18 April 2010
But is Social Media "Real"?
One of the criticisms I hear in church circles about social media is that it isn't "real". People mean a few different things when they say this.
- Social media is no substitute for human contact. And everyone in social media agrees. It isn't and never will be. One recent study shows that the use social media does not lessen human contact. In fact, for intensive users, social media actually increases personal human connections. In a TED talk ethnographer Stefana Broadbent argues that the internet increases intimacy. Social media is great because keeps us connected between those face-to-face contacts. I just learned last night that two of my parishioners got engaged. They posted it on Facebook from their Blackberrys and within an hour I saw it on my iPhone. I knew almost instantaneously and sent them my congratulations. This is part of ministry now. By the end of 2011, 50% of people will be using smart phones.
- This is just a fad. People say this is just the latest new thing and it will pass. Agreed. Technology is changing at lightening speed. Facebook and Twitter will definitely take new forms (Twitter's redesign will be launched soon), and they'll eventually be superceded by some new technology. However, while the specific services will change, what will not change is the new and ubiquitous way people creating, communicating, and sharing. This is not just technological development. This is a major culture shift on the level of the printing press, and we better pay attention. The longer you wait getting into social media, the harder it will be to catch up later.
- Its also a theological criticism that faith and relationship cannot be carried through technology. Here I'd refer them to the great work of·Elizabeth Drescher on the role of technology in communicating faith. ·For me, anytime people share their lives with others it is a holy thing. ·People might be posting links, quotes, funny stories, pictures, video or whatever - it really doesn't matter. ·It is the act of sharing that is the carrier of faith. ·Just this week a parishioner of mine was wondering what to do about her daughter's choice of college. ·They are balancing the academics of th e schools with the financial aid packages. ·She posted her questioning on Facebook. ·I was one of a number of people that responded. ·Some responses were funny. ·Some were heartfelt. ·Each time I received a notification of another comment, I had the feeling we were doing group spiritual discernment.
My short answer to the question, "Is it real?" is this: its real because it is part of our people's lives. Period. ·47% of all internet users visit Facebook daily. ·The average Facebook user spends·55 minutes a day on Facebook. ·The church has a terrible habit of deciding what is real for people, even when talking about people's own lives.It's real because it is part of their lived experience, in which God is present and active, even online.
The New Science
For me, some of the very best writing on this comes from Margaret Wheatley in her book·Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, which I highly recommend. Wheatley traces development in the scientific understanding about how nature organizes itself, and draws lessons how organizations ought to organize themselves. Briefly, she says that though we have gained new understanding of how the world works through discoveries in quantum physics, we are still heavily influenced by the Newtonian view of the universe.
"Each of us lives and works in organizations designed from Newtonian images of the universe. We manage by separating things into parts, we believe that influence occurs as a direct result of force exerted from one person to another, we engage in complex planning for a world that we keep expecting to be predictable, and we search continually for better methods of objectively measuring and perceiving the world."
Sound familiar? She contrasts this with the "quantum world" we live in.
"In the quantum world, relationship is the key determiner of everything. Subatomic particles come into form and are observed·only as they are in relationship to something else. ...Quantum physics paints a strange yet enticing view of a world that, as Heisenberg characterized it, 'appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole.' These unseen connections between what were previously thought to be separate entities are the fundamental ingredient of all creation."
In quantum physics it is the relationships that are most important - only the relationships are, in fact, "real." Social media makes those relationships - that tissue of connections - visible.
So, it's not just about technology. It's about relationships, ·connections, the act of sharing. ·It's about how we form community in the spaces in-between.
Finally, Wheatley quotes a Sufi master, who once said:
You think because you understand one you must understand two, because one and one makes two. But you must also understand·and.
That is our task as pastors - to understand, participate, and point to God within the "and"of people's lives. ·It is the task of the community of faith - or followers, or friends - to say of their experiences, questions, surprises, hopes, and dreams, "Yes, this is real."