Michael Booth recently wrote a piece for Living with Conflict, a website which I help to edit, about Email, Social Media and Conflict in the Church. It’s a very interesting report and it came at just the same time as some discussion in the Quaker Renewal Facebook group about the possibility of revising our Book of Discipline, currently called Quaker Faith and Practice – a discussion partly prompted by Oliver Robertson’s post on Nayler about the subject. The combination reminded me of some discussions in a study group about QF&P which I ran in 2013; we looked at ten chapters from the book over ten weeks, looking for our favourite passages, most useful passages, and for gaps. One of the gaps we detected, and which has come up in other conversations since then, was a lack of material about online activities – understandable in a book approved in 1994, long before Facebook had been invented, but an obvious omission to our ways of living in Britain now.
One of the exercises I set the study group was to try writing a new ‘Advices and Queries‘ passage, engaging with the concerns we had identified as absent from the current book. I chose to write something about internet use, and produced the following:
Sharing online can be an important part of our lives as social beings. Does your internet presence reflect you as a whole person? Strive for a right balance between electronic and analogue communications, and remember that working asynchronously can provide extra time for thought and prayer. Do you consume news and other information in ways which support your freedom and positive engagement with the world?
Looking back on it after almost two years, it still reflects many of the issues I am considering. I might add some of Michael’s points about who we represent online, not just ourselves but our organisations; and in a book of discipline generally, I would now also want to add something about the use of phones and tablets in worship or Meeting for Worship for Business. (Not, I should clarify, to ban them, but to encourage thoughtful and appropriate use, and patience and charity from those who do not understand what they are being used for.) On the other hand, the question about whether your online persona represents your life came up again over Christmas, when some people posted on Facebook about it being particular hard at that time of year to see everyone’s happy-family-together pictures and posts, and others responded to say that this was only a part of their experience. How honest are we going to be online? I know there are things I avoid posting in some spaces – I have my reasons for this and they feel like good reasons to me – but do those omissions lead people to an untruthful, or at least one-sided, picture of me?