Editors' Note: This article is part of a Public Square conversation on Technology and Spirituality. Read other perspectives here.
The human brain is a strange thing, and how it works is very much influenced by what it does and what it encounters. I spend a lot of time on social networking—not just for fun, but to sell my own books, to work politically, and to help other people promote their work. I see it changing how I think.
Social networking has us processing experiences in different ways; shaping them into 140-character tweets or Facebook soundbites for the benefit of our virtual tribe. We need to make punchy, eye-catching statements for that to work. The lure of being liked, shared, interacted with, and valued is significant bait.
There are a lot of Pagans online, and we do spend a fair amount of time interacting with each other. We talk about the spiritual side of our lives.
So there you are, on a hilltop at twilight, communing with the land, the gods, the sky; something profound moves inside you, a sense of the numinous, a breath of wonder. At the back of your head, a little voice is working on how you can get this into a few words to put it on Facebook. I catch myself doing it in important moments, mentally assembling possible tweets, which I don't usually share. It troubles me.
I suffer from a tendency to over think at the best of times. One of my ongoing challenges is to give myself to the moment—to be, without having to intellectualize everything. The little Twitter voice at the back of my head, translating life into possible tweets, is a real enemy to this.
I see other people's social networking feeds and find myself wondering how much self and awareness they can possibly be investing in an experience if they have phone in hand and are busy posting updates about it every five minutes. How can we be present to anything if we are at the same time translating it into soundbites and checking on follower responses?
There are many things I find social networking useful for, but spirituality isn't one of them. I think it's better to leave the technology at home, or switch it off and carry it for emergency use when doing anything spiritual. It's also worth not having it on when you're doing things that deserve your full attention, which most things do. Having dedicated times for reflection and sharing can mean we give more to that part of the process too, making the experience of communicating it afterward more valuable to those on the receiving end, and to ourselves. Proper reflection can be incredibly rewarding, and can help us develop how we understand experiences. Coughing up soundbite responses on the run can mean we aren't doing the deeper reflection, but are so busy sharing that we may even fail to notice that we're just skimming the surface.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the array of technology available to us is the encouragement to do many things simultaneously. It is not enough to sit on a bus, you need music, and people online to interact with, with the journey just so much background. If we aren't doing things wholeheartedly, we miss out. Making time to do things—taking the social networking seriously and not smearing it over the surface of our lives—can be a good deal more effective.