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I Suspect There’s More Talking Going On, than Listening: Some Questions about Social Media

July 8, 2011 51 Comments

I have just about  3,000 friends on Facebook and about 1,500 “follow me” on Twitter. Every day I get hundreds of tweets, Facebook updates, invitations and pokes. Yes, indeed, a lot get’s thrown over my transom. And to be honest I can’t, and thus don’t, read most of it. Each day just a quick scroll down my news feed, a  check on the wall and e-mail and I’m off to the next thing. I regret it but also suspect I’m not alone.

The other side of this equation is that I do post each day, usually links to this blog. I surely hope people see it and click through to read my latest post. But I wonder if they are like me, overwhelmed and incapable of the volume that comes across. I wonder if my Facebook postings go largely into thin air?

So here are my questions, is there more posting than reading going on? Are we all just talking to the air, adding to a cacophony, but not really reading or pondering what is posted and said to us? What percentage of your Facebook feed to you actually read? Do you really know and use most of your Facebook options?

Some people strictly regulate the friends they have and perhaps for them it is more of a real communication tool. And then there’s people like me who use it more to shoot up a flare and announce my latest blog or sermon post, but really have no time to read the “flares” of others.

I am interested in your use of social media, and if you suspect like me, that there’s a lot more going out than really coming in, in any sort of reflective way, a lot more talking than listening, typing than reading. What do you think?

The biblical and religious notion of “communication” includes the notion of “unification:” Com+unio+ation. So communication is a process by which we find unity with others. I wonder if you think Facebook does this? How well? How poorly?

Consider too, God sends his Word to make us one with him. But he didn’t e-mail his Son, or list him on a newsfeed. He obviously did more. His Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Hence, Facebook and other social media sites, while valuable, should not take too much away from our real flesh and blood relationships. Are you able to balance this well or do you think Facebook takes too much of your time away from others really, rather than just virtually, present to you?

Also, there are signs that Facebook may have peaked. One blog reports:

According to the report 15 million users from US removed their account and approximately 5.5 million Canadians have removed themselves from Facebook Myron Blue of Wired Magazine said: “The party is over for Facebook. People are tired of all the add-ons and they are growing more and more concerned about their privacy. Most importantly, they are bored and have decided to move on

More here: 15 Million have Left

Will you also leave me? (Jn 6:67)  🙂

At any rate, I’ve talked enough, time for me to listen. And I DO carefully read your comments.

Comments (51)

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  1. Dismas says:

    This is an interesting question. My whole career has been in high-tech working for telecom and internet providers since the mid-eighties. I’ve seen technology come and go. I suppose working this sector all these years has soured me, but I formed the following opinions early regarding social media. First, most don’t last. Second, they are invasive and seldom provide anything meaningful. Third, they pose security/privacy issues.

    I gave up my cell phone because co-workers and customers felt free to contact me anytime day or night. It was like having an on-call number on my dime. The only two social media accounts or services I have kept and still use are Hotmail and YouTube. Last week when the Holy Father tweeted the new Vatican site, I felt guilty and thought I must be wrong and should follow his example. I created a twitter account and ‘followed’ some of my favorite Catholic sites but haven’t signed on since and probably won’t.

    Now for the reason this question interests me most. The things I most enjoy on the internet are Catholic news sites and blogs. It has occurred to me that some kind of Confraternity of Catholic Social Media or Catholic Bloggers needs to be formed. However, I wonder what social media will still be in play five years from now or if the term ‘blog’ will even still be in use?

    • Yes, some have been predicting the demise of blogs, and that everything would switch to facebook. But I think blogs are holding their own and facebook may have peaked. We’ll see,

  2. Ruth Ann says:

    I have limited my Facebook friendships to under 50. Currently I have 47. Most are family members, and I have found FB is a good way to keep up with family news. Outside my family I have some friends. Of all my friends about half are not very active. So, on a daily basis I hear from 10 to 20.

    Twitter is something where I tend to follow others and I don’t post often. When I read a good blog post I often will link it to Twitter.

