Focused Relationships in Social Media
Artificial intelligence captures our world in algorithms built to understand all everyday habits and purchases—and now our thoughts. This is a scary world for us who are baby boomers. Not only are we losing our purchasing power but we are also facing a new world. Instead of us having the power of decision, marketers are forcing our decisions. That, my Friends, is uncomfortable.
It’s time to look at how Quakers in this new world are handling these changes. How do we create a community that is within our Quaker testimonies, commonly remembered as SPICE—simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality? I’d like to take you down a path that I am seeing in this new world.
I’ve been in the advertising and communications industry my whole career. I’ve seen print and publishing in a physical form become another commodity. Since Facebook and Twitter have merged onto our path, I’ve spent many years actively working on them.
We could just dump these so-called social media sites and live with one another face to face. Believe me, I get that: I would very much like to go back to that era. However, keeping a presence online with these social media sites allows us to keep in touch with close friends and those family members we do not regularly see. How would we ever be able to hear from a far distant cousin? Without Facebook, the process is more complex and takes more of our time. And, in fact, would we even do it? These sites offer a simple way of finding the light within you while you watch the light in those you remember from decades ago.
We have shared memories with people from our past. To have the ability to reconnect and relive those memories by simply going online is incredibly powerful. Yes, we may not agree with them on all things. As in any relationship, we can agree to disagree but still be friends; this is no different when you use social media.
I am a big supporter of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and its tradition of building relationships. That is the first step of communication. In any dialogue with people who either do or do not agree, building the relationship is the fulcrum to balanced conversation. You work to either agree or agree to disagree in a way so as to not hurt either party. Nonviolent communication has a foundation in peace. Quakers have the same foundations; in our communication, we practice it.
I’d like to shine a light by sharing two stories which witness FCNL lobbying.
Story 1: My congresswoman gave me tickets to see the Pope at the U.S. Capitol in September 2015. I shared a beautiful morning with my sister and her mother-in-law. We were sitting on the Capitol lawn as the Pope spoke to Congress on the big screen TV. A light turned on me and I went to Twitter to thank my rep using her tag. I said I was holding her in the light and thanked her for this opportunity. Not more than two minutes later she responded to me on Twitter, thanking me for my tweet. The was the start of my lobbying with her.
Story 2: In my communications on Facebook, I post letters to the editors, linking them to my representatives’ Facebook pages. Many of my Quaker friends will share them, and those too are linked to the representatives, building a bigger audience for the letter. When I went on a lobbying visit with one of my congresswoman’s staffers, her chief of staff came out to speak to me about the letter. This again built a new relationship, while showing the strength of my current relationship.
It is important to maintain consistency in all of this and always reinforce the relationship. It is my reason for doing this work: to build a dialogue and to know that it is okay to not agree and still have cared for others. In this way, we constantly build peace within the relationship.
By sharing your true self online, you build a base of integrity with others. You may find friends who you have never met. I have over 600 friends on Twitter and an equal number on Facebook. Never could I have dreamed I could be communicating with that many people. Your reach is multiplied when others share your media. When you build your online presence with integrity, the algorithms of artificial intelligence connect you with like-minded readers.
I have built a large community with FCNL’s advocacy team across the country; and I’ve built a community with the staff of my senators and representative, allowing me to build relationships with my senators and representative. I’m building relationships with my yearly meeting staff, quarterly meeting, and with those from other meetings. In building those relationships and developing a community, I help support their efforts. There is a lot of richness in online media, but also a lot of fake news. To build community online—as in real life—you need a solid foundation. Quakerism fits in this new world.
This may seem like the simplest testimony, but there is work to maintain it within social media. Issues constantly rise up. It can challenge you to see that of God or that of human in others. You can respond in anger or in kindness. You can get trapped in it, but the more you come up to the edge, the more of God you’ll find within you. This is where faith meets action. It is a forever-learning cycle, both online and off.
I do understand that many people do not trust social media platforms and feel there is a dark side to them. That too is an honest vision. And I know not everyone will agree with me. I would ask the reader to view this digital event as our grandparents viewed television. Think what it was like when their children bought a television for their grandchildren. The trepidation had to be similar: that the new medium will manipulate their brains. The same fears were expressed when rock and roll came into our lives. That too changed the way we thought.
I ask you to not be afraid of this new world. It is a place to challenge your being and your commitment to community and to relationships. It is a place to build new and old friendships; a place to give light and receive it. But know it doesn’t come right away: there is a deliberate and patient way to build it. You should always watch and do a bit of research on who you make friendships with (just as you do in the physical world). You will need to go with a leap of faith. To me, it is fully worth it. Look, you are reading this article, most likely, online.