Social Networks

Entries related to social networks, group psychology, anthropology, and really any of the social sciences.

The Digital Church

In a recent online discussion, someone mentioned to me the idea that Christianity goes through a five hundred year trend of re-evaluation and remodeling. I was asked if I thought we might be at one of those once in every five-hundred year events. I’ve often wondered how close we are to another American Great Awakening. The Great Awakenings happen much more frequently.

It is interesting that this has come up in an online discussion, something that didn’t exist during the reformation or the early Great Awakenings. Many of my media oriented friends often talk about the Gutenberg Press as bringing about great changes in terms of education, politics, and religion. Is the Internet bringing about a similar change?

Much of my political involvement has been focused around online activities. The communities I belong to are often around common interests shared online and not around common geography. Yet our church structure is still seems to be primarily oriented around common geography. At the same time, people are looking at how to get Christianity out of the church building and more into the community. How does this relate to the church community being online?

The stuff we post online is much more permanent and searchable that the comments we make face to face or write in letters. If you know where to look, you can find stuff I posted online back in 1982. Recently, a friend died of cancer. I had met him through an online group back in the 90s, and people in the group are still connected online. They are sharing memories and pointing to photos that were shared back in the 90s.

In two different online religious groups, people have asked that personal information either not be shared, or shared with the smallest amount of personal information necessary.

Now I get some of the desire for privacy. When I started considering more deeply what God is calling me to last spring, I was hesitant to talk publicly about it. Part of it was that it seemed God was calling me to a much more intimate relationship, and we are often restrained in talking about intimacy, especially when there is uncertainty about the relationship and vulnerability. Yet at the same time, as we become more sure of the relationship, we proclaim it boldly. I think of my friends posting life events on Facebook, a new relationship, the engagement ring, the marriage, the birth of a child. As I write this, I think of the song we sang in youth group years ago, “I’ll shout it from the mountain top, I want the world to know, the Lord of Love has come to me, I want to pass it on.”

I think of some of the meditations I’ve been reading recently, about our experience of God’s Incarnation, God’s love, God’s presence, happens in the simple parts of life, like appreciating the sunrise on the daily commute, or the kind words of a coworker at the office. How do we experience the presence of God online?

Likewise, I get the idea of telling one’s own story, and not someone else’s story. Yet when we think of our self as part of a community, part of the body of Christ, the line between my story and our story blurs.

When I get into discussions about acceptable behavior online, I often go back to Mark Prensky’s article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. He was writing in the context of education, but I like to think of it more broadly. In the context of this post, I have to wonder what a church of Digital Natives looks like.

Are the people who are more hesitant to share online digital immigrants? Are they the older folks regularly attending churches as opposed to the millennials who have by and large abandoned church? What might a church of the twenty first century, organized around online interests instead of geographical proximity look like?

I’m also interested in how all of this relates to addressing stigmas, confessing sin, and several other topics. I hope to be exploring some of these ideas in more detail over the coming months.

What are you Seeking?

Today’s Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr is What You Seek Is What You Are.

Only when we are eager to love can we see love and goodness in the world around us. We must ourselves remain in peace, and then we will find peace over there. Remain in beauty, and we will honor beauty everywhere.

I guess this is something similar to, you are what you eat. I’ve written about this in the past, Does Facebook Make You Sad? It does seem like these days people seek conflict online.

Google’s US Trends for 2015 says a lot. Paris Under Attack. Adele’s Year. The Oscars. Caitlin Jenner. The 2016 Elections. This is what we searched for in the United States. It is similar in other countries, with Cricket or the Tour de France showing up as top topics.

This evening on Twitter, #OregonUnderAttack has been a hot topic as everyone puts their political spin on the events there.

I’ve tried to keep my focus elsewhere. The Society of Saint John the Evangelist’s word for the day is Rejoice, and they link to a post, Remembering Joy. That post talks about Ecclesia Ministries seeking ‘to take the gifts of church out to people who, for whatever reason, cannot come inside to receive them”.

Part of my focus is poetry. The poem for the day is Carl Sandberg’s The Answer. This poem captures some of what we seek.

My daughter Miranda shared a link to Adrienne Rich on Creative Process, Love, Loss, and Public vs. Private Happiness. I listened to a couple poems by Adrienne Rich on YouTube: What Kind of Times Are These and North American Time.

What are you seeking?

Shaping Ava

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Happy New Year! We perform our rituals, say our incantations in hopes that, somehow, this year will be better. For a day, we forget the quote attributed to Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, and make the same resolutions.

This year, I’ve been seeing a quote attributed to Mark Twain making the rounds, “New Year's Day--Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

Last night, we had a YouTube Riff Off. This is a game we play where one person plays a song on YouTube, and the next person riff’s off of that tune, selecting some other tune the first tune made them think of. We go around and around as one tune leads to another and one mood gives way to the next. It is interesting to observe what emerges.

We started off with Auld Lang Syne and went to songs about children growing up, Cat’s Cradle, Circle Game. We went to the sending off phase of Black Parade and Carry on my Wayward son, to remembrances, in “Will you remember me”, “Box of Rain” and “Ode to Billie Joe” The Riff off culminated in a nod to religious coexistence in The Kennedys’ song Stand.

Perhaps it reflected some of the themes for the coming year, as Fiona potentially heads off to school and I explore more deeply my religious calling.