    I take periodic Sabbaticals from both FB and Twitter. In fact I just started a summer Sabbatical. I will also be less active in reading blogs.

    I will explore silence, solitude, and prayer during my down time.

  3. Linus says:

    I at least take a look at your posts each day though I only read them if the subject of the day is of particular interest. My guide is New Advent which I trust to guide me to the most interesting Catholic commentary. I follow it because it has been around a long time and stood the test of time. I follow only one secular site on a regular basis. My time on the internet is about an hour a day and I don’t partake of any other social media.

    One thing bloggers should keep in mind. If you really want readers to respond to your blogs don’t require your readers to register/sign in or to contribute. I really am not going to help provide a living for a blogger. Blogging is fine but it should be an avocation not a vocation. It isn’t that expensive to carry on a blog. Those who expect to be supported by it I suspect are a little lazy. To them I say, go get a job, any job that is legal and moral. Wash dishes, mow lawns, clean houses, etc. Don’t be so lazy. I’m not thinking of you Father, your have a priestly vocation, you are set – so to speak.

    • Yes, New Advent is a great clearing house.

      • Kaylan says:

        I have to agree with Linus. FB is boring to me and most people I know that use it daily are those who like the games. I don’t have time for gaming. I once signed up for Twitter because a journalist was doing a charity subject and I was eager to help in some way. After that, I ignored it entirely. I don’t get the hype about it at all. I do like Catholic blog sites but as a mom, I don’t understand how most of the parent bloggers have time to write entire articles on a daily basis (and actually get them published by other bigwig Catholic sites). I wonder if they are neglecting the REAL responsibilities of their vocation (which would be taking care of the children). I have also heard of those who struggle in their marriage because their spouse is chatting “too friendly” with the opposite sex on FB. I can imagine social media can help to introduce new people in our life but also cause a lot of problems in families and the general issue of responsibility.

    • Ada Lam (Hong Kong) says:

      This is a silly question. Is New Advent a book or are you referring to the website?

  4. Todd Rosenquist says:

    I don’t use facebook a lot, but I watch my wife use it. I see her reading more than posting. And I see her keeping up with, and curious about, a certain subset of her facebook friends. From what I can tell, some people have found a way to make it a rather normal part of their lives, and from my own limited perspective it is mostly women.

  5. Nguyen Thuong MInh says:

    Epistle 191
    My some ideas of “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope said that “I have just about 3,000 friends on Facebook and about 1,500 “follow me” on Twitter”. [Here, Facebook or Twitter is Social Media or social networking service].
    Msgr. Charles Pope also said that “To be honest I can’t, and thus don’t, read most of it” and “I regret it but also suspect I’m not alone” and “I wonder if my Facebook postings go largely into thin air?”.
    Msgr. Charles Pope also stressed that there are “a lot more talking than listening, typing than reading”.
    At the end of the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope asked “Will you also leave me?”.
    Therefore, conclusion of Msgr. Charles Pope is “At any rate, I’ve talked enough, time for me to listen. And I DO carefully read your comments”.
    Secondly, now permit me to answer to Msgr. Charles Pope on some questions hereafter:
    In my opinion, we need to have a logical balance between talking and listening, between typing and reading. For instance, I need about two hours to read the homily and I also need about two hours to comment it.
    For the question, “Will you also leave me?” Permit me to answer honestly you “Master, to whom shall I go? You have the words of good life. I have come to believe and being convinced that you are a good Master”.
    “My Master, my Msgr. Charles Pope, why have you wanted to forsake me?”
    [Msgr. Charles Pope is a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Moral Theology from Mt. Saint Mary’s Seminary].
    We can read further about Msgr. Charles Pope here:
    http://www.nowyouknowmedia.com/Experiencing_the_Good_News_p/0180.htm

  6. John Clem says:

    I think that The Church using new media is a good thing, but one is in danger of information overload. A study was done on Facebook, and found that most people are only capable of keeping up with about 150 friends and beyond that number people begin to lose interest and ability to read that much posting information.
    There is an interesting book that will be coming out soon called The Church and New Media, and it has 12 chapter by different authors in Catholic New Media including Father Robert Barron. I have written about this and there is a good video on my recent blog posting: http://www.calltoholiness.us/?p=208

    God Bless–John
    http://www.calltoholiness.us

  7. D. Hammond says:

    Monsignor Pope,
    I do read your postings,and homilies, and look forward to them every day. I also post them from time to time on our parish Facebook page. You are one of the few voices crying out in the wilderness! God Bless you!

