In the small province of the blogosphere which I inhabit, there’s been quite a lot of chat recently about how Christians use social media to interact with one another and with the wider world. A lot of this focuses on the interactions we can have in 140 characters or longer, and on the dangers of creating an online persona which doesn’t match our meatspace reality (see Tim Chester, Cat Caird, Bryony Young and others).
What I find even more fascinating, however, is the image we unintentionally allow all this public soul-searching, liking and linking to convey about ourselves. I want to suggest that, put together, this information is more likely to tell us the truth about ourselves than to mislead people that we are more exciting than we really are.
I was talking to a friend recently who made the observation that their ‘year in status’ word-cloud talked more about alcohol than about Jesus. This illustrates the point that however we try and present ourselves, the truth is hard to hide when so much is public.
I’ve been thinking a bit lately about this in the context of my new role in the Church of England, which is as a part of the team in the Exeter Diocese who help people through the process of selection to ordained ministry. I’m also currently in the process of appointing new staff at church, which is a shorter process, but with the same aim of finding out if a candidate is a good fit for the role.
Now I’m not alone in this, but you need to know that whenever you contact me about selection, or about a job, the first thing I’ll do is type your name or e-mail address into Google, Facebook and Twitter to see what you look like and what you’re prepared to tell the world about yourself. If you’re a friend of a friend (as more and more people are) then it’s likely that I’ll be able to see your children, your holiday photos and stag night pictures as well, which might not always be the image you want me to have during an interview.
But the flip-side is true as well. What if I can’t dig up anything on you? Is that better or worse?
Well, If these three searches don’t throw anything up then I’ll assume one of three things:
- You’re really paranoid about internet security;
- You’re not really cut out for communicating in the modern world; or
- You have a secret online life under another alias or username.
Needless to say, two out of these three reasons are not going to help you as you go forward for selection to a public teaching ministry or church job.
But enough about my snooping (I’m just giving your fair warning that when I ask you questions I might already know the answers) how can you put this confession to good use?
I want to suggest that as well as being a goldmine to an employer or selector, social media is a great tool for auditing your own life.
Here are some initial questions you could ask yourself:
- What are the most important things in my life? (what/who do I photograph, tag, name-check, stalk?)
- Do people think they are better friends with me than they are?
- Am I using social networks when I should be asleep, listening, in church, etc?
- If you are a follower of Jesus, would anyone know from your Facebook profile or twitter feed?
- Do you have an outlet for negative emotions that isn’t quite so public?
- Am I a leader or a follower? (do you retweet/share/like more than you create new content?)
- Do my posts or status updates show ‘quality of mind’? (This one particularly relevant to those seeking to meet ordination selection criteria.)
I could go on, but I’ll get a better list if others wade in, what questions would you add to the list of self-assessment questions for users of social media?
P.S. I know there are other networks out there, but I’m a late adopter, so I’m pretending they don’t exist until I really can’t avoid them. (That’s why I’ve ignored your Linkedin Request – sorry.)