When this happens, I have to choose which grammatical sin I'll have to make in order to send a tweet.
Social media is very good at letting you know how much traction or clout you have, whether that is measured in likes, comments, retweets, numbers reached, followers, or shares. I like connecting with people via Facebook, I like writing this blog (most of the time) as a way of honing my communication skills while putting some ideas out there on subjects I am thinking about. I occasionally post on Twitter (my least favourite platform) and I love to post pictures on Instagram chronicling the interesting views I come across in life. At times, I do check how many readers on a particular blog, how many followers I have, and how many likes or favourites a post got. But it is a bit like seeing your salary in comparison to every one elses. Whereas before you might have been absolutely fine with how much you earned, when you see the numbers, discontentment is not far behind. Numbers go up and down, some things get no response at all while other posts generate a lot (comparatively speaking) of traffic. You begin to notice other writers/tweeters who have thousands of loyal fans because they are so accomplished at getting consistent and high quality content to their followers. But when you look at your own efforts, you feel like the last person picked for a team. Comparison does that. Counting social media influence does that, too.
To be honest, I am not trying to build a large Twitter following. I have little use for the 140-character limit which all too often means that people misspell words and use clever abbreviations to pack a lot into that tiny space. I would rather take the time to write a well-crafted sentence, with actual words, and explain myself fully in another format. I would also rather have a face to face encounter with one or two people than tweet something to hundreds of people that I don't know. Large numbers of followers and readers, in my experience, do not result in meaningful dialogues, deeper friendships, or make me a better person. Throughout history, fame and influence are too often paired with bad life choices, increased isolation from reality, and a downturn in humility and compassion. Therefore, if I have to choose between having a drink with a friend or posting a blog, I will go downtown to see my friend. Face to face is not always possible, I understand, but there are certain values present in personal encounter that I try to take with me into the social media milieu.
1. Encounter. One meaningful conversation, one face-to-face encounter is worth more than a thousand followers. Social media can be helpful to stay in touch with faraway friends, to become reacquainted with long-ago friends, or to make new friends over common interests. I love getting to know people who think like me and people who challenge me, people who need my help and who offer to help me, people who share common interests with me, be it movies or cats or travel or education or theological discourse or gluten free cinnamon rolls. I have a small circle of friends on Facebook for this reason: they are people who are in my life not as spectators but as participants (at least in theory). Most of them are people with whom I have had significant conversations. Others I just want to make sure I don't lose touch with because we don't see each other much. My online friends are ones whose comments feel like conversations over Chai latte instead of grandstanding or soapboxing or marketing. I recently had a chance to have an extended conversation with someone whom I had, up to that point, mostly interacted with through exchanging short, clever remarks on Facebook. I already liked them, but now I have a much deeper appreciation for who they are and what they do. Let social media lead me to more face to face encounters like that.
2. Reality. It is hard to engage in meaningful discourse through social media. Remote dialogue never feels natural to me, not even on a video call. I am getting more comfortable with it, but when meetings are not in person, we can only show a very select part of ourselves. I would venture to say that most people who have only read my words online and have never met me, think I am a lot more eloquent and knowledgeable and quick on my feet than I really am. In person, people get more of my context, my life, my struggles, my mistakes, my doubtings, and my idiosyncrasies. In person, they can tell when I am joking (most of the time), when I am overcome with emotion, when I am grouchy and tired, and when I think it is necessary to dance in public. I try to reflect reality in my social media postings. Since these are public forums, I am also very careful about how much I expose my family and friends, my work, my church, my home, etc. But in the mix of all that, I try to be real. I post pictures which are not the most flattering. I talk about my bad days. I talk about failing. I talk about the process of learning. I try to paint a picture of a life journey that people can relate to, not one which they fantasize about.
3. Vocation. The reason I say I don't really care about getting more followers or online friends or readers is because a larger sphere of influence has nothing to do with my vocation, my calling in life. Bigger is not better. If it was, our small faith community should be pitied instead of celebrated for the unique, variegated, encounter-oriented, transformational group that it is. I don't want a bigger platform; I want the platform that God calls me to. I do not need more social media influence; I need to be faithful to the people God has placed in my life. If I don't have a good idea of what my vocation is, I can get lost in the social media swirl, always trying to get more traction, more likes, hoping to see my ratings go up and up and up. But I know what God has called me to and it has more to do with embracing the overlooked than having lots of views. It has more to do with simplicity and humility than boosting my posts and knowing what's trending. It is not cheap and quick and remote. It is the costly work of being there for people in real life, looking people in the eye over and over again, and not walking away when things get rough. It is about cultivating contentment, peace, compassion, truth, and love. And in my experience, you can't do any of that really well on social media.
Don't get me wrong, online platforms have led to a lot of good things in my life, and at the top of that list are the times I have met someone in person who, up to that point, has only been a face or a name on the screen. In fact, next week I will be having tea with someone visiting Montreal who was introduced to me via email and subsequently became my Facebook friend. Exciting! The other "top of the list" moments are when I am reunited in person with someone after a prolonged absence, during which we have only had sporadic online communication. These coming-togethers are always so sweet. And sometimes unexpected, too. In those moments I thank God for the social media tools which can help us craft good and meaningful relationships.
May all our social media exploits be expressions of our God-given vocations, reflecting truth, love, joy, and encouragement. Above, all, may they lead us to many face to face encounters.