March 28, 2009

Facebook, Twitter, and Blogging

My discomfort is growing. So are my questions.

    Shall I continue with Facebook?

    Shall I drop Twitter, now that I have experimented with it?

    If I reclaimed the time from Facebook and Twitter, would I return whole-heartedly to the Quaker blogosphere, both in reading blogs as well as writing for my own?

    What about sustaining the relationships that grew out of blogs and are currently much more active on Facebook and Twitter?
Plus I'm wanting to be intentional about continuing the momentum I've got going for self-publishing a book of blog posts relevant to the recent renewal among Friends.

It seems as though I've been spending less time with that new, exciting project and more time keeping up with the electronic Joneses.

That turns my stomach a little bit.

The fact that I am asking myself these questions indicates that something is stirring within me. It's clear that I can't adequately sustain all of these pieces of technology.

It's also clear that I won't give up email: too many people in my immediate life--family, local Quakers--rely more on email than on the other electronic forms of communication.

I wonder if other bloggers wonder about these things.

I wonder if non-bloggers wonder about these things.

I wonder what choices Friends in particular have made about managing their time, about using online social networking tools, about evaluating the benefit or difficulty of these things...?

I can't imagine I'm the only one struggling.

From time to time, I think about the testimony of simplicity and how it relates to my searching. This afternoon I took some time to read a bit and reflect. And yes, I found these through a Google search: I do believe there's a place for the Internet in my life, but it's a question about how to use it and how much to use it.
Outwardly, simplicity is shunning superfluities of dress, speech, behaviour, and possessions, which tend to obscure our vision of reality. Inwardly, simplicity is spiritual detachment from the things of this world... [so as] to love God with all of the heart and mind and strength. The testimony of outward simplicity began as a protest against the extravagance and snobbery which marked English society in the 1600s. In whatever forms this protest is maintained today, it must still be seen as a testimony against involvement with things which tend to dilute our energies and scatter our thoughts....
--Faith and Practice, section on Simplicity, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), 1983

Simplicity is essential to our relationship with the Divine. It is the deepest leading of spiritual life in stewarding needs, time, money, possessions and energy for the purpose of our relationship with the Divine... Simplicity can set free richness of spiritual life and joy in living... It can remove barriers to engagement with others. This testimony encourages Friends to consider obstacles in our lives which interfere with this Divine experience... The practice of this testimony changes throughout our lives and requires a constant awareness. We recognize the pressures to conform to the materialism of our society.
--Faith and Practice, Approved chapter on Simplicity, Northern Yearly Meeting

The taproot of simplicity is to be found at that point in the life of a Friend when the realization comes that his or her inner and outer lives are connected, that for the inward life to continue to grow, there must be a response from the outward life.
--Frances Taber, as in Northern Yearly Meeting's chapter on Simplicity, see above
I suppose I have the answer to my own question. Now begins the struggle for me to live into it.


Simplicity - A Wider View, from Still Life

Other blog posts by non-Quaker bloggers that link to this post:
It's Facebook Week at Mashable
How Do You Communicate


kwicker said...

Powerful testimonies, Liz!

Does simplicity require a complete shunning of Facebook and such? Or does it allow a more restrained and -- hopefully -- judicious use of it? I have only been on Facebook a few months, but I don't find it too distracting because I made a deal with myself that I will access it no more than twice a week. And most weeks, I've only done so once.

All of these things are tools. We just have to figure out how to get the good from them without getting stuck in the bad, I guess!

Mary Elizabeth Bullock-Rest said...

This post is compelling. Reading it made me realize that I most often experience God and follow the leadings of the Inner Guide through my relationships and connections with other people more than I do through creative output like a blog (though I have one) or editing a book. Virtually all the people I keep up with on Facebook are my relatives, face-to-face friends, and Friends ---mostly in my Quarterly and some far away whom I hope to meet someday at Quaker gatherings. All of these people challenge me to be more caring, loving, open and giving---to follow the Sermon on the Mount.

Simplicity, then, for each person might be said to have its own personality its own "flavor", the same way each person has a unique personality, special dreams and spiritual gifts. The quest then is tuning into the One who can reveal our individual destinies, so that we do not squander away the gift of life we have been given. I think about this existential question much these days since I have been told by doctors I have a small (5-10%) chance of having breast cancer.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I confess I am a little surprised by your focus on simplicity. For me, it is not nearly as much about simplicity as it is about community and equality.

