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27 April 2012

Only connect

Tony Watkins (LT pics 2016) Tony Watkins Sent Mission Partner
Social media screenshot Tony Watkins

Five years ago, we’d barely heard of social media, but now it’s a central part of day-to-day life for many of us. Whether or not it’s something you personally engage with, there’s no doubt that it is transforming the world.

However, misconceptions abound. The one I hear most is that it’s a time-waster. It certainly has potential for wasting time, but so do many other things: magazines, television, even chatting to others. Social media is not intrinsically time-wasting; the point is, it’s social – it’s about relationships, sharing ideas and experiences. It’s about communication. That’s no more a waste of time than conversations in the physical world. In fact, nurturing relationships is part of what it means to be fully human. Social media enable us to both maintain and develop relationships. It’s clearly not the same as face-to-face, but that doesn’t make it less genuine.

Some people imagine that Facebook and Twitter are about people with inflated egos telling the world what they had for breakfast. In fact, the vast majority of people share things which are challenging, inspiring, informative or helpful. That’s why people connect with them. The people I pay attention to are humble, generous and insightful. The few who just try to feed their vanity are quickly ignored. Social media interactions have made me think, laugh, cry, wonder, question, rejoice and worship.

Social media allows us to share both big and small aspects of life with each other, enabling us to journey together much more closely than we can by just chatting over coffee on a Sunday morning. Even if I’m not directly interacting with someone on a regular basis, the fact that we both know what’s happening in each other’s lives reinforces the bond between us, and it provides both reminders and fuel for our prayers.

The social media world is often more integrated than my face-to-face interactions – my friends who are not Christians see everything my Christian friends see. It creates an opportunity to let others see how faith affects all of life. And it’s very easy to share videos or other things which powerfully communicate aspects of the gospel. It’s best to share a mix of things which are not blatantly evangelistic, but which make people think, along with a few more direct things.

The key question is how to use it well.

Be selective: don’t be Facebook friends with everyone you’ve ever met; don’t ‘like’ every page you have a passing interest in; don’t follow blindly on Twitter. Instead, connect with people or organisations that matter to you, or have something valuable to say.

Be disciplined: limit the time you spend on social media, and keep your engagement to a few times a day.

Be humble: others really don’t want to be told how great (or how awful) you are.

Be open: share what’s going on in your life, including some of the ups and downs (but please don’t over-share).

Be generous: pass on the online gems you come across that will make others think or smile too, and be generous with your encouragement of others – even the simple act of liking someone’s status update can bring a smile to their face.

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1 comment

John Smuts on April 27, 2012

"“Some people imagine that Facebook and Twitter are about people with inflated egos telling the world what they had for breakfast. In fact, the vast majority of people share things which are challenging, inspiring, informative or helpful.”

Er, Tony, the only way you could possibly know that statement is true is by wasting far too much time on social media ... which kind of defeats your main premise!

Sadly, in my limited experience, whenever I check FB it appears, at best, 50/50 between inspiring and cornflakes."

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