Afterwards, we watched “Ex Machina”. I’ve been interested in AI’s for a long time and remember a saying that AIs would end up looking like their creators. Back then, the folks working on AI were nerdy engineers. In Ex Machina, the guy creating the AI is a reclusive genius. The software for the AI is the large search engine he has created and made his fortunes off of.

It is an idea that has fascinated me for a long time. What if our search engines and social networks are the new AIs, or at least the source of information for these AIs about social behavior? Seem unlikely? It’s already happening.

IBM's new Insights service harvests data from millions of tweets and uses Watson to analyze them for sentiment and behavior

IBM'S Watson Can Figure Out A Lot About You—Just By Looking At Your Social Media

IBM Is Using Watson To Psychoanalyze People From Their Tweets

Matters Of The Mind: Mass. Computer Scientist Creates Technology To Read Emotions

So, are we now just pawns, nodes in some giant AI? Are the results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign already predetermined? Does it matter who gets elected anyway? Are we just amplifying echoes in the social media echo chamber when we like or share messages about Trump, Bernie, or Hillary?

Can we shape Ava? If so, how?

It seems easy to be discouraged when you look at all the issues our country and our world faces. Will what I write help shift the direction of climate change? Will what I write help bring an end to oppression; to racism or sexism?

I chose to remain optimistic. I think Robert Kennedy’s quote provides some insight.

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Here, we could go off into a long discussion about whether sharing posts that reflect our political or religious views counts as standing up for an ideal. We could talk about slacktivism and whether we are just going back to paving the road to hell. Yet that, too, most likely leads to hopelessness and inaction.

Instead, I think David Foster Wallace presents a more useful way of looking at it in his commencement speech, This Is Water

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

Perhaps this is the real challenge, for the new year, for each day, in shaping Ava, to challenge the default settings, to pay attention, to be aware, not only to the trending topics on Facebook or Twitter, but to the simple things around us, the beauty of the squirrel running in the woods, probably the same squirrel that has been raiding your bird feeder, the common humanity of the homeless guy you see on the street.

Happy New Year.

What’s in Your Thanksgiving Feed?

This morning I’ve been thinking about what is in my Facebook News Feed. How much would people be thankful? How much would they be making political statements about Thanksgiving? How much would other politics be part of the mix?

So, I coded the top fifty status updates. Here’s what I came up with: Twenty were about Thanksgiving. Thirteen of those had some sort of added message, often about feeding the poor or welcoming refugees. Included in the Thanksgiving posts were the requisite posts about Black Friday and Alice’s Restaurant.

Eleven were political statements of one sort or another. Comments related to the unrest in Chicago was most common, followed by comments about Trump (all negative), and Obama (mixed). Six were advertisements.

Five were about the world of entertainment, and eight were about other stuff, including a post about cats, a post about religion, and random other things.

It’s interesting to think about this as we spend a day being thankful, and perhaps bring a little more gratitude and a little less negatively to Facebook.

So, what’s in your feed?

The Roads to #DigiWriMo

For the past several years during the month of November, I’ve often participated in National Novel Writing Month. #NaNoWriMo. Over the years I’ve completed two first drafts of novels, and worked on several others. I’ve written the 1,666 words a day to get to 50,000 words for the month. I’ve had friends act as readers of draft, and gotten feedback from them.

It has been a valuable writing exercise, and I enjoyed meeting some of the other #NaNoWri participants and write-ins and dinners, but I’ve never gone back and edited the novels, sought to publish them, or shared them with a wider audience.

In January of this year, I participated in a couple of MOOCs. One was on the poetry of Walt Whitman. It was part of a series, and I later participated in one on Emily Dickinson. They would good courses, but I felt even more disconnected from the participants than I did with #NaNoWriMo.

I also took a course on using Moodles to set up a MOOC. It was very helpful on the technology side; how to configure and administer a MOOC. The community was much more vibrant, and while it wasn’t a focus of the course, we did drift into discussions of pedagogy. It was there that I learned about connectivism, which led me to participate in another MOOC, a different sort of MOOC, a connectivistic MOOC called #Rhizo15.

It was great, and I remain connected with the people I met through that event. There was talk about wandering in that course and I brought in my poetry to it. This brings me to the title of this post, The Roads to #DigiWriMo. It isn’t one path. It is a bunch of paths intertwined.

So let me return to the poetry path for a moment. I decided to make writing a poem a day my 2015 Lenten discipline. It went well, and some of the poems aren’t all that bad. I joined up with a group of Episcopalian poets and met with them from time to time. Through them, I learned that Yale Divinity School was having a conference on poetry and I attended.

It was a deep religious experience for me that has brought back into my consideration a path I had looked at years ago, but not wandered down, the path to possible ordination as a priest. I have met with my priest. We have met with my bishop, and my priest is setting up a discernment committee to explore this path more fully with me. I’ve thought it would be interesting to have a parallel, online discernment group. I set up one part of it on Facebook, and I expect this will intertwine with my #DigiWriMo explorations.

One of the speakers at the Yale Conference was Christian Wiman. I’ve been reading his book, My Bright Abyss. In it, I found a wonderful quote, “existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person”. Mixing the ‘journey’ metaphor with the ‘narrative’ metaphor, it seems like this quote is the starting point, the first mile marker on my #DigiWriMo journey.

I am looking forward to mixing a bit of poetry, novel writing, technology, and explorations into pedagogy and my spiritual journey together with what others are posting in #DigiWriMo. I hope you’ll join me and hang on for the ride!

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