Last December I was at a 21st birthday party. A couple of us thought that this special occaion deserved a special gift, so we bought a notebook in which the guests could record their memories. This meant that we spent all evening hiding from the birthday girl, smuggling this notebook from person to person to gather their comments, and barely spent any time with her at all. It was, I trust, a nice gesture, but it was without doubt a distraction.
In many ways, I think of social media like that notebook. Texting, Twitter, Facebook and the rest provide excellent extra social contexts to our relationships, but they can sometimes distract from spending quality time with people face-to-face.
They can also distract from more public occasions. I was at #CNMAC11 on Saturday and amongst many other things I was struck by how “multi-lingual” we have become in crossing social contexts. We were sat there listening to presentations, reading Twitter-falls, making notes and chatting to the person sat next to us (or was that just me?!) I think the other delegates would back me up when I say that the mood in the hall changed profoundly during the course of the day, marked by two comments from the front. At the start of the day, Vicky Beeching requested that we keep our mobile phones on, which was met with applause. In the final session, however Patrick Dixon’s request for us to give our smart phones and iPads a rest was largely respected, as we took the time to listen, think, and then respond after we’d had some time to reflect.
There is little time delay between my brain and my mouth: I often say the first thing to come into my head. Most of what is in my head is nonsense, however, so I know that I have to give good thought to what I say for fear of boring or bewildering the person I am talking to. How often do we tweet whatever comes into our head before asking ourselves why people might want to read it?
My birthday notebook was compiled as a clandestine activity during a party – the contributions were selective, often irreverent and totally rushed. It certainly made for fun, sparky reading. But how much more meaningful would it have been if it had been compiled with a bit of forethought with a less pressing deadline?
Should you tweet during a sermon? Or should you wait till afterwards? Here’s a thought – if your comment is worth saying, it does not matter when you make it. But if your comment is not worth sharing, please don’t share it at all.
There is too much instantly forgettable noise out there in the digital space. Twitter feeds can be overburdened with the weight of link-bait and re-re-re-tweets. As digital disciples, those striving to love one another in the digital space, let’s make every word count. Let us not add to the noise, but rather to cut above it with graceful, helpful, lovely interaction which gives glory to God.