I don’t really know how to have a healthy relationship with social media. Well, not all social media. Facebook and Instagram hold little appeal for me. In fact, the only reason I even have a Facebook account is because I’m going to be doing some social media work for Life in Deep Ellum during my practicum. That work will end in May, so my plan is to completely be rid of Facebook by the end of May (and by that I mean, actually delete the account). That’s really only because of my concerns about privacy and social manipulation that a platform like FB is capable of).
Instagram — I don’t know. I don’t really use it very much, and it’s like that happy-clappy part of the internet that seems to do little harm. It’s at least a little bit nice to look back at my own account and see something I thought was worth capturing on a specific day.
Twitter is a whole other problem for me. I don’t really know what it is about the platform that draws me. Perhaps it’s my ability to connect with people outside of my own circles, or at least see what people in the field of theology/philosophy that I respect are writing and thinking. Maybe it’s the ability to quickly write off a thought without thinking about it. The problem is, I don’t even have the Twitter app on my phone, and yet I still find myself with an open Twitter tab in Safari all the time. I also sit in front of a computer most of the day, so it’s really easy to keep a Twitter tab open and hop on it.
The problem is obvious: it’s distracting, and easy to open and scroll through when my mind hits the “boredom wall” or the “lack of focus wall.” If I hit a point where I need to sit and think — about a project or an email or whatever else — my natural tendency is to avoid that intense focus if there is an easy-to-find distraction. Further, I can’t deny that I really like being up to date on the goings-on of the day.
I think I know what the answer is. I’m just not quite ready to admit it yet.
From Alan Jacobs (way back in January 2016!):
- I don’t have to say something just because everyone around me is.
- I don’t have to speak about things I know little or nothing about.
- I don’t have to speak about issues that will be totally forgotten in a few weeks or months by the people who at this moment are most strenuously demanding a response.
- I don’t have to spend my time in environments that press me to speak without knowledge.
- If I can bring to an issue heat, but no light, it is probably best that I remain silent.
- Private communication can be more valuable than public.
- Delayed communication, made when people have had time to think and to calm their emotions, is almost always more valuable than immediate reaction.
- Some conversations are be more meaningful and effective in living rooms, or at dinner tables, than in the middle of Main Street.
Repeat after me: It is not my job to respond to every outrageous news story. It is not my job to respond to every outrageous news story. It is not my job to respond to every outrageous news story.
Jacobs’s last three points, for me, are the most freeing (and perhaps slightly condemning). We need to find more value in in-person, private, delayed, thoughtful conversation over online, immediate communication. Those conversations are not only less likely to be heated and fruitless — they are more likely to be meaningful, beneficial to our smaller communities, and more likely to effect change.
Twitter has a much stronger draw for me than Facebook does. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps it’s the constant flow of information or the thought that I have access to a world of thought completely outside of my own normal circles (my Twitter feed is generally much less conservative than my Facebook feed).
I actually quit Twitter for a little while. I used it for a few years very regularly and then got tired of how much my attention was being grabbed by it right around the end of the 2016 election. I also remember being disappointed in myself for constantly thinking in “tweetable” thoughts. I.e., anytime I attempted to chase down a line of thinking, I couldn’t help myself but find ways to tweet about it, which inevitably stunted my ability to flesh out my thinking on pretty much anything in a meaningful way. So, I archived my entire Twitter account and deleted it completely.
That was fine for a little while until I felt the need to return. My hope was that, having had some time off, I could better manage my attention and my thoughts and who I followed. Some of that has been true. I’m much more careful now about what I say and how much time I spend on it look at that feed daily. Something is still not quite right though. I see a lot on Twitter about how it has changed — that the way we interact with one another is far too insular, that we are especially reactionary on it as opposed to other platforms, and so on. But I’m not convinced that Twitter is changed (besides bumping us up to 280, curse the name of Twitter forever) so much as American culture and thought life has changed. Twitter is reactionary because we are reactionary. Our experience within Twitter is stunted and insular because we are stunted and insular.