  8. Michael Brandon says:

    Good posting Monsignor, and good addon video. For Lent, I stopped blogging at Freedom Through Truth. After Lent, I have continued to contemplate whether God wants me to blog, at all, some, or a lot. I have concluded that “moderation in all things, including moderation” might be the best policy, along with spending more time actually connecting with friends and family, you know like face to face, maybe even using old technology like the phone.

    So, My Dear Wife and I have invited more folks over for BBQ’s since the weather got better, and I have been working on making quilts for those we love and for charity. I still check my Facebook account, and the blogs that I link over at FTT to see what you and others have to say, and now more often if I find something that I think might be of interest I connect it to my blog or facebook account, rather than writing tomes on this or that matter of faith, morals, or some other thing.

    Oh, and I take more time to think and pray about the things I read at ADW and other faith based blogs, to see if God has wisdom He wants me to absorb into my faith journey.

  9. Nick O'dEmmus says:

    I think facebook has major positive and negative potential. If used wisely, it can have the same effect of connecting us to each other on earth in love, and growing in connectivity, as the communion of saints in heaven (and between heaven and earth). It can mirror the the universality of a love which nonetheless respects the individuality of each loved and loving one, retains the integrity of everyone’s unique “face”. However, as humans we are more limited than the saints in heaven and therefore subject to greater strains of practicality – time, the very limited nature of language, etc. – which may lead to an “overwhelming” of information we cannot respond to as thoroughly as we would like to, as you suggested. At the same time, there is a danger – as in so many areas of life – that it become addictive, even substituting the “time” we would normally give to God – how many facebook users spend more than 15 minutes a day using it yet would claim they are too “busy” to pray even 5 minutes to God per day? My greatest concern is the vindictive purpose it is often put to by many teenagers and schoolchildren in the form of online bullying: this psychological bullying has even led tragically to a number of cases of suicide among victims. Perhaps Catholics should say a quick prayer to St Francis de Sales before going online.

  10. Cynthia BC says:

    I check FB perhaps once a day – sometimes there are posts that interest me, sometimes not. Games such as Farmville are thoroughly silly, and I’ve chosen to “hide” them. Also silly is posting what one is doing/thinking on the hour and half-hour, and I’ve “hidden” those who tend to do so.

    I read friends’ updates that are of more substance than “I’m drinking a cup of coffee.” One, for example, has recently finished a week-long trip to Alaska.

    I also read posts from organizations that I follow.

    And OF COURSE I read your & Fr Hurd’s posts!!!

    • OK, so you can “hide” some things. I’ll have to look into that.

      • Hidden One says:

        Monsignor, if you allow your cursor to hover over a story on your “Historia Nuntiorum” (if you use Facebook in Latin, as I do), an “x” will appear at the far right of the story, at the same level as the user/app/page’s name. If you click it, you will have the choice to hide that particular post (which does not always work), to hide all posts from that user/app/page, or to report the story.

        Personally, I have hidden the stories of almost 90% of my <150 Facebook friends and a large number of applications. I have left only those people whose stories are often things of real value to me AND whose stories do not spam my news feed. I do semi-regularly check on a number of the Facebook profiles of people whose stories I have blocked from my Newsfeed, though.

        As a more general comment: Social media is definitely a useful tool. It (specifically, a particular blog) is the tool that caused me to become Catholic.

