Lent vs Social Media

It’s traditional to give something up for the period of Lent. Many people do so – even those without any personal religious conviction or understanding of the significance, which puzzles me a little. I usually struggle to know what to give up (if I should bother at all) and many of the things I’ve given up previously I’ve not ‘taken up’ again – mostly notably sugar in tea/coffee.

A number of people suggested that I give up Twitter for Lent. I told them I thought it was a preposterous idea, but they didn’t understand why. In response I suggested that perhaps they’d give up using the telephone for Lent and they didn’t quite grasp what I was getting at. My point was that for me Twitter is more than a frivolous pastime, but rather a tool & a method of communication. I would no more choose to give up Twitter than I could choose to give up email for Lent – both are a core part of my work/ministry tool kit, and my social make-up. I have made some great friends through Twitter (and other social media) many of whom I’ve met subsequently in person; I have received support from (and been able to offer support to) fellow youth workers & ministers in difficult circumstances; I’ve received news, information & resources I might otherwise have missed; I’ve been able to pray for people I don’t know (and request prayer from others too); I’ve been inspired by the work of others; I’ve been challenged by quotes posted by others; I’ve become aware of pastoral situations I needed to respond to that otherwise would have remained unknown to me. The list could go on…

I have to admit though, that my use of Twitter is not entirely without frivolity. My use of Twitter sometimes gets in the way of face-to-face encounters and other worthwhile activities, as I discovered as I took a step back and analysed my practice. But that is due to the slightly OCD (obsessive-compulsive) side of my personality. I currently follow 342 people/organisations/projects on Twitter – which means that when they post an update it appears in my timeline for me to read. Due to my OCD tendencies I found it very difficult to simply let these updates pass me by without at least skim-reading them. When I was following 20 or 50 accounts this was less of a problem, but as that number increased so did the time it took to read them. And so the problem grew…

Having realised this, and recognising that some accounts have a higher signal-to-noise ratio than others, I decided to try to focus my Twitter use during Lent. I didn’t want to unfollow lots of users, so I decided to set-up a list on Twitter of the people I felt offered the most value, were most challenging, or were ‘necessary’ for my job (young people, colleagues, organisations, etc which I need to keep in touch with). I set an arbitrary limit of 100 for the list, but actually only added 80 accounts. I then updated the Twitter app on my phone & my PCs to only monitor the new list. This list would only limit the accounts I was following/reading, and I decided that I’d still engage with people who weren’t on the list if they started a conversation with me (as it would be rude not to respond). [I should say that I intended to use the time I wrestled back from Twitter to engage in something which would develop my spirituality, but that’s for a separate post.]

We’re almost at the end of Lent so I thought I’d reflect on how things have been going…

Reflections:

The most surprising realisation is just how much of a chore catching up with Twitter had become. I can only see it now, but it had become something that I felt compelled to do (due to my OCD tendencies) but which often seemingly had little value or reward. If I’d had a particularly busy day, when I eventually came to ‘check in’ with Twitter, it would take a large chunk of time to catch up, and if by the end I felt there was little value to it, it’s hard to see how this constitutes a wise use of my time (Ephesians 5:15-16). With the increase in people/organisations I was following came the requirement for an increased investment of time, but seemingly with reduced value/rewards.

I had intended to use the time I ‘reclaimed’ from Twitter to engage in some reading which would be of spiritual benefit to me. I started to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, which is a fascinating exploration of spiritual disciplines. The run-up to this Easter has been a particularly busy time (as it is each year) and so my ‘reclaimed’ time has been spent on keeping up with the to-do list & the ‘day job’, so I’ve not read as much as I’d have liked. But what I have read has been really inspiring and massively challenging, and I look forward to continuing the journey.

Not all the people/organisations I follow provide an entirely wholesome experience. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment & a bit of light relief, but I’m reminded of the words of Paul to the Philippians (4:8): ‘keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.’ {emphasis mine}

The least positive outcome of the way I’ve changed my Twitter use has been that of reduced conversation. As mentioned previously, a lot of my Twitter contacts have become friends over recent months & years; some of whom I’ve met in person, others I’ve spoken to via phone/Skype, and others only via Twitter. In addition, there is an amazingly supportive & creative community of Youth Workers & Ministers on Twitter who utilise the hashtag #ywchat to engage with one another & the wider community (as it would be almost impossible to follow each of them). Throughout Lent I have felt that I’ve neglected some friendships which I’ve come to value (although many made it to my reduced list) and have certainly been unable to properly (perhaps usefully) engage with my colleagues in the #ywchat community. [I hope to rectify this shortly at #coffeeshopcrawl3 – a series of ‘real-life’ #ywchat get-togethers…]

On a purely technical note, one frustration with my use of a Twitter List for Lent has been that the list function doesn’t include native retweets from the people on the list, only their original tweets. So I’ve missed out on a lot of resources, quotes, & challenges which I’d otherwise hoped to receive. However, this has led to extra time being available – so it’s a mixed blessing. Also, due to the software/apps I use, by following a list rather than a general Twitter stream I appear to have lost some of the conversational functionality. As this is a big part of my Twitter use, I’ve felt this loss keenly (but not wanted to invest additional time in finding an alternative).

Response:

I’m still trying to decide on the best way to engage with Twitter once Lent has ended. Clearly I need to reduce the amount of time I had been spending on it previously, but not in a way which diminishes the level of engagement with people . I’ve considered the use of subject-related lists (pastoral, geographical, organisations, resources, etc), but I don’t wish to diminish the level of interaction with people, and I fear that will be the case.

The biggest issue I face is overcoming (or more likely, managing) my OCD tendencies and getting better at allowing things to pass me by.

I expect that my eventual solution will be a combination of unfollowing a large number of accounts, and employing the list-based system outlined above.

Challenge:

  • What strategies have you employed to cope with increased ?
  • Do you have any tips to share?

Post your thoughts in the comments below…

1 Comments

  1. Great post. One additional thing I’ve noticed over Lent is that I’ve missed some of the input from some people who stepped back or withdrew from twitter over lent.
    I think you’re spot on in that twitter is at heart ultimately a means of communication, but its easy to get sucked into it becoming the entertainment or the focus itself. I’d guess that being disciplined in the use of it is probably a key step in being “on twitter, but not of twitter” (to hideously mis-quote the bible, but hopefully not in a too-heretical style way!)
    Looking forward to hearing how you proceed from here in cutting down on OCD-esque checking of timeline (something I have tried really hard to cut out over Lent, again with only partial success!) and thinning out of who you follow.

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