All of us wrestle with how to use social media and Andrew Peterson has a thought-provoking post up about how and why he’s been using it less and less — but also why that’s not an easy decision:
Okay, so social media is, in this day and age, a necessary component of an artist’s career. Why not just post tour dates and album releases? Because, the social media gods tells us, people will stop listening to you if there’s no personal connection, no ongoing interaction, or if there’s only sporadic activity. People will start to think you’re greedy or self-serving if the only time you post on Instagram is when you want them to buy your books or albums. And, sadly, there’s some truth to that. We already get enough advertisements from everything else in the world—why would we bother to follow an artist just to get more ads? But isn’t there something icky about sharing intimate moments of my family’s summer vacation when even a fraction of my motive is to build up enough trust to tell you about my new record when the time comes? The answer is YES. It’s more than icky. And that’s when social media demands more than I’m willing to give. My heart is at stake. Yours is, too. You, friends, are not commodities. You are not merely means to an end. You are not mere vehicles for commerce. You are vast souls, invaluable and intricate. The murmur of the Holy Spirit in my heart has grown over the years into a clear voice: don’t thoughtlessly share pictures of yourself or your loved ones with people you don’t really know. Don’t play a game that inevitably leads to envy or dissatisfaction, for you or anyone else. Don’t manipulate children of God for your own purposes. Don’t compare your own gifts to what God has given to others. Be content with what you have. Pay attention to where you are. Be present.
What I’m describing, of course, is a worst-case scenario. I’m not at all implying that everyone on social media has the same conflict I do. Indeed, most of the time I’ve posted stuff online that wasn’t directly career-related was done so for fun, or because it really can be helpful, even joyful, to share our lives with each other. But we’re all flawed. Our hearts aren’t impervious to this temptation. Mine isn’t, at least.
That leads me to where I am now, which feels like an impasse. How do I reconcile all this with the fact that I’ve come to know some of you well because of interactions on social media? How can I discount the massive encouragement I’ve received from some of you via Facebook or Instagram? How do I deny the fact that I have been blessed and shaped by albums and books and films and concerts and articles I wouldn’t have discovered any other way? How do I maintain a healthy relationship with people who actually do care about me and mine, who actually want to know what’s going on in my life, though I’ve never once had dinner or coffee with them? This culture is so weird, right? It’s weird in ways no one could have predicted when the first computer was constructed.
While my livelihood isn’t nearly as tied to fans buying things, it is tied to me sharing about our family’s life overseas (mostly through our family newsletter and presentations when we’re home). Social media has also given me lots of opportunities to write or promote my writing; it also helps me feel connected to other friends and discussions about things I care about (like Baltimore City politics and the Church in America). For the former, the temptation of social media and newsletters is to overshare and try to manipulate other people in the hopes that I will get more attention, interest, and financial support. With regards to the latter, I’m tempted to waste my time absorbing data to the neglect of my other responsibilities in the present.
It is still (to me) an open question whether or not there is a better way to design social media such that it is less harmful to human souls or if we are doomed by the inherent power of any application that could be considered “social media”. Your thoughts on this quandary are welcome.
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org