“Mommy, can I have an Instagram account?” my daughter asked from the back seat of the van. We were on our way home from a retreat I’d led for a church in South Carolina. I’d decided to bring the family with me—the retreat was in Myrtle Beach; enough said—and they’d had a great time. The kids met all kinds of new friends and made plans to keep in touch. Apparently Instagram was the preferred method.
Unfortunately, my daughter is 11, and the Instagram terms of service specify a minimum age of 13.
What’s a rule-following mother to do? I don’t want to give her the impression that it’s OK to bend the rules, even in a trivial matter. And maybe this matter isn’t so trivial. Does an 11 year old need an Instagram account yet? I’d love to nurture these fledgling friendships, but can’t I keep her young and social-media sheltered for just a little while longer? Whom is she likely to encounter on these sites? Friends, of course, just like I happily do. But what about people who might do her harm?
I am confronted with these questions even as I work on my next book, Spirituality in the Smartphone Age, which is an attempt to examine this digital culture we all swim in. As I write, I’m trying to discern some spiritually faithful patterns and practices for engaging with technology. How much is too much? What does it mean to be “authentic” online? How can we be mindful of personal boundaries? What does meaningful community look like?
One of the challenges in writing the book is defining what I mean by spirituality, as opposed to the psychology or sociology of digital culture. Other authors have explored quite thoroughly the ways the Internet has changed the way we work, play, and relate with one another. What I’m after is something simultaneously deeper and broader: a holistic approach that integrates body, mind, spirit, and community.
But the other challenge in writing the book is that I’m so very confused and ambivalent myself about our technological age and how it is changing us.
As I work on my next book (working title Spirituality in the Smartphone Age), I’ve gotten curious about the online/social media habits of different Enneagram types, and put together a survey to that effect. (Survey is now closed.)
The Enneagram stuff won’t be in the book—I’m thinking a free PDF in advance of the book—but here are some preliminary findings.
(Today’s post is general and will not delve into the Enneagram at all, but if you want to learn more about what it and figure out your type, here is a place to begin.)
This was not a scientific study. I did not apply any statistical jiujitsu to this work, because I have none. For example, although Enneagram 6s supposedly make up half the world’s population, they comprised the smallest number of respondents. That’s going to skew things. Nothing to be done about that.
For this reason, although I will be making some guesses and drawing some conclusions, they should all be taken with a grain of salt. My guesses are based on the data I collected, nothing more. So if I report that Facebook is the most popular social media site, you should hear an unspoken “among respondents” after that claim. (Though that’s a bad example because Facebook IS the most popular social media site by most metrics.)
General Online Habits: 50% of respondents report spending 1-3 hours a day online, whether engaged in social media or reading and writing blogs or other sites. 28% spend 3-5 hours online. 15% spend more than 5 hours per day.
Reasons for Using Social Media:
People could check multiple options here. The top responses by far were “my friends and family are there” and “it’s entertaining/informative”; each commanding almost 70%.
“A sense of habit” was at the bottom of the list, but it was still chosen by more than a third of respondents. That seems significant to me. Habits aren’t necessarily bad—brushing one’s teeth twice a day would poll pretty high, eh? But I talk to more and more folks who find it hard to unplug from online activities, and who find that fact concerning.
Preferred/Favorite Social Media Sites: Upon reflection, I essentially threw these questions out as useless. Facebook and Twitter were the big winners, which seems plausible, but people were coming to the survey from those sites, so that’s going to skew the result. I did note that reading and writing blogs performed very favorably—better than Twitter, actually—and Pinterest was the most beloved site among what I’d call second-tier sites such as Goodreads, Google+ or Instagram. (I know that Instagram and Tumblr are big among millenials. That’s another caveat to my survey, which was advertised through my friends and friends-of-friends: I’m sure it skewed older.)
Engagement with Social Media:
These questions had to do with how people use social media and other sites.
Reading v. posting: A clear majority of people felt they read and posted in a more or less balanced way. The second most popular response, with 42%, was “I mainly read and only occasionally post or comment.” So the vast majority of us are actively engaging, as opposed to lurking, or posting without reading others’ posts (1% each). This is a question where we saw interesting variation among the different Enneagram types. That’ll be in my next post.
Content: As for what people post, a majority selected “I carefully consider what I post, thinking about how I portray myself on social media” (53%).
