Throughout this season of Lent, I’ve discovered just how socially inefficient I had become prior to taking a break from the social media world. Instead of calling or even texting someone to see how their day went, I’d write on their wall or find them on Facebook chat. Sometimes, but not always, I’d even Tweet them. When those platforms of communication were removed, however, I noticed just how difficult it is for me to be personal.
Several years ago I took a class on creative non-fiction writing. One of the elements we learned in that class was, after writing a piece of some kind, to ask ourselves what this particular piece cost us. What part of myself was exposed in this essay? What have I told the audience that I have never told anyone before? These questions measured how real we were with our audience. For me, being real in the written word is a thousand times easier than in the spoken word.
Facebook, Twitter, and even WordPress (to some degree) have all been avenues of communication that I’ve been able to channel my “realness” through. However, if someone were to ask about a certain “real” post I had written or Tweet I had sent or status update I’d given, I’d clam up. I’d struggle with the right words to say, the right tone to say them in, and with the overall information I’d wanted to share.
Being human often helps my writing ability. But my writing hobby – that is, the regular practice of sharing my deepest thoughts with the rest of the world – can actually interfere with my ability to be human. Why is that? Because when you’re being human, you don’t have the time to edit your work. You don’t have the power to delete something you’ve said or start the conversation all over again while your audience tries to forget what you said earlier. When you’re being human, you are your final draft as well as every other draft you’ve ever composed – even that random diner napkin you used to take notes on.
“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned,” – Matthew 12:36-37
And yet, you can be held accountable for the words you don’t say. You can take this not-saying-the-wrong-words thing too far and not say anything at all. Sometimes being silent is the worst thing you can do. Jesus doesn’t advocate this, nor should we. What becomes enabled via an Internet-based social life is not being able to actually say the right words when real, human encounters occur – like when you randomly get called on in class for the answer to a question or when your best friend comes to say goodbye because he’s moving across country or when that girl you admire suddenly says, “You’re cute.” There are certain situations in life that necessitate a response with a spoken word. When social media becomes our entire social lives, we’re enabled to be disabled to speak.
Granted, this isn’t the case for everyone; many of my friends have no problem at all balancing lives with social media and in-person social interactions. If you’re one of them, I envy you a little. But even if you are, there are still moments wherein you can’t find the right words to say. For me, those moments used to happen every single day of my life. No, social media wasn’t the cause. No matter what I must take the full blame. But allowing myself to spend hours upon hours every day communicating via text (and yes, text messages do apply here – though they’re a little more personal than a Tweet or Facebook post) eventually led me to be unable to respond to important situations when it mattered most (even for mundane events like ordering a cup of coffee).
I’m not saying that I’m leaving the social media world. I don’t think I really could because there are far too many useful things about them; it would simply be stupid to disregard them entirely. But I’d have to say that God is challenging me in this area; He wants to create a more personable person in me. He wants me to be more socially active away from the hiding spots of Facebook, Twitter, and the like (even WordPress). No, I’m not supposed to treat them like they’re worthless; rather, I’m to treat them as they are: tools.
Many people – especially in the blogging world – have received therapy of sorts by being able to communicate to people around the world and share thoughts and feelings. I know that I have with the posts I write. But even those bloggers know that there must be a balance. With as fickle as the weather is, we never know when the power may go out. That means we might not be able to tell the world how we feel when we lose our dream job, a friend passes away, or when so many little things go wrong on the average day that we’re about to lose control…But you can talk about things – even when the power’s out. Believe it or not, your voice doesn’t require an Internet connection.
What am I telling the world, then (or at least my few readers)? I’m saying that even though Easter Sunday is coming, and with it the end of Lent, I still might not be on Facebook or Twitter for a while. In a way, I’m extending my fast so that I might be able to grow. Believe me: I miss sharing a thought publicly at random times throughout the day just to see how many “likes” or re-tweets I’d get. I certainly have felt cut off from the social world. But I think I need to grow and develop as a person. I believe God values one’s true character over one’s apparent character. And for me, that process does not require a laptop.
I’ll still be writing blog posts – in fact, I might even be writing more posts than usual. So if you’ve valued my written words to some degree, then don’t worry; they aren’t disappearing. But, if you have valued my written words, shoot me an email and let’s get coffee or tea or even a beer. I promise you my spoken words are not as eloquent, but they are far more genuine.