I was able to invest more deeply in a few instead of grasping for influence from the many.
Recently, I read an article on a well known ministry blog. Speaking to up-and-coming leaders about the importance of social media, the author wrote, “If you are silent on social media you will increasingly be seen as aloof and disconnected as you refuse to be transparent to your community.”*
This philosophy is wrong for too many reasons. Aloof means unfriendly or uninterested. If you as a pastor, teacher, counselor, or parent (or just one of my friends) are spending so much time investing in the lives of others that you have little time left to cram in another tweet, this makes you neither uninterested in others or unfriendly. Quite the contrary, you are being authentic and available to the people around you in a way that social media can’t possibly touch. Please don’t stop! Those few that you are getting to serve don’t need your instagram feed. They just want your hand to hold, your eyes to catch theirs, and your ears to hear their stories.
I have a big box in my office of every letter, encouraging note, or thank you card that anyone has given me during my career. After more than twenty-five years, not a single one mentions my Facebook postings. No one has thanked me for creatively packing truth into 144 characters on Twitter. Rather each letter talks of how God, in his graciousness, saw fit to bring our lives together and how that experience changed them for the better. I’m not discounting that there are many many ways to live and share truth, only that your broad net approach on social media may be less affective than you think.
The other issue I have with this philosophy is the notion that those who aren’t on social media are displaying a refusal to be transparent. This would by default make the opposite also true that those on social media are showing a willingness to be open and transparent with their lives. I believe that the initial intentions of social media was to bring us together and more available to one another, but this flies in the face of nearly every study on the sociology of social media. Here is a small sampling of some recent research into our screen immersion:
- A study from the University of Windsor concluded that those who are heavy texters have a lesser “tendency to engage in deeply reflective thought.”
- Research from the University of Winnipeg show that “students who are heavy testers place less importance on moral, aesthetic, and spiritual goals.”
- Researchers at Western Illinois University stated that the numbers of friends a person has on Facebook directly relates to their level of “socially disruptive narcissism.”
- The University of South Carolina conducted a study that showed social media has lessened the relationship skills and self-confidence of millennials.
- An American Psychological Association shows that social media has increased people’s stress level.
- Usage of multiple social media platforms causes increased depression, according to study from University of Pittsburgh.
- A joint study from Univ. of Hawaii and Univ. of Missouri concluded that couples who are frequently on Facebook have greater “negative relationship outcomes such as cheating, breakup, and divorce.”
As best as I can tell, not only from this research, but dozens of others, social media doesn’t make us more open and transparent. I have to disagree with the blogger asserting that if I don’t use social media I will be seen as aloof. Much to the contrary, it may actually cause it.
Last year, a close friend of mine went on a similar social media hiatus for one month. He turned off all of his accounts and went dark. I recently noticed his Facebook profile and this is what he posted:
We started talking about our similar endeavors to unplug and he said, “I found myself becoming bitter, cynical, and angry at people I knew. These are people that I’ve known for years. I know these people. But all it takes is one weird comment on a post and I would become this other person. I didn’t like who I was becoming.”
One of the recurring ideas I read and hear from leaders and professional speakers is that social media allows you to reach thousands at one time. In a single click, I can get a message out to my “followers.” This illusion of instant impact does little more than sooth my conscious from repeated days of being too busy “doing ministry” to stop and actually be used by God to allow him to connect me deeply into the life of someone around me. There have been days that I honestly so busied myself with tasks, that I never got around to responding to texts or voicemails from real people that intentionally sought me out for wisdom or encouragement. They were hoping for a lifeline and I just didn’t feel like engaging. Surely, I am not alone in this feeling. I remember the reflective guilt at not seeking out the one sheep and justifying it because I sent out a tweet to the ninety-nine. I feel sure that the two retweets from my next-level social media engagement were not worth my friend going to bed heavy of heart and feeling alone.
“I found myself becoming bitter, cynical, and angry at people I knew. These are people that I’ve known for years. But all it takes is one weird comment on a post and I would become this other person. I didn’t like who I was becoming.” –– Michael P.
Don’t miss understand. Social media has its place, but it’s ability to change a life pails in comparison to the time over coffee I’m about to share with a twenty-seven year who sought me out and is trying to figure out the next steps for his life. We’ll sit together talking with our phones off; probing his heart and thoughts. No one will take a selfie of the cream in our coffee and post to Instagram. Nor do I expect him to type up my advice and send out a tweet. We’ll just be in the moment with one another, unencumbered by the need to be “connected.”