Invisible Friendships

Are you open to forming an intimate relationship with someone whom you don’t get to see?

At an after-party during the Catholic New Media Celebration in Atlanta weekend before last, I stood around chatting with a group of friends – all of whom I had originally met online – about this year’s conference. One of them took a step back and noted how strange it was that we were all there together in someone’s flat, drinking rare IPA’s and eating ice cream cake shaped like Hello Kitty’s head (don’t ask.) “There’s really no reason,” he observed, “for any of these people to be here together and know each other.”

It was an apt observation. It’s true that the CNMC always brings people together into new relationships, both personal and professional. In the days following the conference, many of the attendees have made similar observations on their respective podcasts and blogs, in their social media posts and comments. New collaborative projects always emerge online – watch this space – and people who did not previously know each other end up becoming friends.

However there’s something deeper at work here than simply throwing together a bunch of Catholic media nerds with common interests. After all, the same can and does happen at comicons or political conventions or any other similar gathering of like minds. Because beyond the silliness and selfies, the CNMC is really about recognizing the universal call of holiness to which all of us must respond.

And part of the way we do that, both in new media and social media, is by witnessing to people whom we will probably never see, about Someone whom we have not seen yet.

In St. John’s Gospel, when St. Thomas comes to believe in the reality of the Resurrection, Christ remarks: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (St. John 20:29) Similarly, St. Peter sums up the experience of those early Christians who never got to meet Jesus in the flesh during their lives, using words which are still resonant of the Christian experience today: “Although you have not seen Him you love Him; even though you do not see Him now yet believe in Him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 St. Peter 1:8-9)

Most of us – unless we are very, very blessed indeed – are not going to get to see Him during this life. I can’t Snapchat with God. We can only hope to see Him in the life to come. That can’t happen however, unless we are constantly trying to keep in communication with Him, through prayer. 

Prayer is not like an IM chat, where we need to see a checkmark to know the recipient has received what we are trying to say. He hears all of our prayers, when we make them; we take that on faith. Yet the message is going to have a much harder time getting through, if we don’t even bother to make it most of the time. Just as you can’t expect an online relationship to grow and develop if you don’t actually communicate with one another, so too you can’t expect to come to know Him, unless you’re willing to sit down and take the time to communicate with Him through prayer.

As we stumble through life constantly sinning our way into the grave, we are blessed and lucky if we come across people along the way that will give us a hand and pick us up out of the dust and dirt that we keep falling into along the way. Intimate relationships of this kind absolutely can be and are formed through engaging in new media and social media: I’ve seen it happen, and it’s continuing to happen. Yet the most important and intimate relationship of all, the one we have with the One who made us, is so often the one we spend the least time on.

Don’t forget, as you build your online relationships, that He would love to hear from you too, if you’ll take the time to reach out to Him.
 

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3 Big Thank-You’s

Allow me to take a moment, gentle reader, to scribble down three notes of thanks:

1. CatholicMom.com

My “New Media Sister” Sarah Reinhard (and “Domer Tailgater Mom” Lisa Hendey), very kindly added me to their roster of bloggers to know about over on CatholicMom.com this week.  Mrs. Reinhard interviewed me for this piece some time ago, and kindly allowed me to both speak to my own experience in media, as well as get in a bit of humor at the end, while saying some very kind things about me, herself.  I’m really honored to have been included. Thanks and God bless, CatholicMom.com!

2. WordPress.Com

The editors at WordPress have once again selected one of my posts for spotlighting in their “Freshly Pressed” section.  The piece in question was this one, which rose out of news that London’s National Gallery was going to reverse a long-standing policy, and allow museum visitors to take photos.  The editors complimented my taking a general overview of the subject of photography inside museums, and encouraging readers to share their own thoughts and opinions about the question.  This is now the 5th time that I’ve been selected for “Freshly Pressed”, and I’m just as grateful today for their most recent nod of approval: thank you very much indeed, WordPress.

3. YOU.

Finally, my thanks to you, dear reader, for subscribing to this blog, or bookmarking and dropping by when you’re in the mood for something to read. It’s always wonderful to be recognized by your peers, particularly when you don’t work in media for a living, but no recommendation or accolade means as much as knowing that your readers enjoy what you write enough to want to stick around.  I offer you my sincere gratitude for your continued patronage of these virtual pages.

"Chez Tortoni" by Edouard Manet (c. 1878-1880) Stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston in 1990

“Chez Tortoni” by Edouard Manet (c. 1878-1880)
Stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston in 1990

 

Is Social Media a Waste of Resources?

