Friday, February 3, 2012

Reflection: Real community? On Twitter, really! (Storify proof included)

"Twitter is great, but what about real community?"

"Sure, social media is helpful. But you can't have real 
relationships without face-to-face interaction."

These are the sorts of credulity-straining comments I often get when talking about social media with clergy. Sometimes ─ absolutely without irony ─ these comments will get made during conversations via social media.

We have a certain idea of what community looks like: gathering at the neighborhood store to catch up on all the latest community news; standing in the parking lot after church, talking with friends; walking by an open garage door and stopping to chat with a neighbor.

The common denominator in all of these images seems to be face-to-face interaction. Looking someone in the eye, shaking their hand, giving a hug, reading facial expressions. Social media lacks this essential element, and so many find themselves unable to imagine social media as being a real and meaningful expression of community.

But is being "face-to-face" really the most important common denominator for community? Or are relationships the essence of community? By community, don’t we mean the love and concern expressed for one another; the passionate interest in someone’s life -in the joys and sorrows; the rejoicings and hurts.

While these may most commonly develop because of face-to-face relationships, I’ve learned they can also develop via social media. I’ve developed real and meaningful relationships with people I’ve never met, and deepened ones with others who otherwise would have been merely acquaintances. 

On Twitter especially, a group of stranger-friends knows the details of one another's life. We offer one another mutual support and prayer. We mourn together, seek advice together, and rejoice together. I consider this community.

@Rev_David & @Megateer
I could drone on about the theology of relationships and community, but I’d rather show you.

What you'll find on this Storify transcript below, is only an excerpt from Twitter-based reactions to the news of my engagement to Megan (@megateer) (who, by the way, I met on Twitter long before I met face-to-face). I cannot look at the shared joy expressed in these tweets, and the love and care shown by these friends, or deny it’s a "real" community. Can you?

(Many of our Twitter friends have "protected" accounts, meaning only people who are approved can see what they tweet. This excerpt excludes content from protected accounts.)


ReBootFaith said...

You make a good argument and your example is really fun, but I'll be honest, after tweeting for a few weeks, I can see community that other people are part of, but I still don't have a clue how to build it from scratch. Twitter is feeling more and more broadcast-oriented and one-dimensional than social and interactional. Any thoughts?

Meredith Gould said...

Dear ReBootFaith...lots of thoughts, that I think I'll address in a separate post. Short answer: any community emerges over time, not overnight. And while Twitter time is very swift, a few weeks of tweeting isn't long enough to discover what's possible! MG

Pastor David said...


Welcome to Twitter.

A story. I have a friend who hated going to church. He was convinced that no one there liked him. Then I went with him to a church event. I watched as he stood in the corner, and waited for people to come over and talk to him. And then complained that "No one at church ever talked to him."

Social media is similar. Get out there, talk to people, enter into conversations. And then, give it time. Just like in real life, relationships take time to develop on twitter or any other social media.

Have fun!