My Online Footprint

Part One: Resistance

With the recent move of our Good Letters blog from the Image website to the larger platform here at Patheos, I’ve had to confront the fact—publicly, no less—that in the sphere of social media I’m something of a recluse, if not a misguided Luddite.

It was one thing when hosted at Image to see that while some posts of mine garnered a mere one or two comments, others received none. Yes, there were those that precipitated a small cascade, but generally speaking, I’m no Sara Zarr (although I adore and applaud her as much as all her devoted readers do).

It’s been another thing altogether on Patheos where comment numbers are a potential source of embarrassment, but worse, so are Facebook shares and likes, Tweets, email shares, Share This shares, and Google+ shares.

While some bloggers in the group regularly generate numbers in the hundreds on one or more of these badges, my numbers often require no more than two hands to count.

I really know how to put the pathetic in Patheos.

The fault is all mine, of course, what with my ongoing abstention from all forms of social media except email.

Facebook? No thanks.

Twitter? You mean fritter?

LinkedIn? That’s OK; I’m good with opt-out.

I’m only being snide, and I’m not nearly as reconciled to my choices as I sound. My reluctance to get with the program stands—albeit on ground growing shakier by the day—when so much else in life already feels programmatic.

It’s not a matter of values, at least not in the main; but of time, and time-management. Simply put, where do you get the time? And if time’s not a problem for you, then where do I get it?

Email alone has me tied up enough, thank you very much, on top of my obligations at work and at home, with kids and deadlines and bills and diapers and scripts and manuscripts and dishes in the mix.

I’m well aware of the upsides that come with the plunge: Old friends found. New friends made. And opportunities, great and small, that never would have happened without electronic connection.

While connections missed on the personal front leave me with a twinge of regret, I can only wonder if my career has suffered in ways I’ll never know from those missed on the professional front.

But it’s exactly that kind of thinking that I resist in part—the notion that I need to be doing more, more, more than I already am. I thought I was a human being, not a human doing.

And if I have to know what you’re eating for dinner tonight in order to be friends with you, well, “Bon Appétit! You may Tweet!” But I don’t care.

To be frank, given the regular reckoning of time spent with my own kids in the workaday world, I’m not so keen to be constantly updated on the activities of yours.

What’s a friend, father, and writer pressed for time to do?

Recently, a note was sent to the Good Letters team from our minder-in-chief at Image, Greg Wolfe, regarding the group effort to boost our own publicity at Patheos.

As Greg pointed out, “one major factor in how much a particular post gets circulated has to do with your own online footprint.” While he reassured those of us who generally abstain from Facebook, Twitter, and the like (I’m not the only one) that we would never be pressed to adopt the social media lifestyle, he reminded us and rightly so, that it’s a factor.

My online footprint?

Let’s see.

There’s my Gmail account, but that doesn’t really count. There’s my IMDB page, and a YouTube video of me being interviewed by NBC News during the Writer’s Guild strike in 2007. And I believe there’s an obscure fan-site that pays undue homage to the fact that my brothers (both actors) and I work in the business.

Beyond these traces, there may be links to a small number of publications in poetry and prose, but since I’ve never Googled myself, perhaps more out of pride than any apparent modesty, I can’t be sure.

Oh how much bigger that online footprint could be.

In theory I’m uncomfortable with the self-promotion required to maintain a bigger footprint. I want to be read and shared and commented upon as much as anyone, but I don’t want to have to walk into the online marketplace wearing a sandwich board that reads: Like me!

For there’s a stench of desperation in that marketplace with untold others doing the same, a toxic cloud of striving that is contagious at best and debilitating at worst.

Or it’s just what you do, so get over it, Brad, and yourself while you’re at it.

Either way, though, is this the full story behind my willfully small footprint? Is it really just about my being so busy on the one hand, and uneasy with the one-man marketing team that is required on the other?

Or might there be another reason behind my relative reclusivity, an underlying one that has more to do with things spiritual than practical, with the very faith-based reasons for which this blog exists?

Yes.