An interesting article caught my eye on the Wall Street Journal this morning, thanks to a posting from a friend: it seems many businesses are starting to asking themselves what they are getting out of social media, and whether they ought to continue to invest in that aspect of their online presence.

In a fascinating Gallup survey, a whopping 62% of respondents indicated that social media had no influence at all over their purchasing decisions. Only 5% of respondents indicated that social media had a significant influence on their purchasing decisions.  Not surprisingly, 94% of respondents indicated that the primary reason they used social media was to keep in touch with family and friends.

In response to figures like these – which a reasonable person could have predicted – it seems more businesses are considering dialing back their online investment, particularly when it comes to social media.  If a re-tweet on Twitter or an up-vote on Reddit is not, in most cases, going to result in greater sales, then the amount of spending going into a business’ presence on such sites will decrease.  As the Gallup report concludes, these venues “are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies hoped they would be.”

The present situation reminds me somewhat of the first tech bubble in the late ’90’s. Back then, the term “internet millionaire” was coined to reflect the fact that, in the Wild West-atmosphere of those heady days, people were able to strike it rich by persuading investors that their online product was worth millions in potential revenue. Businesses felt the pressure to get in on the online game, because everyone else seemed to be doing it.

At the time it always seemed to be a bit of an Emperor’s New Clothes situation. Companies were spending exorbitant sums on what was often little more than hype.  When the bubble burst, millions of people lost their jobs, their savings, and so on.  If you were looking for employment back around 1999-2000, you will remember what a terrible time that was for many workers, particularly those in industries with ties to the nascent online industries.

Although time and technology have marched on, the underlying question remains the same, only this time with regard to a company’s social media presence: how is digital media going to make my business more profitable?  In order to properly consider that question, however, let me suggest that we need to weed out a few types of online experiences to examine the issue at hand.  There are profits to be made through digital media, but for many businesses it seems to me that the trick is to understand what you can and cannot achieve with your online presence.

First let’s put to one side the use of social media by those having no profit motive:  your Tumblr account about funny pictures of cats, for example.  Let’s also discard sales portals for the purchase of goods and services: companies like Amazon or Ebay, craftsmen who sell their work online, virtual travel agents, etc. These businesses use all kinds of digital media, including social media, to present the consumer with images and information on the types of products they offer for sale. Although far faster and more comprehensive than any printed catalog, when you get down to brass tacks the business model here is really not that much different from something like the old Sears Wish Book.

What we’re left with, in terms of the opportunity to make a profit, seems to be advertising, as indeed it always has been. What many companies didn’t understand 15 years ago, and which they don’t seem to have learned about social media until now, is that sites which do not engage in direct sales should be viewed primarily as public relations vehicles, not profit-generators, unless you happen to control the sale of advertisements on that site.  If you are a producer of a good or service, you want to have a consumer view your product in a positive way.  A component of your marketing strategy online should be to make your presence attractive on social media, but this is simply a variant of creating a beautiful showroom, running clever ads in magazines or on television, and so on.

There is also a question to my mind as to whether many of these companies have been more focused on building altars, rather than storefronts.  Sadly, more people today spend their Sundays worshiping professional athletes rather than God, and the profits to be made from areas such as merchandising and advertising the exploits of these athletic entertainers are enormous.  Yet whether they are cars, phones, or entertainers, the businesses that have to sell these products have done a great job of bringing together fans of their products through social media, but apparently without significant monetizing of those social connections.

Thus, while thousands may click “Like” on the Ritz-Carlton corporation page on Facebook, how many of these people are actually staying at Ritz-Carlton hotels on a regular basis? While the Gucci account on Twitter has over 1 million followers, how many of those followers can even afford to buy a pair of the company’s iconic Italian horsebit loafers?  It’s all very well to be popular in social media, with thousands of hits on your YouTube video.  Yet from a profitability standpoint, if that popularity is not generating sales, then are you wise to continue the same level of investment in it?

If the WSJ piece is to be believed then, more companies are waking up to the fact that having a presence in social media is worth some level of investment, but only up to a point.  Just as 15 years ago, companies needed to create websites in order to be part of the conversation and remain current, so too they needed to hop on the social media bandwagon when that began to roll along several years ago.  Their expectations in doing so don’t seem to have been matched, in many cases, with the anticipated level of return.

Until the next big thing comes along, however (virtual reality, anyone?), one doubts that business is going to be leaving social media altogether any time soon – even if it may choose not to spend as much on it in the future as it does in the present.

Social Media Money