Post by Charles Broadway.
I believe that Twitter killed Andrew Breitbart. Twitter is lovely for people who want to meet for a movie or ask your friends to cross their fingers for a big job interview. But Twitter meant that Andrew had with him at all times of day and night a little device that went ‘chirp’ when he was under attack and it went ‘chirp’ all the time. My friend Andrew could not simply walk away from that. So that’s another lesson I’m passing along from my friend Andrew: put it away. It’s important, but it’s not worth your life.
There is debate about what is Web 1.0 and what is Web 2.0. I think the debate is settled easily by pointing to BF and AF–Before Facebook and After Facebook. Facebook is what changed the internet for the worse, and everything that has come after it is Web 2.0. Web 1.0 was glorious. Yet, we speak of it posthumously as if it died, but it never died. It just lost its pizzazz in the popular mind as short attention spans have turned to social media to be made shorter. Web 1.0 still exists, and it is still awesome.
My first encounter with the internet was back in the days when you had dial up modems and American Online. AOL was the Facebook of its day. Granted, AOL didn’t steal all your private data and personal details and sell them to the highest bidder. They just made it impossible to quit their service. Facebook does much the same thing today as it was very painful for me to permanently delete my account. Now, you merely have to post something pro-life or conservative to have Facebook delete your account for you. It’s a bit like being thrown out of Hell. Be grateful that you got the boot.
With America Online, you had a walled garden with various forms of games and heavy social interaction. But beyond that wall was the Wild West of the open internet. There were homebuilt websites and messageboards. There were email list groups where you could engage peers on narrow topics. I found this open internet much more intellectually stimulating than the trivial crap on AOL. So, I embraced it. But it was still social which would prove to be a thorn in my side.
I can’t be on an internet messageboard without becoming extremely popular. I’m not sure why this is the case, but one messageboard poster told me that my secret weapon was that I had the ability to write. Apparently, literacy counts for something in the world of online forums. Various fans of my posts would actually save my posts to their hard drives and repost them again when they would be deleted. This happened to me often. I wasn’t a troll, and I used self-deprecating humor to disarm opponents. But I had committed the unforgivable sin in the world of the messageboards. I was popular.
I share these stories from the not-so-distant past of the internet to show how history repeats itself. My popularity would get my posts taken down by hateful moderators who finally banned me outright. I had broken no rules and committed no crimes. I just had different opinions.
One of the messageboard posters recommended to me that I create a blog. That blog would be my own thing which no one could censor or delete. My reach would be smaller, but it would endure. And posters on messageboards would post links on the boards to their favorite posts on my blog. The moderators would delete the links, but they would still keep coming back on their boards. But I was indifferent by then. I was done with messageboards. I was a blogger.
The blogosphere had a stellar run during the Bush and Obama years. That was a golden age for blogging. You had some of the most serious and intelligent content out there on a variety of subjects. Those bloggers brought unique perspectives and expertise to bear on the issues. Then, Facebook happened, and the bloggers felt some weird need to open accounts in the new walled garden of Mark Zuckerberg. I was one of them. I could spend all day crafting a well thought out post, but I would get a more immediate hit from the snarky one liners I posted on Facebook. Then, I would spend the rest of my time responding to people with more snarky one liners. The same skills that made me a star on the messageboards were serving me well on Facebook. Meanwhile, my blog became stale and overgrown with weeds. I had ditched my true love for a fling and came home with regret over it. I deleted my Facebook account.
I discovered Twitter sometime later. Twitter was better because you had journalists, political junkies, and Catholic bloggers. These people could read and didn’t mind if I posted a great deal. It was endless chatter for me as my blog once more grew abandoned. I had replaced the cocaine of Facebook with the crystal meth of Twitter. That addiction was much tougher to quit, but I did it.
Various people today like Cal Newport and Glenn Reynolds have issued their warnings about the deleterious effects of social media. You can see these effects now on various personalities in the Catholic blogosphere. One Catholic blogger recommends that you delete all of your social media accounts because they are tools of the Devil. Another Catholic blogger runs one of the best sites in the Catholic blogosphere publishing long and thoughtful articles from himself and others on various topics. Then, he soils his undergarments as he makes an ass of himself on Twitter with the remaining 23 hours of his day. The guy is a true Jekyll and Hyde character. Yet, he defends his social media presence as necessary to promote the thoughtful content on his website.
Should Catholic writers and journalists use social media? I think the question has already answered itself. Both Facebook and Twitter now represent near occasions of sin. I have personally had to confess sins connected to Twitter in the confessional. Let that sink in. And when you pray to avoid the near occasions of sin, how is this not a call to you to delete your social media accounts?
I have seen so many justifications by Catholics for their social media presence. The reality is that they already have a presence on their blogs and websites. That content is simply awesome. But the things they do on social media are simply awful. It’s like the Baptist who went to the bar to preach to the sinners but ended up driving home drunk and parking his pickup truck in a ditch. The theory is promising, but the practice tells the true story.
The difference between the blogsophere and social media is the same difference between a letter to the editor and a Molotov cocktail. The letter to the editor is more thoughtful and probably more influential. But the Molotov cocktail is more immediate. Why spend an evening crafting an awesome bit of blogging when you can just light people up on Twitter?
People will claim that blogging is dying, but this is only partially true. It is dying, but this is because bloggers are now wasting their time and their brains on social media. These people used to produce awesome content. Now, they produce little or nothing.
Andrew Breitbart had a nasty Twitter habit when he died. He would spend his days creating and running one of the best conservative websites on the internet. Some say it is still the best. But Breitbart would spend his valuable time in the evening fighting it out with nobodies on Twitter. He was a guy who couldn’t let it go. This was not good for a man on the verge of a heart attack. Yet, I see others making the same mistake. It may not create a cardiac event for them, but it does other forms of damage to their reputations and relationships and to their very souls.
Choosing to be a blogger over being a social media junkie is a good choice. Web 1.0 is still there waiting for its comeback like vinyl records and muscle cars. I think it behooves Catholic bloggers especially to make the move back to what was best about the old internet–the freedom to influence the world with clear thinking and good writing.