Recently a friend posted (on Facebook) a VPR “commentary” on Facebook and bragging. This is just the latest in a long line of columns I’ve read on how “shallow” and “selfish” blogging, Facebook, and other social media are, and I am so unutterably tired of it. From what some of these people write, you’d think FB had turned us all into compulsive liars or sociopaths.
The more social media-bashing I read (or hear in sermons), the more it gets up my nose. This is how I see it: As someone who’s very much an introvert, FB gives me a way to connect with people I love, to deepen existing connections, and even to forge new ones, all without the extreme energy drain I usually get in social settings. As a rural-dwelling person who works at home and shares a car with her spouse, FB gives me a way to interact with people throughout the day, to check in while I’m working and see what’s going on in people’s lives. As a person of faith, I often view FB as a prayer list; it informs me who needs or has asked for prayers, and keeps me updated on how things are unfolding. I have asked for prayers myself on FB. Since using the phone makes me anxious, this is a way I can ask for help without picking up the phone and possibly interrupting someone’s meal, or lovemaking, or time with kids.
I’ve had people message me to ask me about my faith, how someone can be a person of faith and also be politically and socially liberal. I’ve had messages thanking me simply for saying what I’ve said, and I’ve sent others similar messages. Other Union grads, who are now scattered all over the country and abroad, can ask for help with sermon preparation, and start fruitful theological conversations and exegetical brain-storming sessions.
I try to share what I think are important things with others – you know, like the indefinite detention part of the NDAA, or the harassment and abuse of transgender persons. I also try to share whimsical and beautiful things. I have been saved time and again by a picture of a baby goat smelling flowers, by a Mary Oliver poem, by a painting of a goddess that inspires me. So I pass it on.
When I was young, my mother was a daycare provider. Her next-door neighbor also worked at home and also had kids, and once a week my mom and her neighbor would get together for coffee, and all the kids would play together. Very few people have the luxury to work from home, like I do. We try to get together once in a while, but everyone’s schedules are so much busier than they were 30 years ago. FB is my coffee-break with friends. I hear hilarious, touching, or painful stories about my friends’ kids, swap self-deprecating vignettes, ask for practical help.
So don’t listen to the folks who claim that FB makes people selfish or braggy. We might have a friend or two who uses FB that way, but just think: what are they like in real-life? Probably selfish and braggy. The medium makes no difference.
And if we share our triumphs a little more than we might have done in the pre-FB “olden days,” what of it? How did false modesty ever become a virtue? I have no problem with people sharing their good news, especially when they’ve been taught, as so many of us have, that pleasure at one’s own achievements is the sin of pride.
And anyway, there’s been a lot less good news than bad, recently. As I alluded to in my Ash Wednesday post last week, this has been a year of sadness, anxiety, and grief for a lot of friends. It strikes me as brave, humble, and very honest to write about grieving publicly. And practical, too: one friend asked for songs that would help her grieve. I was introduced to a lot of beautiful, sad, and hopeful music through that thread.
So when I read columns like the VPR “commentary,” I think, either ALL of his friends suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, or he is only showing us what he sees when he looks in the mirror. We tend to judge others by our own shadows, those parts of ourselves we find too dangerous or uncomfortable to own. Basically, what we judge others for says a lot about our own sense of inferiority, and what we hate or fear or moralize about in others says a lot about the bits of ourselves we’ve demonized. I wonder whether those who deplore the rise of social media are, instead, truly frightened of their own need for recognition or praise.
And I challenge folks who love to Facebook-bash, especially those who get paid for writing, speaking, or preaching: consider that, since the invention of the printing press, the privileged have bemoaned the increasing democratization of the written word. Indeed, the Ottomans banned the printing press for three centuries, because they were afraid that the influx of writings would dilute or delegitimize religious authority. Two things the printing press made feasible were flyers and pamphlets: short media useful for sharing ideas more quickly than the old, handwritten books, and useful for organizing, as well. “Social media” have a long history of being lambasted by those with privilege; after all, they allow everyone to write and to be read. And when women started writing in greater numbers? Well, obviously this is much too dangerous. And so women have been called selfish and egotistical simply for pursing a career or pastime or avocation that a man can pursue without moral comment. (For women, too, the standards of what is considered “bragging” and what is simply considered “telling” are markedly different from those for men.)
It comes down to this: The more isolated I am, the more I’m prey to society’s messages about how I don’t live up to the ideal. The more cut off I am from communities that support me, the more the charges of selfishness worm their ways into my psyche.
So write on, my blogging and Facebook-updating friends! As for me, I’m going to keep writing, keep connecting via Facebook and other media, keep resisting the moralizers. I’m going to take the advice of Audre Lorde, whose birthday it was yesterday. She wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Writing, staying connected with the friends I’ve made over a lifetime of moves to 11 different cities and towns, sharing images of beauty and silliness and solemnity—this is self-care for a rural introvert like me. This is—you are—what gives me the energy to resist all who think they know better than I do about how to live my own life.