A friend of mine is doing a presentation on ‘faith and Facebook – exploring the theology of social media’ (see link). The title immediately got me thinking about the gifts and challenges of social media. I’m not sure I can comment directly on the theology of social media, but being a good follower of Ignatius I am a firm believer in ‘finding God in all things’.
As a strong introvert I love social media. It gives me a way of interacting with a wide variety of people without the draining immediacy of direct contact. It is better than email because it is completely undemanding of my ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ – they are completely at liberty to engage or not with anything I post. If they don’t like the content I post they can even hide my feed. I therefore feel completely free to post what I want to – and different friends respond to different pieces of content. As someone who has interests in church, in spirituality, in science, in society, this gives me tremendous freedom.
What I value most as a consumer of social media is the array of content that now comes across my path without having to go and find it. On both Facebook and Twitter I have connections to people across the globe involved in a huge range of pursuits; a small number of them regularly post interesting content. This has opened my eyes to all sorts of subjects, and importantly, good writing on these subjects.
More recently, since starting a blog almost a year ago, I have made some good ‘soul friends’: a handful of people whom I have never met, but who have become a part of my ‘community’. These are people whose ministry and work I respect and support, and who similarly support me and publicize my work. I value these connections tremendously. There is no other way that I would have met these people. To use just one example, I have met one other person who shares my intersection of interests in chemistry, Ignatian spirituality and writing (you can read her blog here). To me it is both deeply affirming of what I perceive to be my own vocation and it challenges me in the way in which I am balancing the different elements. With one or two of these connections, real world associations have begun to form.
At the same time social media has been a space which has been profoundly challenging to me. For example, discovering what it means to be an ‘online community’ for a real world parish community. There have been some bitter disputes which have rapidly become far more personal than a face to face debate would have. Responses which are probably 100-150 words long are far shorter than the conversational equivalent and positions quickly become polarized in a way that is not helpful. We have had to learn to be discerning in what we choose to post on that site.
Nonetheless social media has been a source of enormous blessing and grace. My world is certainly better for its existence, and I have caught glimpses of God through my interactions in this space.