wondered if he should be doing more for the neighbor, and, in particular, witnessing to him, but just didn’t feel any drive to do so.

Skipping everything thereafter in the lesson about how through his good works he got God to change him so he wanted to minister to his neighbor, and the rather large issues I take with that teaching, I’m also pretty OK with where he was, as well.

Increasingly, I feel like we’re living in a post-geographic world. I believe we should love our neighbor, but don’t believe that the idea of a “neighbor” means the same thing it did 50 years ago. And I think we need to be more open to God not being too tied up on geography, either.

I pretty frequently hear people talk about feeling guilty that they’re not witnessing to some person they encounter in their life. “I see ten people at the gym every day, and I don’t witness to any of them, so I’m a bad Christian.”

“Uh huh. And do you feel that God has put it on your heart to witness to any of them?”

“Well, no.”

“And the problem is?”

There are a lot of people on Earth. Like, really, a lot. And there are a lot of people we encounter as we go through our lives. And I don’t know that God calls us to witness directly to all of them. (I do believe He calls us to witness indirectly to all of them — we should live in a way that makes others want what we have.) I believe He often places us in relationship with certain people to play a certain role in their lives.

And I don’t think He limits that relationship to geographical proximity of residences. We’re in relationship with our “neighbors” at other places where we spend time regularly — our jobs, our churches, etc. We’re in relationship with our community of interest neighbors — the person at the gym or the book club or the improv troupe or the like.

And, increasingly, we have our virtual communities, the people we interact with on Facebook or other networks that we “see” more than our physical geographic neighbors. I don’t think those relationships are any less important to God just because they aren’t about residential proximity. In fact, I believe they’re more important, because they often involve a deeper connection.

And I would hope, that to those people I’m in community with, versus those that just live in my community, I’m really not that bad a neighbor.