After my uncharacteristically bold (brash?) post yesterday, I’ve been wanting to write more contemplating virtue and social media. What does it mean to love my neighbor — both those in front of me and those that I’m following — in the context of social media? (When I refer to social media in this post, I’m not just including Instagram and Facebook. Blogging is also social media, and — while I probably won’t get to it tonight — I’d like to also think about what aspects of various social media encourage virtue or vice).

In terms of loving those in front of me, here is some of what I aspire toward (though often fail). With my children — I’m not watching them through the lens of social media. I’m not always saying, “Freeze! Right there! I need to get a photo so that I can post this.” I’m not oversharing about our family. I respect privacy. I don’t always feel the need to publicly record every lovely moment. I want to cultivate beauty in our home and sometimes keep it hidden.

As an overarching principle, I aspire to be attentive and grateful for my real life. That means not using Instagram as an escape hatch, so that I can avoid dealing with problems. I want to be intentional and not at the mercy of my impulses to avoid boredom or discomfort

In terms of loving those on the other side of the screen, I aspire to take the people behind the photos/posts seriously. I want to respect the amount of care and work inherent in each photo/post and give the dignity of my full attention. For some reason, even though Instagram is full of “creatives,” it’s too easy to forget the work and care behind each square and just scroll, scroll, scroll.

On both sides of the screen, I think that virtue here comes down to self-control and gratitude. Self-control makes me intentional. Gratitude makes me see what is here before me in my real life, bestowing clear eyes and heart to also see what is before me in social media, without jealousy, comparison, envy, etc. All that means greater attentiveness.

And with that, here are few things I’ve noticed about this #bloginstead experiment that relate to social media and virtue: a responsibility to comment on others’ blogs radically changes things for me — in a really good, humane way. It feels more like real life. Thoughtfully commenting takes energy. My introverted self gets tired. I can more easily identify in myself the fact that I need a break from my laptop/phone. On the other hand, receiving comments from others is just wonderful. I feel such gratitude that others would take the time to read and respond.

Today, I was in my backyard with my children and had many of your words (blog posts and comments) at the back of my mind. But I didn’t feel cluttered or vague. I felt more clear and attentive.* I don’t attribute that to the medium of blogging; I attribute that to the words of you writers. But, I do think that this medium and this way of using it encourages intentionality, encourages attentiveness, encourages virtue. And, with that, I need a break.

*Featured photo results from attentiveness to berries with rain droplets on my fence.


14 thoughts on “Social Media & Virtue

  1. I loved this!!! I think that we need to regard our audience as participants in our life story. Friends along the trail. I love hearing new perspectives and learning about others. Social media in all its forms, can suck you in. I like keeping some of my life just for me, too! Blessings on the journey!

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  2. When I read your posts, your writing makes me happy – as writing. And then I think all sorts of things in response as I move from one sentence to the next. Two things came immediately to mind. I’ve noticed, when I’m trying to film a Christmas pageant or a school concert so a grandparent can see it, that I start watching the event through my phone as I’m recording. I’ve learned to make myself look over the top of my phone at the event, using MY eyes, not the phone’s. I’m happy to record for someone who’s far away, but I don’t want to have missed being PRESENT myself. The other thing that came to mind is a problem I’ve been thinking about for several years now. I don’t like mass-produced things. Zillions of prints of the same picture, townhouses that all have the same kitchen, the same shrubbery. Individual things have an identity, an EXISTENCE, and therefore a meaning that copies never can. But on the other hand, if we couldn’t make prints of great art, then most of us would never see it. But on the other hand, I miss what feels like “the real world” I remember from childhood. Granted, it was real in part because it was so limited. Everything was “the thing itself,” nothing was a copy (that I knew of), and therefore everything had definitive meaning. To me, Facebook, Instagram, and the rest are the ultimate in mass production. After a while, everything on Instagram looks like everything else on Instagram, and all of it is only a photo of something. It’s an entirely virtual world. Blogging feels different to me because I am a writer, so words are what I “make”. My blog is full of words I made. They are not copies of anything. Flaws and all, they are real.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment about my writing; it means a lot. Your thoughts on mass production and the “thing itself,” I think, are extremely insightful. I keep thinking about how it is difficult for me to take a writer’s words on Instagram or Facebook as seriously as I do in a blog. The form clutters, detracts from my attention and appreciation. I received Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life for Christmas and I think her thoughts on the weakness of the written word applies here: “The written word is weak. Many people prefer life to it. Life gets your blood going, and it smells good. Writing is mere writing, literature is mere. It appeals only to the subtlest senses — the imagination’s vision, and the imagination’s hearing — and the moral sense, and the intellect. This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else. The reader’s ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word.” (And I think that’s very difficult to do on a News’ Feed).

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      1. Such a pertinent quote! Which leads me to ponder how people decide, or process, what feels most real to them. I’m reminded of Tennyson saying no one would ever convince him that the physical world was more real than the world of the spirit, or mind. Of course being Tennyson, his gifts inclined him toward the mind at least.

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  3. I love everything you have written here. As a fellow introvert (which I suspect many of us are) I struggle with balance and knowing when I have reached my limit even in good things. I am grateful for this return to blogging with others and I think that we have to expect that even in this more focused medium, there will be ebbs and flows and that’s part of the creative and community process as well.

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    1. Absolutely. This pace is not sustainable — at least for me. But I think that this intense delving in at the beginning has been really illuminating. Also, I’m pretty sure this blog would have stayed at one post — and me overthinking whether or not I really should even spend my time doing this — if not for this challenge.

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  4. Well I for one am so glad you are writing. You have a real gift and even what you consider a “brash” question is gentle in tone but also gives me pause to really consider what is being said and what is at stake. Thank you for that.

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  5. This post immediately brought Dunbar’s Number ( to mind. In addition to hiding away the people we’re interacting with behind a screen, an avatar, and a username, “unbounded” social media like Twitter and Instagram feed us “connections” in a quantity that completely overwhelms any capability a person realistically has to meaningfully relate to the people behind them.

    It’s interesting, though…there are definitely people that I would call “Twitter friends,” with whom I’ve interacted enough times and with enough regularity that I’m starting to get a sense of them, and I would think they of me. But the medium is terrible for sustained interaction, for real community—I only “meet” them when they happen to appear in my feed, or I in theirs. It’s a very “thin” community, such as it is, with a very low cap on the range of possible depth of connection. And, the point about deeper meaning, intentionality, attentiveness rings very true–I give none of the significant (over…*sigh*)thought to tweets as I do to blog comments and posts. I almost wonder if it’s easier to create (or, at least to *post*) content to ‘unbounded’ social media *because* it feels (and *is*) so ephemeral, so insignificant… in marked contrast to a comment here, or on most any blog, where the audience is narrower, the post more permanent, the conversation having the potential to span a number of days, and easily returned to over time.

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    1. So many good thoughts here, Brian. I’ve read about Dunbar’s Number and also find that really insightful. Another blogger on here whom I’ve met through this #bloginstead experiment quoted Emily Dickinson, “The Soul Selects Her Society, and then Shuts the Door…” ( She was speaking of more intentional focus on certain topics, but I think that amazing line from Dickinson perhaps also applies in the context of Dunbar’s number. Thank you for commenting!

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      1. Thanks for the mention, Amanda! And I wanted to tell you that I am a few chapters into Middlemarch at your recommendation and am SMITTEN! Thank you!


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