Web connections among Friends in different parts of the world are doing a fine job of nurturing a community that needs to exist, and has not existed since the old practice of constant intervisitation went out of style. As your quote from Northern YM’s Faith and Practice puts it, they “remove barriers to engagement with others.” And they do so in a way that is a great deal simpler, less expensive and pretentious, and easier on the environment than constant physical intervisitation would be.

Blogging accomplishes this community-building, but in a way that strongly privileges the owner of the blogsite over those who visit and comment, much as traveling ministry used to privilege the ministerial class.

Facebook does a far better job of framing conversation as an interaction between total equals in a meeting clerked by a disinterested host.

I don’t use Twitter, so I can’t say as much about it. I’m put off, though, by the 140-character limit. That seems an obstacle to real ministry.

Cat C-B (and/or Peter B) said...

I have also been wrestling with these questions. I am definitely reading less of other bloggers' words, and since the reading I do on blogs is a major element of where I'm getting my spiritual nurture these days, that is a cause for some concern.

On the other hand, I find I'm delighted by the sense of community springing up through FB. Since I'm someone who lives about a half-hour's drive from my monthly meeting, and since my teaching schedule allows little time or energy for building up relationships with the members of the meeting during the school year, it is hard to really deepen my relationships with other folks at my meeting as much as I'd like. FB has been excellent for doing that, and the sense of people in their lives beyond First Day has been important to me.

I have a sense that Marshall is right about the importance of tools like FB in fostering community; if my only connections with the living men and women of my meeting come in worship, it's all to easy to relate to them only through a rosy haze of idealization. I know that it's my job to love those I have been given in community (in all my communities) but it's only when I start bumping up against people in three dimensions, beyond First Days, that that becomes the strong meat it is (I think) meant to be. It becomes both more challenging and more real, more rewarding.

No question friendships have been deepened for me via FB.

I also have a strong sense that both blogging and FB are taking the place that intervisitation might have had in the past, and that this may be part of what God wants for Friends at this time.

Marshall's use of the words "less pretentious" to describe this form of interaction over formal ministries of intervisitation, and his perception that blogging privileges the owner of the blogsite over visitors and commenters, is something I'm going to have to sit with for a while. I have been wrestling hard with my own questions over whether my blogging is a ministry, and part of my struggle is with the term "ministry" and the model of human interaction (not just obedience to leadings!) and perhaps privilege that word implies. (I have no problem with the word applied to others, but I get the willies if I start to contemplate it and myself for any purpose longer than the two or three minutes a single incident of vocal ministry might take.)

So it's hard for me to weigh Marshall's ideas here, because I am myself in such flux inwardly in this area.

However, I do think ideas of simplicity are relevant, too. Despite a tendency on the part of liberal Friends to link the idea of simplicity with political ideas around "living simply that others may simply live" (and the value of such ideas) I do have the sense that the core of the Quaker testimony of simplicity would be unchanged in a world where there was no hunger or lack anywhere. We would still have to ask ourselves, is this thing (or activity or event) a distraction from being in relationship with God?

And there, individual mileage is gonna vary. What is following the leadings for one person is outrunning the guide or turning a deaf ear to it for another. I hate to think of what it would mean for the Quaker world had Martin Kelley and his team of editors not gotten involved with the technology of Web 2.0 and shaped Quaker Quaker into the tool it is! It's a complicated tool... but is it a ministry? I think perhaps it is--certainly, it has made a lot of what seems to me to be ministry possible.

Nourishing community and being nourished by it can be what we're meant to be doing... or it can be avoiding what we're meant to be doing. Teaching school, which eats my life from September through June, may be what I'm supposed to be doing (and sacrificing for) or it may be a dangerous distraction from listening to God and being fully present in my community. Facebook, blogging even reading or writing on spiritual matters... any of these can be following God or blowing her off. How can I know?

No shortcuts, I suspect. Just the slow inward questioning (and perhaps outward tools of things like clearness committee) that leads to discernment of difficult things. And the answers will not be the same for everyone. They just won't.

I'll miss you if you leave FB, Liz. But I'll also be grateful to have had the connections we have had, AND glad if you manage to figure out where your energies are supposed to go.

