I wrote a steaming blog post a few months ago, ladled with sarcasm with a side salad of cynicism and a good salting of angst (it had been a bad week), entitled ‘Welcome to Churchville’ You won’t have read it and you never will, because it wasn’t posted. Why? I sent it to a wise friend of mine to ask their opinion. He said ‘You can send that as Kate Bruce if you really want to – but I’d think twice. Not least because the blog could give a very unhelpful impression to onlookers about the organisation you work for. I hadn’t thought about that at all – and actually the blog had nothing to do with my workplace, and on reflection, was rooted in my need to vent my spleen by constructing and destroying a straw church. My friend’s gentle honesty helped me to see that I don’t need to vomit my stuff into cyberspace – that’s not wisdom, that’s indulgence. Wisdom dictates that the contents of my spleen are dealt with in spiritual direction. Thank God for my friend’s wisdom, which made up for my considerable lack.
My latest tweet – one of relatively few – was of a charismatic plant. It made me laugh… a lot. I had no hesitation tweeting the picture. I wanted to bring a smile to people who saw it. Usually, with text, I am more hesitant – perhaps that’s why I am relatively quiet on Twitter and Facebook. It’s the lack of tone of voice which troubles me. A tweet can be sharper than a Stanley knife (and an emoticon only goes so far) and once it’s out there… Texts sent in anger are irretrievable… and as for email… the potential for misunderstanding is vast.
If I tweet in anger or bitterness, or thoughtlessness, or in a spirit of shameless self-promotion, I can do harm to the recipients, to my own reputation and, by association, to the Church. I’ve been thinking of what might be wise rules for digital communication. Before hitting ‘send’/ ‘tweet’/ ‘post’, might it be worth asking:
- Is this helpful?
- Is it wise?
- Is it clear – or could I be misread?
- Will I belittle or embarrass someone?
- What does my communication suggest about the organisation I represent?
- Is this motivated by love, or by a desire to metaphorically kick someone in the proverbial?
Now – here’s a question… does this care over what I put out into the digital arena imply I am photo shopping myself – making sure the nasty bits about me (and there are plenty) are airbrushed out? Should I just say exactly what I think and hang the consequences? Is that the path of greater integrity? I’m pondering this – but I lean strongly towards the view that the path of following Christ calls us to try to behave in loving ways – so the ill-considered, angry retort might be restrained, the crude joke held back , the smart put down withheld, and the desire to have the last word unmasked and named.
Sigh…I have a long way to go on this – so for now… I’ll stick to charismatic plants, and maybe become a digital Trappist.
Editor’s Note: Sherry Turkle refers to ‘photoshopped selves’ online.