Twenty Years of Computing….You’d think we’d communicate a little better by now…

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Here’s a bit of history…followed by a confession.  I’m not complaining…just exploring my thoughts in writing.  Feel free to interact, challenge, disagree or extend the conversation.  Here goes…

I use a computer.  A lot.  For a lot of different reasons. In years past, it was mostly work related.  In the last decade, however, it has also become a tool for increased communication, introspection, and relational connections.   

Here’s the history...

If I remember right, Linda and I bought our first computer in 1994. It cost us $2600 (including monitor and printer) and featured the Windows 3.86 operating system.  It came with a 400 MB hard drive and a whopping 2 MB of RAM (which I knew we needed to immediately upgrade to 4MB!).  In those days, the internet was new, and accessed via a dial-up modem through one of three major companies:  America Online, Prodigy, or Compu-serve.  Suddenly, innovations like bulletin boards, chat-rooms, and email were changing how we communicate and interact.

It’s been twenty years.

And wow, the times have changed!

Today, just my phone has 50,000% more computing power.  The hard drive in my new laptop is 250,000% bigger. Things are not the same…and the way we communicate and express ourselves has been fundamentally altered. Like it or not, there is no going back.

Most of us in America, and now a significant part of the world as well, have some sort of an online presence. The rise of social media has irrevocably changed how we interact. With Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Linked-in, Google+, and so many other applications, people are finding new areas of connection and expression.  Some of that is good; a lot of it seems to me like a bunch of added complication and stress.  Bottom line: we can’t do it all.  And why should anyone feel the pressure to try?

I utilize several of these social media tools, but only a few consistently. Here’s what and why:

Pinterest: – a place to track ideas and pictures about hobbies and travels.  I use this in only a personal way for my own self-interests.  Which also means I use it very little.

Instagram: – this personal picture oriented application I find to be quite useful when I travel.  It’s a good way to communicate through pictures, screen-shots, and very short comments when I’m abroad in countries that typically block the major programs like Facebook and Twitter.  When I’m at home, however, I very seldom ever open it up.

Linked-In: – is more of a professional network of peers and colleagues. I’m signed up, I get email from it, but don’t spend much time on this either.  I’m not sure it’s something that will last or have on-going impact. We’ll see. I think the potential of this is still in development.

Twitter: – this short little series of updates serves to help me find trends, thoughts, and ideas when I want to know what the culture is thinking.  Through little hash-tag(#) searches, thoughts get collected quickly.  There are certain leaders and believers who post links and ideas that interest me. Exposure to them helps me become sharper and better.  Because what we write goes out to a random global audience, I like to use it to share short, uplifting, and Christ-centered proclamations with the world. Hopefully it makes a difference somewhere!

The monster of them all is Facebook.  Facebook is…complex.  It gets used for lots of different reasons.  You can play games of all varieties. You can give updates on your whereabouts and activities. You can express your mood. You can write stories.You can center on interest and hobbies. You can devote time to theology or politics or debate or rants.  You can post crazy cat videos.  You can find connections with long lost friends and relatives, discover strangers with like interests, form clubs, organize causes, market a business, and give announcements for your organization or church. You can express sympathy, kindness, frustration, hatred, devotion, love and on and on and on. It’s a big ball of good and bad all rolled up together.

Here’s what I like to do with Facebook:
1. Offer a word of encouragement, appreciation, thanks, blessing or comfort to others as they share their lives online.

2. Provide a bit of insight into my thoughts, hopes, joys, concerns, celebrations, and aspirations for whoever might be interested. (I have some group pages that focus on family, some on hobbies, and some on ministries with whom I’m involved).

3. Offer information, eduction, humor, and hopefully thought provoking insight as it relates to issues of life, faith, and the church where I serve.

Here’s what I don’t like to do with Facebook:

1. I don’t play the games.  Any of them.  I find it a waste of time.  Sorry, I’m not answering your request to start playing Candy Farmville Sugar Rush Saga or whatever the latest fad is called. Not happening.

2. I try not to read all the drama.  I care about your hurts. They matter to me.  But I’m probably skipping the rants, the accusations, the cussing, the complaining, the ultimatums, the innuendo’s, and the cynicism. I don’t find any of that particularly necessary, beneficial, or engaging. In the past, I’ve sometimes been suckered in by this. But not for a while now.

3. I won’t post pictures of cats.  Why?  Dogs rule, cats drool!

People use Facebook differently.  For many, it’s simply a place for self-expression. Their Facebook page is a reflection of their personality and interests.  Some use Facebook as a place for the exploration of ideas and concepts, valuing the opinions and dialogue offered by others.  These two reasons reflect my approach to the things I write on my own page.

Others, however, form groups and/or pages to reflect and showcase their ideas, artwork, and positions.  They aren’t necessarily meant to be places for discussion or challenge. When comments offer a different perspective, the page owner suddenly feels challenged and attacked.  What was meant to be a place of personal exploration or societal influence suddenly takes on a new dramatic flair that only raises people’s hackles.  (What exactly is a hackle anyway?)

Here’s the confessionMy most recent lesson…

A while back, someone started a Facebook group to post regularly regarding a particular topic/issue that is quite important to them. As they formed their group page, they automatically placed me (along with many others) in it.  The core of my friend’s message appears to be something we share and one that I think is integral and important.  On some of the related side issues, implications, and “how-to’s,” however, I have quite a different perspective.

When I was placed in the group, I assumed the other person was interested in my thoughts and views on the matters at hand.  I’ve since learned this is not the case.  We apparently had different views about how Facebook was to be used in this instance. I value dialogue, even when the other side has a different view, and think that the careful, respectful exchange of ideas can lead to greater understanding and clarity.  That was how I approached this particular group.  The group owner, however, felt like the page in question was more of a place to only express their view.  Instead of dialogue bringing clarity and perspective, they believed such sharing only clouded the issues they wanted to address and left the casual reader more confused.

Each of us has a valid point.  It is reasonable to think that shared communication can prove beneficial.  It is also reasonable for someone to want to carefully set up a page to only reflect their particular slant.  Why?  ‘Cause it’s their page!

So…after a few exchanges, the owner made me aware that they were not interested in open public dialogue on the issue at hand, and that they felt I had overstepped my bounds in offering my reflections.  I humbly apologized in person and deferred to their judgment of how they wanted the page to be.  That is their right. My public interaction on that site has come to an end and I have left the group.  Life is too short to be arguing with anyone for argument’s sake.  I have no interest in that. I fully believe that my friend is a person of integrity and character, despite our disagreement on specific issues…and if my comments were being received as personal attacks, I need to own that and back away.  I have a right to my opinion and will still champion truth as I understand it and continue to grow in it…but I don’t have to do that on their page. It belongs to them.

What about you?  How have you been impacted by social media?  Are you finding it beneficial…or is the good outweighed by crazy drama?  Any confessions you’d like to make?

2 thoughts on “Twenty Years of Computing….You’d think we’d communicate a little better by now…

  1. Burt! Somehow I missed this post! I love it. I have to agree with Sheila. And I think that I agree with everything you just wrote. I have found that I can control how much I get involved in social media, and that makes all of the difference. I do not have to read, comment, or even look at everything that shows up on my newsfeed. What a freeing idea! I love social media for the connections that it allows, but I dislike how our filtering mechanisms are gone because our conversations no longer happening face-to-face. Just like everything in life, moderation is key.

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