Saturday, September 1, 2012

To Twitter or not to Twitter: what's the answer?

Mark Zuckerberg
Chairman and CEO of Facebook Inc.
To Twitter or not to Twitter, to Facebook or not to Facebook: what's the answer? You may have noticed that Everyday For Life Canada has de-activated both accounts. It's a weight off our shoulders. Why this you may ask when most people are telling us that without these types of social media we cannot maximize our reach to communicate to our friends, our families and the rest of the world.

But the telling question that needs to be addressed, whether you're a Christian or not, is this: Do these services help to make us a better people and forge a better society? In short, do the social media, build the Common Good? Do the social media make for a better Christian/spiritual life? We are told by the marketers that we need social media so that with little commitment we can be connected; they offer prepared scripts for water cooler or the watering hole if you will permit the metaphors. Real living, however, demands a lot of commitment and time. Facebook, Twitter and other social media like My Space and the numerous RSS feeds can too easily become electronic places where we spend too much of our time and this may even give us the false belief that we get to better connect with our friends and families. But do we really? Or is it just that fleeting feel good instant of pressing the send or post button - your message has been sent - that too easily can become an addiction? 

In the end, no matter how effective and enticing the claims are, we must remember that social media always represents a "reality"; it's an electronic map of the world; it's never a substitute for the real world, real people, and so they should never be confused with our real experiences of living. We can't default into Internet relations and activities that can be distractions; perhaps, all the time we spend using social media is something we have come to accept we need to do. But do we? We are habitual creatures. Just think about how smart phones have taken over the way we and our children socially interact with each other. These personal devices have radically changed how we behave in both public and private spaces; they too often become the centre of our attention even when we are spending time with real people in real places. The mantra is you must be connected to social media; you must have a smart phone. Excuse me for a moment, we hear the cell phone calling!

So why let Twitter, Facebook or any other social media take over what we do in real life and even in cyberspace. Does anybody really care that Twitter may be a new form of micro-blogging? Does anyone actually give importance to the countless Twitter messages that other people are telling you to send to your contacts? What difference does it make to you and your children's lives to know that Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber both have 30 million followers? How does one actually know if Facebook Likes and corporate endorsements are real or fake? It's just another way of doing business and making profits. The text messages advertise to sell us more products or services that we know we often don't need, but they do take time away from us.

The human family will not be truly improved with Tweeting and Facebook walls alone because true dialogue is at least a two-way process; it requires that we are participants in the conversation, not just sending information too often for its own sake. A conversation starts with you saying something and we say another thing and if we care about each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ, then we have an opportunity to share, to pray, to be together and change our lives and our families for the better. It's how we improve the Common Good. This is what really counts in the end, not the million of Tweets, the billion Facebook accounts and the many other social media under development to take time away from our lives, our families and take our money too.

In his Apostolic Letter, The Rapid Development, Blessed John Paul II gives us this insightful statement which we can use to evaluate the effectiveness of the social media we are using:

"Ours is an age of global communication in which countless moments of human existence are either spent with, or at least confronted by, the different processes of the mass media. I limit myself to mentioning the formation of personality and conscience, the interpretation and structuring of affective relationships, the coming together of the educative and formative phases, the elaboration and diffusion of cultural phenomena, and the development of social, political and economic life."

Do we think that the use of Twitter and Facebook will end because of Everyday For Life Canada's decision to stop using it? Of course not, but we simply hope that we can start an honest and real conversation about the personal and societal value of these social media. Why not begin the process and bring the idea to your family, your friends and your place of work. In the end by de-activating some social services that we don't really need, we just may discover that we have much more time to do the real things we want to do: a walk in the park, read a good book, pray for the unborn, eat a meal with friends, spend more time with the family, go out more often, and the list continues. However, the decision to opt out is ours and should not be influenced by electronically manufactured consent spun by the social media. You have finished reading our answer to the question we posed at the beginning. What's yours? Or are you waiting to get the answer from Zuckerberg's Facebook wall or from more Tweets? Wishing everyone a happy Labour Day weekend and you don't have to Tweet that!

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