Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Using Social Media to Build Local Community, Part II

24 August 2009

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." Rev. Martin L King, in Letter from a Birmingham City Jail


In my blog entry two days ago (for link click HERE), I used the story of Mary and Martha to urge that social media is not evil and and of itself, but rather that it is a tool which can benefit the larger goal of building community.  I urge that social media, and the activities it fosters, connects people in a way that is unbounded by geographic restraint, thus opening up a vast new range of possibilities in connectedness.  I view people who are focused on "ideas" (and using social media extensively) as being more like Mary, while I view people focused on "necessary chores" (like caring for local church groups, not caring about social media) as being more like Martha.   Rather than resist social media, I urge, leaders in community organizations should consider viewing social media as just another tool in the toolbox for building community both within and beyond our geographic boundaries. 

mary and martha by Jan Vermeer van Delft

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Jan Vermeer Van Delft, 1654
located at


Now to my main point:  I hope that individuals and community organizations -- both the Mary's and the Martha's among us -- will take time to learn about the new social media as this continuing drama evolves, and that community leaders will incorporate it for uses that benefit the local and broader community.  I hope that each person reading this -- whether by nature a Mary or a Martha -- will choose some of the "good part" for themselves.  I hope each has some passion that goes beyond whether today's dishes have been washed.  Yet I hope that the Mary's among us will not neglect the dishes.  Social media can be used for both purposes: to nurture and strengthen local community organizations and ties as well as to enter the swirling universe of conversation in ideas. 

Social media enables us to forge deeper relationships with people in our local communities.  By interacting on Facebook, for example, with people in my local community that I may only see casually, I might learn more about them and in that way become more closely connected than perhaps possible through superficial, face to face encounters.  If I want to host an event such as a meeting of a community service organization, I can create an event on Facebook and notify my friends with just a few clicks of a mouse.  This takes a fraction of the time that previously would have been devoted to telephone notifications, which in itself took much less time than mailed invitations.  As the event progressed, I could twitter about it or follow it on twitter.  I could also post videos of the event on a web site such as YouTube and photos of the event on a photo sharing web site such as Facebook or Flickr.  Pastor Boyd of New Life Church (referred to in Part I of this series) says that he is particularly fond of Podcasts.  (For a video showing how to create your own Podcast, click HERE.)  Why don't more community organizations use YouTube and Podcasts?   These tools have "flattened" the earth by making the benefits of media available to amateurs without the need for hiring recording and distributing companies! 

Truly, social media do not replace human relationships.  Of course there are some who use information on the Internet to avoid social interaction.  A person can now live in their home, buy everything online and never go outside, and do all of their corresponding online.  But I hope those are a small minority of people using social media.  For the most part, social media are nothing more than tools in a toolbox for building relationships stronger and deeper.  It's just that nowadays people chat via computer rather than chatting over beer at the bowling alley. 

In my own life, social media has actually enabled me to retain flesh and blood friendships that otherwise would have been lost in this era of transient jobs and a mobile workforce.  My grandparents lived and worked their entire lives in the same community, giving them great stability in their friendships.  Not so for my generation.  Our parents moved us around the country and, after my generation were adults, we moved as well, accumulating and then losing friends as a result of those moves.  Social media enables us to maintain social ties with those from whom we are separated by geographic distance.  I was especially grateful for that when I lived in China, which is the time when I began my China blog as a means of sharing my life with my friends "back home".  

A more recent tool in the social media toolbox is the development of Twitter.  Twitter is being touted as the next generation beyond traditional search engines.  The concept behind Twitter is deceptively simple.  A person can send short messages to people who choose to subscribe to those messages.  But people are doing more with twitter than merely sending messages that say "I'm hungry". 

By using a hash tag (#) in front of a word, people can assign topics to their twitter conversations, and then those hash tags can be searched.  This means that if I am interested in some particular, specialized topic, I can search for it and thereby find someone else who may be "twittering" about that topic.  In this way, twitter enables me to be in contact with people all over the world who are experts in or passionate about the same things I am passionate about. 

I, for instance, twitter on the subject of "peacemaking". Other peacemakers find me by searching for that topic.  If I want to communicate in more depth than 140 characters, I create a blog entry (such as this one) and then post a link on my twitter account to that blog entry.  Any time I don't like someone's posts on twitter, I simply remove that person from my "feed" and I don't receive their posts anymore.  I also block anyone whom I don't want reading or following my posts. 

Now, let's put that all together:  Here on my blog, I have embedded a YouTube explanation by @pistachio about why you should be interested in Twitter.  And for what it's worth, I twitter under the name @xanskinner .  Now I will go on twitter and post a tweet with a link to this page, as well. 

Is this something Jesus would approve of?  In Part III of this series, I discuss the relationship between the local and the online communities. 

Enjoy the video, and think about whether you have something worthwhile that you might like to add to the global conversation. 

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