Only a third of respondents chose “I post what I’m thinking or feeling. I value authenticity and want my online and ‘real-life’ personas to be congruent.” This was followed closely by “I mainly post informational stuff, such as links to news articles or political content, and not as much stuff about me personally.” Only 14% of respondents reported using lists or filters to control who sees what. This is another question that had some interesting variations depending on Enneagram type.
Comments: More than half of respondents will occasionally read comments on news articles or other sites, depending on the site. But a third responded, “When/If I read the comments, I’m always sorry afterwards and feel like I need a shower.” (I feel ya!)
In the comment portion of this question, people clarified their answers. For example, some folks will always read comments if it’s an online community they feel a part of (e.g. RevGalBlogPals), as opposed to say, USA Today. Other comments were almost confessional in nature. One respondent said, “I often read articles, like about Michael Sam’s coming out, and think ‘I definitely don’t want to know what the commenters are saying about this’…and then I look, because I can’t stop the rubbernecking…and then I am immediately sorry.” Again: I feel ya.
What We Would Change:
The final question asked what we would like to change about our online/social media habits. This is really the heart of what I’m interested in, and were I to do this again, I’d focus more questions on it, but I have emails from numerous kind people who are willing to talk further.
A few people (mostly of a certain type—tune in next time) questioned why all of of the choices were phrased negatively: Social media is a positive in my life! I want more! one person commented. I had to laugh—I guess the choices reveal where I am, or where I was when I wrote the question! I get overwhelmed sometimes.
Anyway, here are the results. People could choose more than one:
51% I’m on these sites more than I should be or would like to be. I find it hard to disengage.
33% I feel like these new technologies have negatively affected my attention span.
24% I would like to do more on social media but lack time, expertise, etc.
13% Other people’s postings can leave me feeling down or dissatisfied with my own life. [I find it interesting that it’s so law. It’s become conventional wisdom that other people’s bragbooking and ‘perfectly curated’ personas lead to feelings of dissatisfaction. Thirteen percent isn’t nothing, but this result suggests the problem isn’t at all widespread.
11% I feel overwhelmed having to keep up with so many people’s lives.
9% I feel burdened by the desire to present a “persona” online that doesn’t always match me.
9% I get embroiled in conflict/comment wars online that I find it hard to extricate from (including emotionally).
What do you see in these results? What do you wonder about further?
In my next post, I’ll share a few tidbits about each of the nine Enneagram type.
Yes, your small church can set up a podcast—no knobs or whatsits required.
Some pastor friends and I got to talking recently about sermon podcasting. I’m always disappointed when gifted preachers I know, whose sermons I’d like to listen to, aren’t available as a podcast. Some congregations put their sermon audio on their church’s website, but that’s not the same as setting up a podcast that can be searched for and subscribed to via iTunes.
Many medium-sized and large congregations have folks to record the service and take care of this technical detail. But what about small congregations? Yes you can! We’ve been podcasting at Tiny Church for a few years now. (Search Idylwood Presbyterian on iTunes, or click here.)
In my experience with a small church, many decisions are inevitably weighed in terms of stewardship of time and resources. Or to put it crudely, a cost/benefit scale. Is it worth going through the effort of podcasting if only a couple of people will avail themselves of it?
It is absolutely worth the effort because it doesn’t take very much effort at all. It’s also an easy and important method of evangelism—a way of being in the world, exactly where people are searching for inspiration and ideas.
Thinking about setting up a sermon podcast but not sure where to start? Let me put on a very old hat of mine, that of technical writer.
There are three basic steps to podcasting: recording the sermon, converting the sound file, and uploading it to a podcast service. Here is how I handle those three steps in a small church without an A/V team.
1. Recording. I use iRecorder Pro, which is a $2.99 app for my iPhone. I put the phone on the pulpit and hit record when I start preaching and stop when I’m done. (Protip: Write start/stop reminders into your manuscript or notes.) The microphone works fine whether I’m using a microphone or not.
2. Converting to mp3. Most recorders I’m familiar with save the recording in some other format. Podcasts require mp3. I download the audio from my phone to my MacBook Air and use Switch to convert. It looks like there’s a paid version of Switch, but the version I use is/was free. There are a ton of audio converters out there.