But you’ll have to join me next time I post to find out why. How’s that for self-promotion?

  • http://chadthomasjohnston.com Chad Thomas Johnston

    Look, Bradford! You just left another footprint online … er, wait. That was actually a footprint made by Jesus.

    In the sand.

    And he was carrying you …

    :)

    • Brad

      So many footprints, so little discernment!

  • http://angiemizzell.com Angie Mizzell

    “a toxic cloud of striving that is contagious at best and debilitating at worst”

    Yes. I think that’s what we’re talking about here. Social media isn’t the beast. It’s just another way we feed the beast. I’m a communicator. It comes naturally. I seek positive ways to express myself creatively. Social media can be very helpful in that. I just have to keep going back to why I do what I do. When I stray from the essence… that’s when I get lost.

    • Brad

      A good distinction, Angie, between the beast and his diet. The upsides of social media are certainly commensurate with the downsides that get greater play in my piece.

  • http://writingwithoutpaper.blogspot.com Maureen

    Might we all stop feeling guilty about not being completely plugged in 24/7? Technology is a tool, not a way of life.
    My “footprint” still relates to the size or type of shoe I wear. And that shoe? It’s pretty comfortable.

    • Brad

      Well said, Maureen. I haven’t even reckoned with my carbon footprint yet.

  • Dyana Herron

    Great piece, Brad. I use social media, but definitely feel twinges of grossness every now and again. I find, though, that I really like using it to help promote others I think are awesome, and that makes me feel less weird when I post something about myself. Therefore, I’m gonna go through and push every one of those buttons up there for you. Then I’m going to Google that fan page. ‘Cause it sounds amazing.

    • Brad

      I like that thought, Dyana: using it to promote others. As I will do for you if and when I take the plunge!

  • http://www.sarazarr.com Sara Z.

    You really aren’t missing much. I always advise people that if they don’t like that stuff, don’t do it. Some of us actually enjoy it and find connection, but as Dyana points out, it can so quickly turn into my god my god what I have I wrought upon myself… And some of us like some platforms and hate others. (I happen to loathe Facebook, and deleted my personal account a long time ago.) I treasure my occasional breaks from it all, or the times I go on internet austerity. I think the key to winnowing out the “grossness” factor in terms of what you might see as the sandwich board is actually connecting with people and sharing information that is mostly not about you or your creative work. But, sometimes I am convinced that the answer to all my spiritual woe and personal anxiety is to disconnect entirely for, oh, a year? Anyway, I see no compelling reason you or anyone else should get into the pool if you’re enjoying your time in the deck chair. We love you as you are!

    • http://www.sarazarr.com Sara Z.

      (Actually I think you are in the pool and we are in the deck chairs.)

    • Brad

      Yes, a year. Imagine that! Your feelings about Facebook really give me pause at the prospect of taking that plunge. (My wife similarly advised me against it.) Then again, this loop here at Good Letters is invaluable — and part and parcel of the overall equation.

  • http://www.poetryretreats.com Peggy Rosenthal

    Love your line that “I thought I was a human being, not a human doing.” My spiritual director used to say that to me. So I’ll look forward to your sequel on the spirituality of non-social-mediating.

    • Brad

      It will be more confessional than inspirational!

  • Rebecca Cusey

    Brad,

    I just quit Facebook and dialed back Twitter. For the last two days, I’ve felt liberated. I’m no longer on a stage of my own making.

    Of course, we’ll see how many hits my next post gets…..

    I blogged about breaking up with Facebook on my Tinsel blog. I’d post the link, but that would be shameless self-promotion.