It won't answer my own questions... but I'm glad you have raised them, because that helps.

Gil S said...

I joined Facebook for family reasons, to keep track of my travelling sons, but I stay because of deepening friendships and making Quaker connections between continents.

Yes there is much that is trivial there that I also get caught up in and I question the use of my time getting involved in word games etc. But at the moment I will stay there.

I am not writing in my blog as much as I intended when I began and that is something I am trying to address but I do derive a lot of spiritual nourishment and food for thought from reading blogs including yours.

There have been posts on simplicity on several of the blogs I read and I very much like Mary Elizabeth's comment about simplicity having a different flavour for each person. You might like to see what my friend Heather has to say, if you haven't read it already, at

I do think that my life is too short for Twitter though - or Twitter is too short for my life!

Robin M. said...

I started using Twitter just to see what it was about and if there was a way to use it for professional purposes. Now I'm partly using Twitter to update my status on FB without having to go over and get sucked into the other stuff there. My Twitter feed is a mix of the various parts of my life.

However, I just wrote a whole post about blogging as ministry. That point is very clear to me.

Linda said...

I, too, wonder about how much time I spend on the computer. On the one hand, I appreciate the social connection and practical resources available through Facebook, Ravelry (a knitting site), blogs, and more. These resources have helped me deepen connections with friends, but I can also misuse them to distract myself from what I need to get done. No answers for myself yet...

Heather said...

Thanks for linking to my post, Liz - it's good to know I'm not wrestling with these ideas on my own!

August Grey Designs said...

Hi Liz

Great Blog and so very true. I decided to post a blog on a few things when it comes to time and spending to much on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. I reference to your blog and put the link on my blogger. I hope you have a great day and try not to spend to much of it on keeping up with the Jones. lol

Martin Kelley said...

First off, I'm just trying to imagine Marshall confined to only 140 characters--wow!

I'll just echo something I said on Robin's post, that blogs are different from Facebook in that they make our thoughts available to those outside of our traditional networks. There is absolutely no way that the diversity of the Quaker blogging community could have happened via Facebook. I have years of emails from hundreds of Friends which start off "I just did a google search for xyz and came across your blog and have been thinking the same things..." We Friends already have a cultural propensity to cluster into small groups and turn their attention to one another, forgetting the world might be interested in what we're saying. Facebook is like internet crack, in that people we know tell us how great we are, but it doesn't do much to widen the community. I'm on Facebook, of course, but it's more like a care committee--"hey Friends, this is what I've been doing out on the internet." If we're really serious on spreading the good news, we've got to maintain public presences too.

On the technical side, like Robin I use Twitter to post Facebook status updates and to read an interesting mix of links from people whose links I admire. Most of my Facebook presence is imported from public services I use (Delicious, Flickr, Youtube, my blogs), with 10% posted directly to Facebook. Most of the comments I get on Facebook is for content I've published elsewhere. I've successfully weaned myself of all the Facebook time-sink distractions ("What kind of Quiz Taker are You," etc). I haven't found Facebook to be a particularly good organizing tool and it seems to highlight the trivial: if you really want a lot of Facebook comments, just start posting about your hair (seriously). It's fine, it has it's uses, and it's good for getting feedback from other Quaker insiders, but I see it functioning more as a backend to our public ministry.

ef (Pam) said...

I have to say, I think it's a stretch to even call it ministry. Maybe it manages to be to Martin, who takes that sort of think so much more seriously than me.

I have been struggling with this stuff myself, and have to say I'm relieved, or something, to see that you do as well, Liz. I tend to think you're a 'good quaker' an I'm a 'bad one'

I think the fact that I haven't blogged in over a year is VERY tied to facebook. I dont' necessarily blog as ministry, but just as a way to seek connection, for my own ends, really. Facebook offers a cheapened version of this, a little like junkfood instead of something that is really satisfying.

On the other hand, I know what's going on in the life of my sister, who lives far away and is a TERRIBLE correspondent. I am connected to people from grade school who I might or might not exchange christmas cards with otherwise, and I get glimpses of people in my life from angles that I wouldn't otherwise.

There IS stuff I value about it, but honestly, I spend most of my free computer time playing games or taking quizzes that have pretty much NO redeeming value, and really, honestly, aren't as "fun" as blogging, or other forms of deeper thought/connection, just much easier.