My concerns with Twitter abound, and after experimenting with it for a second time, I don’t know that I’m any better off than I was the first time around. I might personally handle it better than I did a year ago. But as I told my wife recently, I can’t help but feel like when I log in to Twitter, I am greeted with a thousand voices that are demanding that I care about the political issue that just occurred, or the new sexual harassment revelation in Hollywood or D.C., or today’s theological controversy. The fact is, for the most part, those things are not my job to care about. There is literally nothing I can do about them, despite the fact that those thousand voices lay an infinite demand on me each day that I can and should. The better, more effective work that I can do is right here in my own tight-knit community.
I’m sure there are a lot of reasons I’m starting blogging again. One particular reason I can point back to is this post by Alan Jacobs, whose blog I follow semi-regularly. I think all the time about Twitter and attention and how the internet and social media have affected our lives. Re: all of this, Jacobs writes:
If you’re trying to address complex issues on Twitter, you are serving as your own Handicapper General. Please stop. Get a blog. You’re damaging your brain and the quality of public discourse. We all deserve better.
Anyway, that was actually an aside to my point here. My real point is the following. I was perusing Jacobs’s blog this morning, just because I like the simplicity of his site and way in which he seems to be apathetic to how others may think of him. He allows no comments, for example, and the whole site seems to be geared more toward his keeping track of his own thought life. I’d like to do the same. Sorry – that was another rabbit trail.
I came across another blog of his, called Text Patterns through his normal blog, and one of his more recent posts about Ephraim Radner’s A Time to Keep. Two things struck me:
- The comment section in this post was incredibly charitable. Radner himself jumped into the comments and he and Jacobs had a back and forth about Jacobs’s inability to understand some of Radner’s writing. Not something you see often. I have generally trained myself not to read comments because they either do not add to the discourse or cause me to lose my faith in humanity. This was a delight to see.
- Within the comment section, Jacobs wrote the following in a reply to Radner:
It is also possible, and I have been thinking about this a good deal lately, that the ways some minds work are simply incompatible with the ways that other minds work, such that genuine mutual understanding is just not achievable — at least in this vale of tears. That is a sobering thought for me, given that I have devoted my career to the interpretation of texts and to the charitable reading of them. But it may be the conclusion that I am forced to here.
This touches a bit on something I’m planning to write about in the very near future: essentially that we are (at least sometimes) incapable of “genuine mutual understanding” between minds. My work is leading me to the realm of knowledge and faith and how those two things interact with one another. My suspicion is that our desires and emotions and cultural/social contexts form a complex web that we can neither see nor transcend. Further, it is this foundation of desire/emotion/social context that forms our (pre-reflexive) response to propositional claims to truth. In other words, we are incapable of evaluating fact claims – empirical or purely rational – via objective reason. Our responses to and evaluations of those things are always pre-formed by a more foundational part of our being – desire/emotion/social context. Perhaps it is the same when we try to gain “genuine mutual understanding,” in Jacobs’s words, between two minds.
Do you remember when blogging was a thing? It wasn’t even that long ago. It was only 2011 or 2012 that I paid a lot of attention to what could be categorized as the “Christian Blogosphere.” I had my own blog that I posted on regularly, linked to other blogs, and had a large RSS feed where I watched all of this content come in every day.
And then, all of a sudden, it just wasn’t a thing anymore.
I don’t know why that is. I know Twitter became much more popular than it was previously, and video content soared for news sites. Another big shift in the last few years has been the resurrection of podcasts. This one in particular is interesting to me — that podcasts somehow made a comeback. It’s such a slow form of information intake. It makes me wonder if blogging will have its own sort of comeback. Perhaps not in the same way that it existed previously. I just know that Twitter, even with 280 characters, is incapable of allowing us to expand and extend our thoughts, mulling over the words, savoring a single line of thinking for a few minutes.
Or I could just be stuck in my own head and in my own world. It’s very possible that I have only “noticed” these changes because I’m the one who has changed — that blogging and podcasting and Twitter are as popular as they ever were, and my arrogance leads me to believe that because the way I interacted with them changed, so did everyone else.