Saturday, August 15, 2009

It's All About Me -- Reflections on Social Networking

The other day Kim Burgess and I were talking in a Facebook thread about the great music of the 60’s and 70’s. I think we both feel privileged to have grown up during such an explosion of creative popular art. I have realized recently that there was SO much great music coming out SO fast during that time, that it is simply taking a lifetime to process it. That doesn’t mean the music in the present isn’t good. Nor does it mean that there is not great music to look forward to. It just means that there is ongoing processing yet to do, trying to wrap minds around a culturally unique chain of events and the art it left behind.

Such sharing is one of the blessings of social networking.In making mention of Steely Dan I have made a ”connection” with someone whom I may never meet but with whom I have much in common. And that is just the point of saying anything in this medium really – to make connection.

Someone was on my case about the pictures of younger days I had put up recently, thinking it weird, like I was stuck in the past. I don't think so. In fact, I had recently had a chance (finally) to finish one of a hundred life projects – going through my old slides, this time with the extra “eyes” of one of my daughters. When we looked at them we tried to discern what had merit as a photograph, what had merit as a record of events, what had merit as encapsulating a moment in time, and what had merit in potentially making a connection with or bringing blessing to some other person or people. I posted a few pictures of Clemson football games in 1977. There is historic and aesthetic value in such things, but also shared memories with many people. These shared memories are a connection point between me and them. It's really cool.

Sometimes I write about more personal aspects of my life – my job search, my health, my musical interests, my religious faith and so forth. I actually don’t find my life terribly interesting. I am a pretty dull average middle class southern boy. What I do find interesting is the portion of the human experience in which I get to share, and the connections to history and to other people that such experience gives me. I have a list of 150 story topics based on events of my childhood that I hope one day to turn into memoirs. The point of such memoirs would not actually be me at all, but the era and the slice of history that is revealed in the life of one average person. It may seem indulgent to some, and if I ever write the book they would not need to read it. The ones who will enjoy it will be the ones who either see themselves in its stories, or who appreciate the chance to step back and understand a period of history through the experiences of one minor participant.

I've just left one twenty year long year career as a pastor (Oh dear, there I go again, talking about me). The pastoral ministry is pretty all-consuming. There are a lot of things you must simply put aside to be able to do it, There are many rich things you gain, most importantly the privilege of studying and teaching the Scriptures, and even more for me the amazing privilege of being with dear people at some of the most significant moments of their lives.

But coming out of that world for me has involved a kind of re-engaging in aspects of life I had laid aside, of taking things up that I had set down, of doing things I hadn’t much been able to do and seeing people I haven’t much been able to see. One of those things is live music. In case you missed it, I LOVE live music. I hope I get to go see live music on a regular basis until the day I keel over. In fact, right in the middle of a ripping guitar lead would be a great time to keel over. They could just carry my body to the back of the building mosh pit style and keep on rockin’ as far as I care. I don’t much see the difference in a fifty year old guy liking life folk-rock music than a seventy year old female liking the symphony. Whatever.

Ailments provide great connection points! Whether it is migraine or plantar fasciitis or foot in mouth disease, nothing connects with other folks like common suffering. It’s kind of fun to see how different people deal with and process ailments that are “common to man.” I find the connecting points fascinating. I find the ways that people talk about and process and handle different life challenges fascinating. Life is rich. Snippets of life-richness leak out all the time in this medium, which is one reason I think people engage in it.

Pets, oh my, do they ever provide a platform for human connection. When I was a kid and a teenager I used to walk with my dog all over the place. Well, I walked and he ran, up and down and in and out of yards and creeks. The cool thing was that I could hardly ever get through a walk without stopping to talk to people. Inevitably Algeber or Clancey would sense their cue and run over and say hi to the neighbor and the neighbor's dog. I knew almost everyone up and down several streets, just because of my dogs! I also mowed half the yards in my area – guess where I met most of those people? Going on walks with my dog. You might see an analogy here - I hope you do.

Facebook and Twitter and Flickr are no substitute for “real” face to face conversations and community. I put “real” in quotation marks though because some face to face relationships/community aren’t real at all (they can be very superficial and phony), and some online relationships/community can be quite “real” (and not superficial and phony). Yet one of the factors that can make online presence more authentic can also make it more irritating and upsetting. Many of the normal real life cues, such as facial expressions, body language, and tone and volume of voice just aren’t there online. It’s easier to be a jerk. So, on balance, I think people should probably spend at least as much time with people in the flesh as they do online, well, if they can.

Maybe all this is just an “apology” for confessional writing. There are many other kinds of writing. I am probably best at arguing and debating, but I’d rather do that on a blog, or, actually, in person. I find a good argument very stimulating and fun as long as people keep their cool. But just not in the social networking medium.

Well, life to live. Got to go. Thanks for reading, and if it annoys you, hey, just don’t read my stuff.

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