3. Uploading the mp3 file to your podcast service. I use SermonDrop, which I’ve been very happy with. The free version keeps the 10 most recent sermons. If you want more than that, you can pay. You upload the file to their site, and there are places to type in scripture text, name of preacher, whether it’s part of a series, etc. You can even upload Here is IPC’s SermonDrop page.
You do those three steps every time. There’s also an intermediate step that you need to do once, which is to register your podcast with iTunes so it shows up in their listing. Here are some instructions. Basically you’re telling iTunes “hey, my podcast exists, here it is.” So anyone who searches for your church name will find it.
As a pastor of a small church, you could certainly find someone to take care of this each week. But honestly? It takes me 10 minutes per week, and that’s mainly waiting for the computer to convert and to upload. There is no reason not to do it.
Does your congregation podcast? What tools or suggestions do you have?
I’ve written before about the Sabbath Manifesto folks. I love their whimsy and style in promoting a practice that’s deep and ancient, yet ripe for a reboot. Check out their ten principles for Sabbath-keeping:
Next Friday evening, March 7, begins their annual Day of Unplugging, a 24-hour period in which folks are encouraged to switch off the devices and connect with family and community in a spirit of recreation and joy:
We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our iPhones and BlackBerry’s, chronicling our every move through Facebook and Twitter and shielding ourselves from the outside world with the bubble of “silence” that our earphones create.
If you recognize that in yourself – or your friends, families or colleagues— join us for the National Day of Unplugging, sign the Unplug pledge and start living a different life: connect with the people in your street, neighborhood and city, have an uninterrupted meal or read a book to your child.
The National Day of Unplugging is a 24 hour period – running from sunset to sunset – and starts on the first Friday in March. The project is an outgrowth of The Sabbath Manifesto, an adaption of our ancestors’ ritual of carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones.
Next Friday and Saturday, the Danas will be in Myrtle Beach as I lead the good folks of First Presbyterian, Sumter SC in their annual church retreat. What a fine place to unplug.
Interested in taking the plunge and signing the unplugging pledge? You’ve got a week to think about what your day of unplugging might look like. Peruse some of the photos on the site for inspiration:
Photos and images from the Sabbath Manifesto/Day of Unplugging website.
A few weeks ago I heard an NPR story about reSTART, an inpatient treatment program for people who are addicted to the Internet. It was eye-opening. Most of the program’s clients are young men addicted to video games, in some cases playing for 12 hours a day for weeks and months on end.
I grew up around the language of addiction. My father was a recovering alcoholic from the time I was three years old. My dad got sober not through an in-patient program but through Alcoholics Anonymous. From an early age I understood that, whether because of genetics or because of the complexities of our family system, I should be vigilant about alcohol’s effects on me.
Today I am a social drinker who can’t stand the feeling of being drunk. But I do think a lot about my Internet use, especially social media programs like Twitter and Facebook. It doesn’t impact my parenting or my job like the reSTART clients. I take a tech sabbath every weekend and am pretty good about sticking to it.
But it’s harder to immerse myself in a long book than it was even six or seven years ago. Granted, I recently finished Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder and could not put it down! But books that make me work hard often have me reaching for the smartphone every chapter or so. It’s the oft-lamented death of the attention span.
As a writer, I crave long uninterrupted time with my thoughts—tough to come by with part-time ministry, three kids and a spouse. But when I am able to set a day aside for writing, it’s hard to quiet the twitchy mind that wants to reach for the gadget and check Pinterest… again. (Hey, someone may have posted more pumpkin recipes! Or Nutella! In a slow-cooker!)
There is something chemical going on.
Around the time I might have curtailed or even quit Facebook and Twitter, two things happened. One: I got a call as a solo pastor, which means I don’t have staff colleagues to hang with around the water cooler. Social media helps fill that need to be, well, social.
And two: I started gearing up to publish (and promote) Sabbath in the Suburbs. I treasure the opportunity to connect with readers, and social media makes that a convenient (and yes, meaningful) activity. But there is also a cost to being so connected.
The NPR story was helpful because it allowed me to give myself a break. The poor folks who enter reSTART have flunked out of school and gotten fired. That’s a far cry from worrying about the ability to read a challenging novel without interruption.
The downside of such news stories is that they can let us off the hook. I expect there’s a good number of us who worry that we’re in a troubling place between social drinkers and problem drinkers. It doesn’t serve us well to say, “Well I’m not as bad as those people so I’m fine.”