The Time Sink of Social Media

Time and attention are things we only have so much of, and they turned up on our recent survey as something that really challenges many: how do I get the most out of my time? out of this season of life?

Social media (and email) are two areas identified as enormous time sink. People want to know how to get the best “return” for the time investment they make.

I am very active on social media myself, but having said that, I’m pretty guarded about my time there. I don’t spend hours. I access it on my phone in snatches, I have a dedicated period of time during the day for concentrated review of certain lists, I use tools to monitor what people are re-sharing, and I skim a lot. Here’s two lessons I’ve learned that have helped me to manage:

1. If you’re trying to build an enormous audience, social media will become an endless content monster. There are several sites dedicated to helping you hack your posts so they are the most viral they can be. But I’ve come to see people rarely tweet themselves to lasting fame. People that we really celebrate (=celebrities) are people who create enormously good content (art that we enjoy, books that entertain or make us think, movies, etc). Besides, more importantly, I’ve discovered building a huge audience, on any kind of media may be a path to celebrity – but it is not necessarily a path to influence. (Granted, some celebrities do use their fame for good, but most in my view do not.)

2. If all you’re doing is reading the entertaining content of others, social media will become an enormous time sink. Of the making of cat videos there is no end. Following everyone is a sure way of being blown by the wind, and making a difference in the lives of no one.

“Media” is a plural form of “medium.” The english word medium comes from the Latin term medium which meant ‘the middle, midst, center, or interval.’ Medium in the sense of communication has had the meaning of ‘an intermediate agency’ from the 1600s.

Any form of medium is essentially something that is “in the middle” of us, and enables communication. Paper is a medium for writing, painting, etc. Print is a medium for the presentation of thought: a book exchanged between an author and a reader is “in the middle” of the two of them.

“Social media” is our catchall phrase for a medium (form) of communication that enables mass sharing and resharing and commenting. The key to social media seems to me to be choosing who I communicate with, why I communicate with them, how my communications will go, what I am willing to receive, and how often I will communicate.

The “time sink” of this communication can be significantly reduced and qualitatively improved by reduction: by choosing a limited set of people to interact with, getting to know them as people, and being a blessing to them. I have found that by limiting my more personal and direct communications to people who are in my “tribe,” and acknowledging that tribe will be limited, I set a significant barriers against the time sink.

A positive form of influence to me is this: if I am a blessing to someone (through providing information, answers, encouragement, connections, etc), hopefully they will pass on that same blessing to others (by resharing a post, a document, a connection, an answer).

Audience size may be a marker of fame but not necessarily a factor in influence over audiences.

A church is not a random sampling of the place it is in

It is not a foregone conclusion that a church in any given place is a random sampling of the community.

In other words, if you are in a city of 10,000, and you look at a church of 100 (1%) or even 1,000 (10%), it’s not altogether certain that the makeup of the church reflects the make up of the community.

Look at some key areas to prove this: mixture of marrieds vs. singles? Mixture of age ranges? Mixture of professions? Mixture of ethnicities and languages?

If a church does not reflect the community it is in, the things that drive the church (needs, desires, values, etc) will not be reflective of the community, either.

What drew the people in the church to the church is not necessarily what would draw the rest of the community.

Outreach programs that will draw the rest of the community will not necessarily be immediately appealing to those in the church.

You need apostolically gifted people who are able to function ‘on the edge’ between the church and the community, and reach into the community–and those who are successful will likely be very unlike the church.

You have to make space for people unlike you if you want to reach into communities that are unlike you.

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