Thanks for bringing it up!

Anonymous said...

Hi Liz -

I have been on a two-day self-imposed fast of the whole internet kit and kaboodle since I moved over the weekend (again!). My internet hasn't been working at home, so (gasp), I can only access it at work.

It's strange to live in a place with no internet, no tv, and no roommates. After 20 or 30 minutes of "but wait, isn't there something I need to do online?" and "but wait, isn't there something important happening on CNN?" I finally give up and pick up a book or peel some carrots. It has had a silencing effect... but if it goes on for too long, I could imagine feeling isolated. Time to knock on my neighbors' door I think :)

"Consider the Lilies"

Liz Opp said...

I'm grateful for all of you have taken time to read, reflect, and respond to this post. I feel as though a number of us have been looking more deeply, or more intentionally, into the choices we've been making regarding "social media" and its place in our lives and in our communities. I know I have, and I feel buoyed by your replies.

kwix -

Thanks for reminding me about "moderation in all things." I find that when I've mentally prepared myself to take a day (or more) away from Facebook, I'm more likely to follow through. I also believe I haven't had a clear sense of what "the good" is for myself within Facebook, as it relates to Gospel Order (and not just my friends who are happy to hear from me).

Elizabeth -

I agree that each person must define for herself or himself just what helps clear the connection, as you so eloquently put it:

The quest then is tuning into the One who can reveal our individual destinies, so that we do not squander away the gift of life we have been given.

The fact that I often come away from a Facebook session feeling like those were minutes not well spent tells me something about just what I'm squandering.

Marshall -

I suppose my focus on simplicity is because I have found Facebook and Twitter to be more intrusive to my community building, not more nurturing of it.

That said, I can also see how for others--such as yourself and Martin--Facebook is a great tool for outreach, relationship building, and sustaining community.

I also appreciate your point about equality--that somehow Facebook is more of an "Everyman's" online tool, while blogging may be a tool belonging to a more articulate, more educated group of people.

On the other hand, I don't feel like I've seen the exchanges on Facebook that I had--and still have--on blogs that shattered the stereotypes I had about the branches of Friends. For me, I needed the deeper conversation that blogging provides. That was my entryway into exploring a broader and faster exchange of greetings and connections through FB.

Cat -

I'm struck by your comment that perhaps blogging and FB "are taking the place [of] intervisitation."

While modern Friends may be more and more easy with online communication, the experiences I have had of gathering with Friends face to face for worship, learning, and fellowship far outdoes the Facebook and Twitter worlds in terms of quality and spiritual enrichment. I would much rather give up Facebook and Twitter than lay down The Good Raised Up.

As for the value of blogging as it compares to the value of intervisitation, that is harder for me to sort out. I have so thoroughly enjoyed the fruit that has come out of the blogosphere, and in some ways the meet-ups have come out of the blogging.

In other ways, the blogging has been shaped by the meet-ups and intervisitation, and as I've read about other bloggers' travels among Friends, I've been opened to the possibility of how God might draw me into a community of Quakers that I otherwise never would have thought to have visited. (Last year's trip to the annual sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative is a case in point.)

Anyway, it's more and more clear to me that some Friends' ministry is called out via FB and other Friends' ministry is called out via blogging.

It's like we are all sowing seed and the seed is landing on many different types of soil. All of it is needed; all of us are needed...

Oh dear, I've run out of time to consider the remaining comments but hope to get back to them soon.


Liz Opp said...

Gil -

Thanks for taking the time to add your thoughts to the discussion.

Like you, I get spiritual nurture--and gain new Light--by reading [Quaker] blogs. I think that's what's troubled me so, even more than not having time to write: I miss having time to read.

Of course, it's always been my own choice of how I spend my times on- and offline. But somehow, it's been Facebook that has illuminated for me how far from the Well I've strayed.

I also appreciated pointing me (and others) to the blog Still Life and to Heather's post there about simplicity.

Robin -

Thanks for linking to your post "Blogging as ministry." As I referred to in my response to Cat (above) and as you and Martin say in the comments on your post, the blogosphere has "expanded our collective knowledge" about Quakerism.

I feel like I've got a much better handle on the extended family of Quakers that are, in fact, the Religious Society of Friends, all part of one large religious family tree; no more are we severed branches from the Trunk...