    • Brad

      No, please post it! I want to read an anti-testimony…

  • Laura

    “I want to be read and shared and commented upon as much as anyone …” There’s something else you are that you didn’t include in this list: remembered.
    I’m not sure whether I’ve ever left a comment on one of your Good Letters pieces. But I always read them. And I don’t always read everything posted on this blog. For this reader, yours tend to have staying power in my mind, not because they always seem carefully crafted (though they are) or because of the content (though it is often that) but because of the consistent humility, by which I mean the consistent willingness to confess the splinters and beams you see in your own eyes. By which I mean your faithful wrestling with that simple and profound command to love one another.
    Your piece for your father on his birthday — well, I have a bunch of titles waiting for their essays to be written, and one of them is “Writing About People Who Don’t Know They’re Being Written About,” and many of us who write would do well to spend more time with the ethics and morality of that one.
    Praying the stations of the cross during a subway ride is one of those brilliant ideas I wish I had thought of, though I am not Catholic and there’s not a subway for 500 miles. But I do have my own oft-traveled circuits, and the memories of people at some of those intersections, memories that may have lodged so deeply because they convict me about my own selfish failures to love.
    Saying goodbye to a family house — well, we all end up doing some version of that one, some more than once.
    In other words, Brad (and Image and Patheos people looking on), do not underestimate the good that your Good Letters do. Possibly that good is quantifiable, but not by any of us in this realm, and not by numbers of likes or shares or trackbacks or pings.

    • Brad

      What a blessing this comment is. I am truly, well… humbled. To have the meaning of various posts called back to me in this manner is so encouraging. The truth is, what I perhaps love most about this blog is the mystery of not knowing what piece lands where and on whom in such a manner. Which keeps me reluctant from opening the door to greater and calculable (as if) certainty of the “impact” on this or that social media platform. I leave this page strengthened and inspired by your outreach.

  • http://melindasmailbox.wordpress.com Melinda Johnson

    Have you seen “It Should Happen to You,” 1954, Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday? And Peter Lawford. They didn’t have Facebook then, so the plot hangs on Judy’s obsession with putting photos of herself on billboards. Jack wants to marry her, but the billboards keep getting in the way. So much of what passes for communication now reminds me of those billboards…a constant barrier to actual relationship. I don’t object to the whole idea of the internet as a communication tool, but I think that like many things, it requires self-awareness or it hinders what it is intended to support.

    • Brad

      I haven’t seen that, but it sounds delightful as well as prophetic…

  • Lindsey Crittenden

    I’m a little late chiming in here, Brad — which tells you about my online presence — but want to thank you for writing about a topic I’ve been thinking about posting on since GL joined Patheos, but have feared outing myself. Now I can do so in good company! Seriously, thank s for addressing this topic–and it’s been fascinating to read the conversation here. Reading Laura’s comment here, and recalling many of my your (& other GL colleagues’) posts to which I never commented, I think of something how often I don’t comment because I’m stunned or moved and want to think over a thoughtful reply, and by the time I do, well, you get the idea.

    • Brad

      I’ve been more than remiss myself, Lindsey, in not commenting on posts by fellow bloggers. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak! So many of your own posts have moved me to comment, but, yes, I get the idea — time passes, and the daily turnover on the blog seems to vanquish the point of responding after the fact. Which shouldn’t be the case, and I want to be better about doing so myself. Thank you for chiming in.

  • Rachel

    Everything you write has you identity and it’s rare! Today, everything is so equal and unintelligent… so empty! But you make the difference. God gave you a gift and you use it very well!
    All “encomium” to you, modest Bradford.

    PS: (Off) I have a question: your oldest brother has Facebook? Someone is saying that’s him personally and exposes opinions, this is dangerous. Many ask me and always say no, I’m afraid of not being fair … Could you answer it? I really, really, appreciate it very much!!!

    Rachel/Rio de Janeiro
    (Moderator of “obscure fan-site that pays undue homage”)

  • http://winncollier.com Winn Collier

    It’s a quandary. Some days I want to unplug the entire internet and toss it in the Atlantic. Many days I’m relentlessly (annoyingly) dialed in. Other days I have a nagging suspicion that my resistance masks a reverse, more subtle form of self-absorption and pride. I don’t know…

  • Nina Falkestav

    It’s here you’re hiding! ;0)
    I’ve been regularly checking the old page for updates only to find that there were none, and I was thinking you were on a hiatus or vacation from the blog. Glad to have found it though, and perhaps you’re glad to hear that you don’t leave that obvious a footprint on the “net”.


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