Once describing the pitfalls and perils of fame, comedian Steve Martin made the following observation:
“Being a celebrity can cause an accidental cheapening of the things one holds dear. A slip of the tongue in an interview and it’s easy to feel I’ve sold out some private part of my life in exchange for publicity.”
I heard that quote a couple weeks ago and I’ve been reflecting on it ever since. Especially since last month marked my first “twitterversary.”
Ok so I don’t know if twitterversary is a thing, but I created the word in honor of the day I decided to start using Twitter. Most people probably don’t remember when they began using Twitter, nor do they care, but for me it was kind of a big deal. My regular readers may remember that I had a lot of concerns about this form of social media and how it was being used. In fact, I wrote about it numerous times here on my own blog, in addition to other Christian blogs.
Because of my concerns I abstained from Twitter for a long time. When I finally did create an account I wrote a special blog post explaining my reasons, drawing up personal stipulations, and asking you readers to hold me to them. I took that accountability seriously, and I think I did a pretty good job sticking to them!
That said, I thought it would be fitting to revisit some of my initial misgivings about social media a year after joining Twitter. That is why I opened with the above quote from Steve Martin. Although I am by no means a celebrity, there is an aspect of social media that essentially mimics celebrity (ie. making our private lives public) and, in so doing, leaves us vulnerable to the same temptations he describes.
In the past year of using Twitter I have definitely failed to maximize its potential for promoting my writing. This lack of use was not for any convictional reason, but simply because I often felt torn about my motives whenever choosing to post a tweet. I found myself wrestling with questions like:
What is the line between being a godly steward of my message and and serving a selfish ambition?
What is the line between using Twitter to connect with readers, and over-sharing parts of my life that should remain personal?
What is the difference between being transparent and using Twitter (or other social media) as an escape?
How does social media make me feel? Does it pressure me to produce more or be something I’m not? Does it plague me with comparisons? Does it cause me to feel excluded from others instead of being more connected to them?
And to rephrase Martin’s words, what is the difference between inviting others into my personal moments, and cheapening them through their promotion?
These questions are tough because, in my own experience, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media highlight my sin nature in a clear and undeniable way. Most obviously, social media feeds an urge to pronounce snarky, snide, or plain old mean-hearted comments in a public way. Rather than keep those thoughts to myself and allow God to deal with them, it is much easier to vent my opinions quickly and widely. This temptation reminds me of verses like Proverbs 26:21 which compare a loose tongue to a wildfire. Social media is the kindling, and I can provide the spark.
However there is another temptation in social media that Martin pinpoints, and it is a subtler one: When are we using social media to connect with one another, and when are we using it to promote our own image? This vice is tricky because it’s easy to deny, but when I’m honest with myself I must admit that image management is a major temptation for me. Although I live far away from friends and family and I use social media to share my life with them, I also like promoting a certain image of myself.
Aside from the fact that this impulse is self-centered, it has an additional consequence. As Martin said, it can cheapen the things we hold dearest. By using our spouses, children, and most precious moments to serve our egos, we fail to honor them. This can even be true of God. While it is important to share God’s work in my life, I sometimes broadcast some aspect of my faith or growth in order to affirm my spiritual image.
With all of this in mind, I’ve marked my Twitterversary by thinking about what it means to boast in the Lord. Paul uses this phrase many times–Romans 5:2, 5:11, and 1 Corinthians 1:31–and his refrain checks my motives. He reminds me that I can “boast in the Lord” in a manner that is actually boasting in me and my own grand holiness. That’s how perverted sin can be!
Using social media to honor the Lord means using it in a way that truly honors Him first and foremost. When I stand before the Lord, I want to honestly say that I am using these tools to promote the message He gave me, to share a delightful moment with my son, or to attest to His mighty acts, but not to promote my own glory.
I won’t pretend to be perfect in this area. It is actually very difficult, but it’s a goal I am striving for. At the end of the day this is between me and God, so I have to be careful about judging how other people use social media themselves. But this is where I am today, on my twitterversary.
Thanks for your honesty, Sharon! I think your struggle is a good one because there’s a lot of baggage that comes with social media.
“What is the line between being a godly steward of my message and and serving a selfish ambition?
What is the line between using Twitter to connect with readers, and over-sharing parts of my life that should remain personal?” <— these questions are SO important to ask. I used to follow (on Twitter) a Christian woman who is the head of a ministry. After awhile, I unfollowed her because the shameless self-promotion of herself, her style,her vegetarianism, her husband and her pregnancy in connection with her ministry disturbed me. I feel bad because her exhortations to singles and married women are good and biblical, but I'm realizing more and more that she, and others like her, are better at selling products than presenting their nothingness and the all-sufficiency of Christ.Social media doesn't help to establish that balance. Ultimately, our interesting/inspiring lives shouldn't be the "hook" to draw ppl's attention to a ministry, no matter how much God has blessed us because of obedience. All the glory all belongs to the Lord and the most we can offer is less of self. But selflessness with social media is tough….
Great to read your take on this, Sharon, as well as Lesley Miller’s over at her.meneutics earlier this week. I’m still a twitter-phobe (and facebook and whatever other sites there are). Connecting through blog comments and posting on my own blog are radical enough for me right now, but what the two of you have pointed out is excellent guidance for me too.
Sharon- It’s so wonderful to hear your thoughts on this subject as it’s one I’ve struggled with for sometime. I remember attending BlogHer back in 2008 and seeing women use Twitter to for the first time. I swore to myself I’d never, ever participate in such self promoting medium. 6 months later I was forced to join as part of my job, and I’ve been active there since. I both love and hate Facebook, Twitter and blogging for many of the reasons you describe above. I appreciate your eloquent and thoughtful way of writing on this subject. Like you, I know that everyone’s boundaries and use of these sites are different–it is not my job to judge others even though it’s tempting sometimes. I love this paragraph this most:
“Using social media to honor the Lord means using it in a way that truly honors Him first and foremost. When I stand before the Lord, I want to honestly say that I am using these tools to promote the message He gave me, to share a delightful moment with my son, or to attest to His mighty acts, but not to promote my own glory.”
great thoughts about social media!