What if you took a break from blogging and tweeting?" I scanned the room, looking into faces of friends I'd known over a decade. What started as a simple retreat with seven of my closest friends began to feel more like an intervention. But that's why we were there—to spend a couple days away challenging one another to greater faithfulness and effectiveness.
When the conversation turned to me, everyone was in agreement. They each described my propensity for online arguments, how I focused so tightly on ideas that I often forgot the people connected to them. I nodded and said, "Yeah, I know I do that. I'm sorry. I'm not trying to hurt anybody's feelings."
One friend said, "Glenn, you want to be a pastor. But right now you're so worried about your digital influence that you forget to be present personally and locally."
That was tough to hear, but he was right.
"What can I do to turn this around?"
That's when they suggested it: a six-month fast from blogs and Twitter. They said my tweeting was only leading to a disembodied view of ideas. But ideas are attached to real people, embedded in real lives, with more context and nuance than a status update presents. My Twitter-and-blog-centric world only nudged me further in a bad direction I was already headed.
When I got home, I told my wife what my friends had suggested.
"I think I'm going to do this," I said. "I think I'm going to take six months away from social media." Her eyes welled with tears. I had been more distracted by the world of social media than I realized.
Hello, Social Media
I first entered the world of social media in 2007. I had just written a book and was doing my best to promote it. I created a Facebook account, primarily for book promotion. But as I used it, I began to appreciate its range of applications.
I could connect with friends from years past. Facebook was a window, and I could use it to see church members in their "out-of-Sundays context."
Then someone suggested I join Twitter. I was hesitant, but I gave it a try. I quickly saw its power for sharing links and following news or trending topics. It's a quick way to start dialogue or crowd-source an idea.
For me, Facebook became about sharing everyday life, and Twitter about the exchanging of ideas. Then came Instagram. I soon saw the beauty and simplicity of sharing life through pictures.
But I quickly learned that social media has a dark side, too. I became obsessive, always wanting to know what others were saying—especially in response to what I'd said! After posting something, I would repeatedly check to see who commented on my post. (Lame, I know.)
Social media was playing into the worst parts of me as a leader; it amplified my need to be seen and heard.
I began to compare myself to other leaders—which is especially easy on Twitter. I don't have to ask other pastors how big their churches are or know how many books or CDs someone has sold; I just have to check their number of Twitter followers. Yes, that's sick.
Social media wasn't forcing me to become narcissistic; it just enabled those tendencies. After all, the reason I joined in the first place was to build a platform for my books and CDs. This is not a bad thing when you consider that a publisher or record label has taken a risk on you and you're trying to match their investment with your own effort.