  11. Vistanow says:

    I have set the settings to communicate with just a few religious areas in the church, otherwise my wall will be filled very quickly

  12. Patt says:

    Well, here is my 2 cents. Facebook is a great amusement for a lot of people–I have heard some members referred to as “stalkers”–ready to jump on any picture or comment put up. I can’t imagine how anyone with a busy life could spend so much time on Facebook, or Twitter (which they do at my office). I think it is funny when the list of “friends” gets into the hundreds or thousands… I guess I am too reclusive for Facebook, I keep it to family members mainly. I can barely keep up with all the internet news sites. Too much — and my brain goes into overload mode: Warning TOO MUCH INFORMATION–must go think in a quiet place.

  13. Patt says:

    Hilarious Facebook commentary video–excuse me while I shut down my Facebook account.

  14. David says:

    Hi Msgr. Pope.

    I check out your blog every day. I also have a FaceBook account but I don’t use it much, usually only when somebody sends me a message or I want to contact somebody and I don’t have any way to do that other than FaceBook. I have some “friends” that seem to live on FaceBook though, and some of the posts I’ve seen on there make me wonder if they have a life other than on FaceBook. The FaceBook video you posted is right on.

  15. Vijaya says:

    I think people get a misguided sense of *friendship* with online social media. I belong to a children’s writing on-line community and maintain a blog, both which I enjoy and find very useful. I have made a few real friends through it, and it’s always a pleasure to meet in person and maintain a private conversation via email. I spend maybe 30-40 minutes per day on social media and that is enough for me. The flesh-and-blood interactions always take precedence.

    You’re so right about overwhelming amount of information out there. After a while it becomes noise. I used to subscribe to New Advent and CERC newsfeed (where I discovered your blog) but it was too much info, so I dumped it and decided to read this blog only. It is pointing me in the right direction.

    It is a good thing that you have so many people who link to you because I am sure many are reading your blog. This is a great new tool for catechizing and evangelizing. It doesn’t stop you from being a pastor to your parish. Keep it up, and don’t have one regret about not reading the “flares” of others.

  16. Maureen says:

    I’ve never had a facebook account but I am on Twitter. I’ve found it a useful way to exchange information on topics that interest me. Maybe it’s a matter of finding and following the right people to suit one’s needs. I have followers whom I do not know and I certainly don’t follow everyone who follows me. Finding the balance is the tricky part!

  17. bt says:

    I’m not on facebook or twitter. I read email, and look at a few websites and the news. I look at Catholic websites such as this because I get news, information, and history, that I may not find anywhere else. I’ve learned much about the Catholic Church on the internet that I never would have otherwise.

  18. Paul says:

    I’m in Chicago for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) annual meeting. I just got off Skype, talking to my daugher who lives in California. We don’t talk on the phone, she doesn’t do e-mail. Facebook is how we keep in touch. My grand-daughter just had her braces removed; my grand-son just got braces. There’s a photo posted on my daughter’s FB page documenting the event.
    My parents live in Fort Lauderdale, they’re in their 90’s. My mother keeps up with her children and grandchildren on FB and Skype. She’s an invalide and only leaves the apartment for dinner… they’re in a nursing home. My father can’t recall who I am unless he see’s me on Skype and even then it takes a minute or two recognize me… then its the standard question: ‘are you working”?
    My nephew and namesake posted his wedding photo’s on FB; 40 something years old and just got married.
    My brother and I keep in touch by FB and Skype.
    The ADW FB page is the most consistent medium for me of news in the archdiocese. I value their postings.
    I’ll be buying a Kindle so that I can read all the PDF documents I’ve downloaded on my computer.
    I have the day off from the conference today and I’m spending it Chicago’s Central Library, reading real books. My preference is real books; I can read many more on-line… stuff I couldn’t get at a library.
    What was the question?

  19. Taylor says:

    Dear Msgr Pope,

    From an evangelization point of view, perhaps it would be better that postings start with a need or an inspiration and should be motivated by love (writing to help another in need or to obtain help for myself when I can not help myself). If we go directly from prayer to postings, then the chances are better that our postings will be simpler, shorter, inspired, more self-less (more God-filled – less me-filled), and more helpful to someone else.

    It’s also very good to read postings on FB in order to find out if there is someone in need – to “help those who hurt” and to “be compassionate to all poor sinners.”

    If we both post and read with love as a motivation, then it’s “all good”.

