I Post to Know I’m Not Alone

I Post to Know I’m Not Alone

My first ever Facebook post: “in Pasadena, CA…this constant fantastic weather must get boring…” My research into my social media origins brought back fantastic memories of two great weeks spent at Fuller Seminary in their DMin program. Facebook was originally only open to people with college or university email accounts. It opened up to the public in September of 2006. I jumped on 9 months later, not knowing fully what to do with it. Browsing my first few posts was pretty hilarious. “Going to a soccer game”; “zzzzzzzzzz,” “flying back to Nashville,” etc. There were, more often than not, zero “likes” or responses. It was an empty space at first. From what I can tell, many of my first FB friends are still here and haven’t unfriended me because of my posts. It’s remarkable how FB has changed how we all interact with the world. There are parts of it that are disturbing: the proliferation of misinformation, hateful contextless interactions with strangers; the acceptance of non-stop marketing as norm…I could go on.

But, I still land on the side of the optimist. I’ve been able to renew relationships from all my past lives (family, hometown, high school, college, seminary, previous jobs, past towns). I’ve watched former students start families, I ‘ve seen their children go off to college, marry, and start their families. Rich, deep conversations often develop with people I know well as well as with people I’ve only just met. I couldn’t begin to put a value on these things. I’ve considered dropping off for all the reasons many of you have considered leaving. But I would miss the community. For every crazy story or troll, I’ve found I have multiple dearly loved friends with whom I discover so many shared beautiful things in common.

William Nicholson’s play, Shadowlands, has a beautiful line delivered by the C. S. Lewis character: “We read to know we’re not alone.” I think that’s why I continue to post on social media. I post to know I’m not alone. I recognize that there are times I have contributed my own sour notes to the din of dissonant social media noise populating my feed and yours. However, I also hope to add some melody…some harmony. I hope that the sum of my social media life would fall on that side of the ledger. And I hope that you will remain online. This community is extraordinary. My life would be poorer without it. And I don’t want to be alone. (I wonder if my MySpace page is still out there in the ether?)

Profound truthMaybe we have our sights set too low.  Maybe we’ve settled for merely “correct” as we have come to understand it rather than recognizing we might actually be capable of entertaining the profound.  There is often enough logic to justify our small notions of correctness.  But when we look further toward the mystery and the ambiguity, we lose the safety and security of our certitude.  We might have to accept the existence of someone or something we don’t fully understand.  We will probably lose the perception of control that we’ve always mistakenly assumed.  Correct is fine for what it is.  But the profound is a journey worthy of your soul.

Misplaced Terror

Misplaced Terror

on the streetI saw a video on Facebook labeled: “Our youth…this video is truly terrifying.” After watching it, I deemed it worthy of a share. My re-post said, “yes…truly terrifying.” The video was a person-on-the-street type post with a young woman on the campus of a major university asking students seemingly obvious questions about American history: “Who won the civil war?”, “Who were the participants in the Civil War?”, “Who is the Vice President?”, Etc. The answers given were funny and utterly wrong.

Then the same students were asked about Jersey Shore; about who was currently married to Brad Pitt; about who Brad Pitt was married to before Angelina Jolie. Correct answers came immediately. Of course, the point of the whole bit was “these students are ignorant about important things like our history, but they know pop culture.” The editing of the video was such to accentuate their ignorance in important things and their obsessions with the inane.

As I read through the accumulating responses to my Facebook post it began to dawn on me that, much like the students in the video, I too had been manipulated. It happens all the time. It’s a simple hook, easy to set. This highly edited video was designed to evoke a response. The response desired was a “click.” The more clicks, the more traffic, the more advertising revenue. The video was easy comedy bait and for the most part harmless. It wasn’t terrifying at all.

So why had I labeled it as such? Well, I wanted some clicks on my Facebook post. It would allow me to jump on that bandwagon and ride. But there was something else going on here. I began to recognize the cynicism the post was dredging up. We were coloring a whole generation of people with a very broad brush. Quite frankly, I was posting fake news and benefitting from it.

I sat in on a lecture this week about “Millennials” and “Generation Z.” The “Boomer” presenters cited all the cliche’ traits that have made Millennials the brunt of so many late-night TV monologues and internet memes (just like the one I posted). But we, the boomers sitting in this class, were fortunate enough also to have a very accomplished millennial sitting in with us. And when he finally had heard enough, he spoke up, eloquently and truthfully, pointing out the inaccuracy of our generalizations.

This “kid” was not an outlier. In fact, we were sitting in a classroom on a university campus utterly filled with more millennials just like him. And there were a couple of universities just down the street also filled to the brim with more creativity and energy and productive naiveté ready to take on the new but very familiar old problems our world continually reframes and asks us to solve.

So, I guess the point of this observation is two-fold:

  • The video bit was funny but probably not terrifying.
  • The cynicism I was feeding is perhaps closer to being terrifying but usually not funny.

I’ll try to remember this before I post next time.