Is Keeping Up All Your Community Amounts To?

screenshot of Facebook friends page
Sunday mornings in the SE USA offer a distinct impression towards communities and what people value. For some people, the hours between 8AM and 1PM are spent in within their faith communities, singing hymns, listening to sermons, and reconnecting to people they may or may not see throughout the course of their week. For some, those hours are a recovery period from work, parties, or family engagements held throughout the week. And for some still, those hours are spent leading the charge for the new week – whether that’s working in retail, starting meeting, project, and lesson plans, or getting in that exercise regimen that can other times during the week be more elusive. Indeed, there’s a lot of life that happens in these hours, and within those contexts noted above, there’s a question that a few moments on a recent Sunday begged me to ask in light of what kinds of communities we’ve become.

Two contexts…

The first sees several of the local broadcast channels displaying current or replayed messages from local, regional, and national churches. Within one of these I stopped on, the encouragement from the pastor was to align the fact analogy of the resurrected Jesus walking with the two gentlemen on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Inside of the sermon, the pastor goes inside and outside of the margin of the text – beginning first with the aligning of the appearing of Jesus as a matter of comfort to the situation which was a matter of shock and anxiety for those who walked with Jesus and knew him. And then he ends towards another margin, speaking to the need of people to be connected to the community of believers whom are on the road of life as well, with a chance that at some point in the relationship they will meet Jesus. As this broadcast happened, there were several points where the camera panned to various persons in the congregation, as well as the on-screen notation of the name of the pastor and the church. No address, website, etc., just the pastor’s name and the church’s name. After the sermon ended, I continued to parouse other channels to see what else might be asking for attention.

The second was a few hours after the above sermon was broadcast, while setting myself to work on a few pieces for the site in a local Starbucks. As I entered, I overheard a group of people talking about the communities they grew up in. Seemingly excited to know that there was so many similar connections between them, one of the women mentioned someone in her circle that has some local nortoriety. At least from her tone, she was proud of the connect. Then male in that small group spoke up about him going to school with her. He remarked about going the entire gamut with the famous woman in the same classes, all the way through to the end of high school. Then he said, “these days I’m connected with her on Facebook. That’s how you keep connected to people you used to know. Well, I’m only as connected as seeing her updates. We don’t interact all that much.”

It was the latter context that led me to sit down and write this much. In the latter, we have a participatory medium – the Internet – and a common channel – Facebook – being used for communication between those people, organizations, and brands who wish to interface with one another. In the former story, we have the one-way medium – TV – and itself a common channel – the rhetoric of the sermon – being used to share a central message that’s designed to knit the listeners around that common experience of listening, and moreso around how they share in the interpretation and activity because of what they listened to. And yet, both of these medium choices (Internet and TV) bill themselves as creating a community, or at the very least enabling community-defining behaviors.

What are the communities that are intended to result from these media actions?

If I’m being critical of the TV message, I found it confusing to be getting a message about being connected to both faith and community, but nothing in the broadcast – at least while I was viewing it – left a bread-crumb trail as to how to do that to that specific community or another one. At least, not the bread-crumb that we are used to – there was a name of the pastor and name of the church – certainly the Yellow Pages would be sufficient for making the next steps.

But then, there’s the critism of of Facebook users I overheard. They already had their Yellow Pages, and indeed something more defined than a name and address, they had some cycle of activity so that they could see for themselves when and how best to build some kind of relationship with another. However, it was only being used as a signaling channel – connection only good enough to get reception of what’s going on in another’s life, but not to build into their lives or be built from their’s. Very much similar to listening to a TV message in application despite the Facebook’s ability to be more than simply receiving a broadcast message.

I wondered, is this the kind of community then that we create with social networks? Yes, I know that many of those visiting here are quite active on their social networks, mixing broadcast announcements with rebroadcasts of other’s brands/announcements, with conversations. But, we can’t assume that everyone who uses these social networking channels are doing the same behaviors. In fact, if one were to take our second story as the norm – following people to keep tabs, not to have a conversation – then we might want to make a better question about social media strategies and approaches that mark our use.

What is the community that you are building as a result of how you utilize one-way (broadcast, P2P) and participatory (Internet, social networking) media channels? Could the resulting behaviors you notice within those be influenced by something more than the content you are filling it with?