Questioning Social Media

Chart: “Congress, Can You Hear Us?”
Today, while the internet is blacked out in protest, I am thinking about my online presence. It’s been on my mind a lot recently. It’s been on my mind ever since this case study about The Young Clergy Women Project was shared by the New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary. The case study interviews three women on the board of the project — of which I am one. When it came time to post the report, the project director Verity Jones contacted me to ask for approval. In her email, she shared a concern that my remarks were more personal than my colleagues and friends Susie and Sarah. I don’t know if that’s true, but here is what I concluded (which you can read in the full report):

    Elsa does worry about what her bifurcated social media use says about herself: “I don’t know why I’m so cautious about that, but I am.… The side of myself that I bring into TYCWP is not necessarily the side that I reveal to my congregation. And for me that’s been a big disconnect that I’m trying to figure out and navigate, so that I’m bringing more of myself into the church.” She confesses, “It’s a spiritual question.” Does social media contribute to the problem, I ask. “I feel like [social media] spotlights the issue,” she says. “I’m not sure if it makes it better or worse, but it helps me to identify the issue, the fact that I have such locked down accounts … says to me that I’m trying to hide something. But I’m not sure what I’m hiding because it’s not like there’s anything that fantastic there.”

Verity is right that I am cautious. I maintain separate Facebook accounts which some would argue is against Facebook rules but I no longer worry about that when my iPad Facebook app allows for multiple users. I must not be the only one that has these multiple identities if these app designers make it possible for multiple users. My stated reasons haven’t totally changed since I offered these words over lunch last summer, but my reasons are not as firm. I still have multiple questions about transparency. What do I want to share with those I serve? What is only for me? Where is the boundary that pastors are reminded so emphatically to hold firmly?

I don’t have answers. I only have questions which admittedly increase when I read in this New York Times about teenagers sharing their internet passwords as a sign of devotion. I agree with some of the quoted teens. It’s sweet. It’s endearing that these young people don’t want to hide anything from each other, but it still doesn’t sit well. For me, the question is simply: where does one get to have an interior life? I don’t think that the internet is the best platform to ponder those eternal life question (who am I, why am I here, what’s it all mean, etc) but it seems that this is the primary platform we use for these questions. Or at least that’s what I see on Facebook and Twitter. I see people sharing things that I would only share with my closest friends. I read posts confessing truths that are so raw and beautiful but I can’t imagine having that tweet recorded forever and ever in the Library of Congress.

In some ways, I think I’m too old to understand this intimacy among youth. I remember getting my first email account. I only started using Facebook and Twitter five years ago. I started blogging at the same time. I have always hungered for a way to connect — but there’s something about sharing these truths on the internet that scares the hell out of me. That doesn’t mean I don’t do it. I have. I’m sure there’s proof in the Library of Congress. At this moment in time, I need something that the internet doesn’t offer. I need a connection that can’t be found through a modem. I crave something else that it seems only silence can offer. As another shared through the New York Times, I’m seeking the joy of quiet. I’m not interested in censorship. I simply crave an alternate space. I recognize and appreciate that that space is the internet for many — and should be preserved so that that space is still available to them — but it’s not what I’m looking for right now.

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