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.

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.