I actually enjoy many aspects of social media. I get to connect with folks I tend to not see in person any more, and am privileged to be a voice a number of folks who are local to me will listen to. What I don’t like, which I’ve mentioned before, is meme-based discourse. Mostly because it isn’t discourse.
Political and theological memes are little more than tribal flags. They tell like-minded folks, “I’m with you,” and these flags are raised higher by likes, retweets, and shares. They serve as rallying cries for the faithful, and as targets for destruction by the unbeliever. I watch people follow these dog whistles, drawn in to defend turf and vent rage. Sometimes, too often, I forget who I am and participate myself.
I won’t call out specifics, but in the last week I’ve seen several of these flags go up, shared by people with whom I am acquaintances. The results were typical. The meme was shared in a way which calls into question someone’s faith/politics/sanity/humanity if you don’t agree with it. And then most everyone involved in the resulting explosion does their best to make it so everyone’s faith/politics/sanity/humanity seem to be called into question.
When I see this happen 1 I end up depressed. I don’t like being depressed.
The thing is, I enjoy engaging with people on deep topics. It’s one of the reasons I loved college. I enjoy having my mind stretched, and I enjoy it when folks privilege me with the honor of stretching theirs. I love disagreeing with someone’s conclusions without hating them, and it’s wonderful when someone disagrees with my conclusions without thinking I’m worthless. Those types of conversations enliven me, I cherish them.
While I can have these conversations with people via social media, they are usually only with my closest circle of friends. My personal social media landscape is much bigger than that, and so among acquaintances I’m often subjected to the types of flag waving which cause me to peel back–fighting against my longing for deep engagement. In some ways I feel a lot of what I’m subjected to on social media makes me less of the person I’m meant to be, rather than more.
There are plenty of people who declare fasts from social media, or impugn it as a base evil 2, but I’ve seen the good that social media can do as well. And I’m not willing to toss that away. My deepest desire is, and I need to heed it myself, may what we share out into the world be done to make others more. More capable of loving others. More equipped to appreciate beauty. More likely to look into a mirror and recognize themselves 3.
In other words, may what we share with the world help people become more fully realized as human beings. And may we celebrate folks who do that for us.