Well hey there, Linda! It's good to see you here, truly.

And Heather, too. Thanks for chiming in and letting me know it's okay to be asking these questions about discipline, ministry, distraction.

August Grey Designs -

Wow, I appreciate your taking the time to read this piece and then mention it in a post of your own! I hope the blogging, Facebooking, researching, school thing all goes well.

Martin -

As is often the case, I think about you and your relation to the Internet, the Quaker blogosphere, etc. I think of the "advancement and outreach" work you've done over the years, to young Friends, to Friends across the schisms, to folks who find their way to QuakerQuaker... I think you and I have very different leadings, expressed in different ways.

Of course some of us will be better suited to Facebook--or blogging or Twitter or the updated QQ site--than others. I'm just glad you and I can test our gifts in these different electronic realms and bring them out more fully as Way opens.

And for some of us, we're able to manage and navigate and sustain connection through more than one form of social media while also "spreading the good news." I'm just not one of them, and I have to take a serious look at how I am or am not living up to my measure... in service to the Spirit.

That said, I'm glad you and other Friends (my partner included) are being visible on FB and elsewhere. All of these avenues to God's kin(g)dom are needed.

Pam -

Good to hear from you! I was hoping you hadn't completely closed up shop... If this post has helped you see that I'm not as good a Quaker as you thought, I'm okay with that. ...And I sure hope you'll get back to blogging: yours is a voice and a perspective that gets me thinking, and I miss Reaching for the Light.

Rob! -

Wow, good to see YOU here, even in the midst of moving. ...I think I go through some similar angst--"wait, isn't there something I need to look up online?!"--when I travel and leave my computer behind. On the other hand, I now travel with an "iGadget" [aka iPhone], which I guess keeps my Internet fix alive and well.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to share your thoughts. ...Can I tell you how good it feels to me to be in touch with you this way?

I think I'll read some other Quaker blogs now: I feel inspired... and Facebook can wait... I think.


suburbanhen said...

You recently commented on my blog post about facebook.

This is what you wrote:

'Hey there--

Thanks for the link to The Good Raised Up and my recent post about my own struggle with balancing Facebook, Twitter, and blogging.

I'm particularly grateful to read about how to go about deleting Facebook if I ultimately choose to go down that road.

Out of curiosity, how did you come across my post? A few other (non-Quaker) bloggers have since pointed their readers to me, and I'm both boggled and humbled by that.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up'

Either you're very confused as to the link you claim that I have on my blog to yours, or you are outright lying, as there is no such link.
Seeing as you are calling yourself a Quaker, and therefor a presumably honest person, I'm going to have to assume that you have made a terrible error, and that you are now going to apologise for ADVERTISING your blog on mine.

I'm sure you would probably rather view it as 'witnessing', but frankly, to someone like me who has had a great deal of experience of the passive-aggressive nature of people like you, lying is lying, plain and simple, no matter how you dress it up.

I have deleted your comment from my blog, and would ask that you do not return with your propaganda. I feel sullied by it and your sly ways have upset me greatly.

Liz Opp said...

My apologies to Suburban Hen who pointed out in her comment above, that the blog post she refers to in fact, does not include a link to The Good Raised Up.

She's right that I made an error:

I had several blogs open at the same time, one of which linked to several other blog posts about the struggles some of us face with Facebook (excuse the poor pun). By the time I jumped off of that blog post into Suburban Hen's, I got mixed up about how I got there and commented on her blog that I appreciated her link to mine--and she is right: she doesn't link here.

My bad.

I chalk it up to too much multi-tasking.

In addition, from what I can tell after double-checking, I don't include a link to Suburban Hen's blog either (and I would have respected her request to remove the link if I had).


Robin M. said...

You know, I feel sullied just reading suburbanhen's overblown, obnoxious comment. I feel sorry for you, Liz.

Kim Ranger said...

Marshall wrote that "Facebook does a far better job of framing conversation as an interaction between total equals in a meeting clerked by a disinterested host." I find Facebook to be entirely interested in invading our privacy and using our information to its economic I don't maintain my account there. Sometimes I find all of the e-communication forms to be intrusive too, as you pointed out, & I do agree that different formats meet different needs. My partner finds all of her e-communication to feed her need for connection with her friends. I need more time for print reading & contemplation.

Thanks for such an interesting post!

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