I think I’ve been on Facebook just about as long as it is possible to have been on the social media site without being a college student. (If you recall, that was once a requirement.) One of the questions that anyone has to ask themselves is why they choose to do the things they do. What types of activities are worth our time? I have invested significantly in Facebook and to a lesser extent in Twitter. To what end?
As I think about how to get down to the essence of what social media offers me, the simplest answer is that it provides me with access to other minds. The group of people I have collected and who have collected me make up a valuable resource that would be difficult for me to replicate in any other way. I have a ready-made cloud of various types of people — pastors, professors, politicians, corporate professionals, teachers, mothers, fathers, family members, fellow Christians, sometimes even the occasional celebrity, and many more — from whom I can learn and with whom I can seek to communicate and share.
Let’s start with how social media provides input to me. Before Facebook and Twitter, I had a morning routine. I visited about 5-10 different political, news, and religious websites. Then, I consulted another handful of blogs. It was a good routine. It worked for me. But it was inferior to what I have now. By merely scanning my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I get a sense of the stories many people I find intelligent and interesting recommend. These links take me to publications I may not have known exist and expose me to new writers and thinkers. Is there some chaff with the wheat? Certainly, but the overall effect is better. I know too many smart people not to benefit from the things they are reading and discussing.
The personal side is pretty obvious. Facebook is now the way we hear about so much of what is happening in people’s families, their professional lives, and sometimes their personal struggles. I absolutely understand the people who choose not to spend time on social media. There are definitely virtues to it, but staying out also brings a degree of isolation simply because so many people use it as a way of communicating about personal events.
Alright, so what about output? Some people are Facebook lurkers. They don’t have a desire to ever make a post and not even really to comment. They are satisfied to read, observe, and simply be in the know about what’s going on. And there is nothing wrong with that. But if you are reading this, then you probably know I’m the opposite. I am a professor, a writer, a former professional public policy combatant, a husband, and a father. All of these activities, for me, fall under the Lordship of Christ over my life. I am accountable to use what I have been given and to be a good steward. It has always seemed to me that I should enter the fray if I have something to offer and that I should share the things that I have that are good. It is perhaps not surprising that what people like the most about my Facebook activity are the interactions I share with my children. Unfortunately, those are spontaneous and I don’t have a great kid moment every day!
Again, though, this is a question of having access to minds. I feel that I should try to reach out and touch other minds when I have something I think is worth saying. For me, social media is not some little added activity. I consider it something like a personal ministry. I have to be accountable to Union University, to my church, and to others for what I do there, but that only makes sense. I want to be an integrated person with everything in my life relating to the other parts in a consistent way. The goal is to speak and write so as to give something that is of benefit to others. Sometimes that is funny or cute. Other times it has to do with matters that are urgent and serious.
There is something else, too. I have found that relationships on Facebook often turn into real relationships. I’m not sure I could produce an adequate inventory of the people I have met online and through social media and then had an opportunity to meet in person. Not only have these people very often become some of my closest friends, but they have also been incredibly helpful to me professionally. We form networks that lead to opportunities to speak, to write, or to put together projects.
If you are reading this, maybe you are asking yourself about your own social media use. My advice would be simply to use it intentionally and not just passively or reactively. Sure, it can be entertaining, but it can also be an opening into all kinds of new fellowship, cooperation, and shared influence. Have a strategy for how you use Facebook and then allow your sense of purpose to help you avoid the mistakes of mockery, unwarranted aggression, and allowing disagreement to too easily turn to disassociation.