Why We Can’t Stop Posting, Linking, and @Replying

Benjamin at the Table

My Son, the Social Genius

My 8 months old son Benjamin is becoming quite a hilarious little character. Lately, when friends are visiting and we get into a good discussion, Benjamin has started to notice that he’s not the center of attention. Since he doesn’t really know how to just hang out and he doesn’t know how to join the conversation, he does the only thing he knows how to do – shout, wave his arms, and bang stuff.

He’s not angry or sad, he just wants people to know he’s there.

Those Who Post Are Those Who Exist

The Web 2.0 social networking universe is sometimes like that dinner scene. In the early days of the Internet, we didn’t have easy-to-use sites where we could quickly post, tweet, comment, and so on, so we just “browsed” the web. But today, even the most technically illiterate person can write or post all the time. While this is a lot of fun, some people are not saying they feel the need to be be online all the time and can’t stop checking and posting, checking and posting.

So why is this? Are we all just lonely narcissists? Are we addicted to the Internet?

New Media FrontierPerhaps, but I think there might be something in the difference between the online and offline worls that can help us understand why we feel the need to post so often. In New Media FrontierMatthew Lee Anderson helps explain this phenomenon by pointing out that, “We cannot simply be online and influence others like we can be in a concert hall or with a friend and have influence … [Online presence requires a person to] act intentionally in some way … through writing comments or linking or posting a video response.” (p. 63).

In other words, the only way to be online is to post, comment, tweet, or some other intentional act. Of course, you are free to simply browse, but then no one will know you’re there.

Being Online vs. Being Present

In the case of my my 8 month old son, he simply doesn’t yet know how to be present. Eventually he’ll learn how and he’ll start to understand that sometimes just being in a room with someone, not saying anything can be incredibly meaningful. When someone hundreds of miles away is hurting, our movement through time and space to be present with them communicates in ways far more profound than any letter, email, tweet, or spoken word.

Where as my son simply doesn’t know how to be present, in the online world there is no way to be present. Sure, there is a little green dot next to our name in a chat room indicating we are present, but for me it doesn’t feel the same as actually being with someone.

This inability to perform something so basic to being human reshapes what we value in the online world. Instead of presence, we tend to value words in posts, links, and replies. Being present in the real world doesn’t require anything new or novel, but posting online always requires something new or interesting. While being present is a selfless act for another, posting and linking is often more about ourselves than the other.

There is of course nothing wrong with posting, commenting, and replying, and social media makes these things easy, fun ways to connect with other people. But the next time you feel that urge to get online, check your stats, and post something, it might be worth asking yourself,

“Do I really just need to be present with other people? Are there others out there who need me to just show up and be there for them?”

(by the way, New Media Frontier has great chapters by fellow bloggers like Rhett Smith, Joe Carter, John Mark Reynolds, Roger Overton, and others)

Published by

John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

24 thoughts on “Why We Can’t Stop Posting, Linking, and @Replying”

  1. At the risk of not just being. . . That's a great insight. Thanks for sharing it. The Internet predisposes us to act, not to be. Will this bleed into a lives offline? Or is it representative of some reality that's already innate to us–believing that we must do something to have worth?

  2. John, I enjoy your ability to link that brilliant and beautiful kid to something as universal as our online life. Looking forward to being present with you tomorrow.

  3. I enjoy reading your posts. This isn't really related to this particular topic, but I think you would really enjoy the book, "Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media have shaped the Messengers" by T. David Gordon.

    1. Emily, you're right, I found that book a while back and I loved it. Dr. Gordon was even nice enough to let me call him and chat for a while. He's a great guy.

  4. This looks cool so far, what’s up people?
    If there’s anyone else here, let me know.
    Oh, and yes I’m a real person LOL.

    Bye,

  5. John,

    Great post…looking forward to talking this over with you–in present form–sometime this week hopefully. Giving me lots to chew on here. My dad told me a story today about Thoreau, and that at Walden pond he had three chairs in his little cabin. One for himself (solitude–to be alone); two of them for friendship (someone came by–was present), and then three was for community. There is something in there I think for us…not sure yet. But thinking about the need to be alone, solitude..not always online making noise…etc, etc.

    rhett

  6. Reminds me of this great quote:

    It is in our collective behavior that we are most mysterious… we spend our time sending messages to each other, talking and trying to listen at the same time, exchanging information. This seems to be our most urgent biological function; it is what we do with
    our lives.
    — Lewis Thomas, “Computers” (from The Lives of a Cell, 1974)

  7. No matter what I write, I've fallen into the trap of needing to be known, seen, heard, present. The question for me, is why do I need to be MORE than present – that is to know others see my presence? Pride?

  8. Good stuff. The relationship of technology, life, and faith has been a nagging questions for me over the years. Even more so since everything is now moving towards a constant online connection.

    I was wondering, do you have any resource recommendations (books, articles, etc.) for the relationship/role of technology as it relates to life and faith? Thanks…

  9. Hello.
    My PC worked slowly, too much mistakes and buggs. Please, help me to fix errors on my computer.
    I used Windows XP.
    With best regards,
    Ferfokeincino

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