The Variable Life: Social Networking

photo credit: GOOD + Oliver Munday

It seems that nearly everyone has a strong opinion on social media and networking. Usually it’s a subconscious, unaware addiction to our favorite news feed with blue accents, the monster that many unwittingly feed with their own countless hours of immersion. Of course, there are those who frequently and professionally apply social networking as means of marketing or personally connecting through meaningful conversation. On the perimeter are those who purposely avoid social media because of perceived wastefulness and vanity of most users. I also preach to myself when I say that we must we wary of extreme immersion in (or even aversion to) social media.

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There’s a difference in the way social media and networking can be used: consumerism versus productivity. It could be argued that social media is completely one or the other, but I’d propose that the reasons behind using social media effects the value of the social media to a person. If one is only seeking shallow perusal of the externals of others’ lives, so be it; social media provides rife opportunity for socially acceptable stalking. If one is seeking deeper and further connection to people and ideas, social media offers excellent platforms for meaningful exchange.

The Power of Social Media

We need to look few places to see the punch social media packs. The protests of SOPA and the revolutionary uprisings in Egypt, Libya and other Arab nations prove the great influence exerted by shared involvement in social media and networking with meaningful messages. China has been back and forth on blocking citizens from accessing certain sites like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. There is something dangerous about the exchange of ideas.

Internet Superhero and social media enthusiast Dave Pell explored an essential question for those who wish to use media intentionally, understanding what it does to content, to connections, and to us:

“Are you more or less connected since you started spending so much time on the Internet?

I’m more connected to people I don’t know.

I’m equally connected to the people I do know.

I’m less connected to myself.”

Pell’s reflection propelled me to consider my own use of social media and networking. Over the past eight years, I’ve increased, then plateaued my use of Facebook. During the past three years, my use of Twitter has skyrocketed. Over the past few years, I’ve increasingly waded into the waters of the blogosphere, exploring content which piques my interest as well as producing my own posts. I even use Google+ and LinkedIn and Instagram sometimes. But how am I being influenced or influencing by my involvement in social media?

There are several names that come to mind when I consider how social networking has shifted my relationships and interactions:

The Church I Joined Before I Attended

A few weeks before I moved from Minnesota to Oregon several years ago, I searched the web for churches in the Rogue Valley so I could connect with a community right away. I found Ron Swanson on Twitter, part of the pastoring team for Table Rock Fellowship. Through our social media connection, I met my friend, Nick, the first Sunday I arrived in town and continued to plug into TRF via the young adult community and serving opportunities.

The Friend I Never Met

My best friends have a cousin who lives in Minneapolis, where I attended university. Patrick Ray and I connected online after I moved away from Minnesota. We frequently exchange theological queries and humor via social media, and read blog posts of each other, as I do with…

The Friends I Knew But Spent Little Time With

I shared friends and spent some time with Jeremiah Mitchell while in Minneapolis, being in community with Jacob’s Well. Jeremiah has a huge heart for Jesus, the Church, and his neighbors. Through social media, I’m frequently humbled and inspired by his shared thoughts. He’s even allowed me the privilege of guest posting on his blog.

Also in that circle of Jacob’s Well, I met Joel Morgan a few times. But over the past year or two of social media conversations and sharing our affinity for the Ray family, reading and reflection, we grew into friendship. This was especially refreshing when we met (again) in person during a mutual best friend’s wedding weekend trip.

The New Social Media Friends I Haven’t Met

I came across Caleb LaPlant on Twitter via shared follows and followers. He lives in southern Oregon, so one would think that we’d have crossed paths by now…but real life hasn’t collided with our social networking connection yet. One of the things I like about Caleb is that he’s locally engaged with businesses, faith communities, causes, and his own thoughts (explore his page and you’ll see what I mean). He’s even taught a class called “Teach A Man To Tweet.” The guy’s got style.

Another local social media friend with whom I was delayed in meeting in person was Michael “Combsy” Combs. He writes a thoughtful blog concerning simplicity and faith, and is a self-proclaimed fan of dry and boring reading (though his writing doesn’t reflect that, thankfully). I appreciate his priority of God, family and minimalism.

Value

Social media is vast in what it offers and deep in how much it allows users to be immersed in it. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

The real value of social media is its ability to provoke real-life connections. Because its in the face-to-face relationships we are significantly changed and challenged to grow. Media is about people, always has been, and hopefully always will be.

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How do you use social media? How does social media influence you?

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