    You: “Do you need help?”
    Me: “I need help”
    You: “Here’s some help”
    Me: ” 🙂 I am better now. Thank you. I really thank God that you were there to help me. You are truly a blessing from God.”

    Peace and Gratitude to and for you,
    Taylor

  20. anthony says:

    Thanks for this awareness! my little experience with these social media is that they reconnect me with old friends and people i know. It is quite thrilling! I do take time to read comments and posts from others and where I feel as to respond I do. But here is the problem: I’m getting to engrossed in facebook to the extent that visiting other sites is becoming herculean. I may be facing some addiction issues with facebook i guess.

  21. Jim Schaaf says:

    In my younger days I decided to read every book ever written. Then I found that James Michener could write them faster than I could read them.

    Just because it is written doesn’t mean that it needs to be read. Pick and choose carefully so that you learn, appreciate and hopefully become wiser. That’s why I always check your writings on New Advent, Msgr. Pope. I don’t read them all, but I do read a fair number of them and they usually, but not always, teach me something or make me appreciate something and I believe I then grow just an iota in wisdom.

    Thank you.

  22. Mandy P. says:

    I’ve limited my friends on facebook to mainly family, a very few friends, and some select interests. I live 3 hours away from most of my family and an hour away from my husband’s, so I use it mainly to keep up the folks. It’s nice to be able to literally see how everyone’s doing and to be able to keep up with the various things going on. Prior to facebook, I was very out of the loop and has started to feel emotionally distanced from my family. So, it s been a blessing to me. Another nice thing is that I’ve gotten to know (and really like!) some extended family members that I’d only ever seen once every two or three years before.

    I don’t think I post much, though. I primarily read about what everyone else is doing and comment if appropriate.

  23. Peter Wolczuk says:

    In 2003, just a few years ago, the idea of personal sites was just catching on and, one of the email servers I used had free tests to help discover ourselves. I ansewerd a few then they sent me information on an account they’d created for me – something like facebook probably was in its early stages. There was my IQ (just below genius but up to it) and other personal information. The communication seemed to anticipate gratitude on my part.
    I checked the internet and there it was. With blatant outrage, over having personal info about me made public without asking permission, I replied and demanded that the page or whatever be removed. It was and I’ve never been tempted to get anything of the sort since. I do have a website for sales purposes but, personal stuff there is only to serve the purpose of the site.
    I ask my friends to be very cautious about who they give my adress to; got rid of my land line and keep my cell ‘phone mostly turned off – unless I’m looking for work.
    A year to a year and a half ago some of my posts to other peoples ‘blogs and stuff started appearing under my name via Google and I wondered how it happened until I saw share this.com flick by and found out that anonymous people referred me to the web readers.
    Cool. I don’t have to worry about egotism, false humility or worse creaping in as I pick what to show of myself. Just express myself and let the public decide while I tell my friends that I don’t need a facebook or twitter account – just Google my name. Or whatever search engine one likes.
    On another note about Facebook I recall a scandal of some hacking into their systems not so long ago and, shortly after, got an email which had been sent to myslef and others with a half page long code which the sender said could be used to hack into Facebook.
    I decided to report it so, going to the fACEbook site it seemed that the only way to contact their security system was to get a face book acct. I deleted the e mail and moved on.
    A couple or so weeks later there was this article about a U.S. Congress or Senate committee investigating the scandal so I tried to find a way to contact them about the email but they had no contact info via internet. One of the committee members had a contact link on his site but; it wouldn’t process anything from outside the U.S.A.
    I finally sent the whole story to the White House site (how many hundreds of thousnands of communications do you think they get every day?)
    Satisfied that I had persisted till I got it to some one and that lack was not on my side I returned to what I do and continue to dodge acquaintences who think that they can get me even a tiny bit interested in Facebook, tweeting or such.

  24. Bender says:

    I am interested in your use of social media
    ___________________

    I don’t post or often read anything on Facebook and didn’t use MySpace either. I don’t tweet and rarely have read anything from Twitter.

    Part of that is that I utterly fail to see the attraction in any of those things. I’m not even sure how they are supposed to work. After people collect a bunch of “friends,” then what??? And it annoys me TO NO END that practically every other website in the world has felt compelled to put in those Facebook and Twitter interfaces, which only make the pages harder to load.

    AND more recently, I’ve read that some very nasty malware is being spread via Facebook pages, as well as through web advertisements that load into those pages. You don’t need to click on those ads or links, the malware loads merely from you visiting an innocent page with these ads.

    I do read a few blogs. But the postings need to be short and to the point else I move on. As a rule, I never watch video blogs. Why spend ten minutes watching someone sit there and talk when I could have read what he has to say in two minutes?

    As for me blogging, I do have two, both catechetical in nature, Vita Nostra in Ecclesia, which was supposed to be a place where my CCD students could access original source material, with some original writing thrown in, and Cinema Catechism, which seeks to combine film with catechesis. Does anyone read either one? Well, I know one or two people do regularly and others have now and then, but having a lot of readers from the public has never been the point of either one.

  25. Will says:

    For years I used to keep up with Facebook and a small group of 150 “friends,” mostly family and people from my hometown, high school and college. Before I deleted it (which was about 5 months ago) I spent the last 8 months simply linking religious blog posts and articles, especially those with themes dealing with the homeless and today’s great moral evils. I had a lot of diverse friends from college that I don’t see much anymore and definitely don’t have my belief in God and thought they could pick up what I was laying down. Low and behold, I didn’t read what they put up, so why would they be reading what I put up? Account deleted. My wife (the smart one here), deleted hers nearly six years ago and has always had a few interesting things to say about the whole morass of “social networking” and those who use it.

  26. Martin says:

    Msgr. Pope, thank you for the wisdom you share with us through your blog.

    I subscribed to Twitter for a brief time and I realized that the vast majority my fleeting thoughts and opinions are not that important to broadcast to so-called “followers.” Writing tweets is a waste of time.

    I’m on Facebook and I don’t feel compelled to follow the goings on. There isn’t much of value to learn from others through social media. As another reader pointed out, these sites are more annoying than useful.

    Blogs are another matter. Reading a good blog can be very instructive and interesting. I often refer other Catholics to your blog articles. I have actually learned quite a bit from thoughtful, orthodox Catholic blogs such as yours.

  27. Kaylan says:

    One thing I will add is that social media has allowed me to stay in touch with fellow Catholics. As a convert to the Faith (since 1987), I am often only surrounded by non-believers in the day-to-day (except when I go to church, of course). The internet has allowed me to chat with Catholics and especially learn about and discuss the Faith. When I have a spiritual question, I can not turn to non-Catholic family or friends, so I look to those online if I can’t reach people in the parish. Finding those who are at the same age or in the same vocation, can be easier done through social media than at the parish level.

  28. Elaine says:

    I like Twitter because I can follow people of my interest: priests and their blogs, goups- for issues of importance to me (say prolife events, talks, politics, etc.); and the few other things that are of interest to me, i.e. doctors, drudge report, Red Sox…

    I don’t have Facebook because I have no time to put pictures and comments, replies etc. It’s too busy for me. Oftentimes it seems there can be borderline vanity issues in some peoples stuff in Facebook (I hear from friends of friends), like … look at me … here I am at … I did this … blah, blah .. who cares, really? Portrays a lot of fluff. Some get too carried away just talking out there. I heard that my cousin posts things like .. walking the dog?!… ok, and your point is …??
    I honestly think it can be another way that the evil one uses to keep people distracted from prayer; or face to face interaction and telephone conversations with people we are called to love, and ones spiritual growth. For as many times as people can post a comment, if they instead or in addition to pray a Hail Mary, I wonder how many Rosaries that would add up to be? Lord have mercy on us.

  29. Joe says:

    Facebook seems mostly digital exhibitionism to me. Look at me, listen to me … It’s like getting to be a guest on Oprah, with the guest getting to write the script, chose the pics, etc. Note when it was rolled out it was initially only given to .edu addresses. Pretty telling.

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