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Discernment and Community in the Twitter Age

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Imagine you log onto your Facebook account, and you have a friend request from a Dominican professor. In his profile picture, he is smiling. When you read his wall, it’s filled with inspirational updates about the school.

Would you accept the professor’s request? Or would you be afraid of him seeing your page?

On Oct. 13 in the Priory Auditorium, Trevor Bechtel, Ph. D., the assistant professor of religion and director of the honors program at Bluffton University in Bluffton, Ohio, discussed why every Christian should have a Twitter or Facebook account and how the virtual community of social networking shapes reality.

Bechtel compares our daily lifestyles to the virtual realities of social networking. He talked about three distinct ways in which social networking should shape our communities.

First, according to Bechtel, Christians should not be ashamed of their lives and should be able to exhibit their faith publicly and without fear via social networks.

“Who you are online should be the same exact person you are in reality,” Bechtel said.

The structure of Facebook, such as having “friends,” a “relationship status” and sharing photos, is the same as in a real social environment as opposed to the virtual ones of social networks. What we do on Facebook, we do in reality. You make friends, may have a significant other and share photos, he said.

“As a Christian you should be genuine at all times,” Bechtel said. “If you add someone as a friend on Facebook, it should be genuine.”

Bechtel also feels that Christians should be open about how they give back to God, as well.

“Facebook should have public information such as your income and tithes, similar to how they did in the olden days,” he said.

Secondly, inspirational leaders like the pope and President Carroll, should use social networks to interact with others in the community.

“Although you can’t explain everything about yourself in 140 characters, people should get an understanding of who you are as a person when you tweet,” Bechtel stated.

Since its creation in 2006, Twitter has gained the attention of numerous leaders and celebrities who use it to inspire others. They include President Obama, Oprah and Lady Gaga, a woman with over 14 million followers.

“Twitter is used as an easy way to send information and reach out to a vast amount of people,” Bechtel said.

Although it may be strange to see the pope tweeting his thoughts throughout the day, Bechtel says that Christians should not place their hope in Twitter itself but put their hope in God.

President Carroll does not have a Facebook or Twitter account, but she does use LinkedIn, a professional network. She doesn’t put her hope in the system itself but focuses on how best to use the technology.

“I don’t have any feelings toward Facebook or Twitter because I don’t use them,” President Carroll said. “I use my LinkedIn account to keep in touch with alumni.”

Finally, Bechtel said, play video games.

“Games are a multiplayer tool of the imagination that challenges us both within the game and in our daily lives,” Bechtel said.

Although games may be seen as a leisure activity, Bechtel views games as “practice” for reality.

“Reality is lonely, isolated, depressing and unambitious,” he said. “Games help us to tackle goals, create communities from scratch and build our strengths.”

Bechtel said he believes we should use these attributes in real life to bring together individuals and form a community.

The event was sponsored by the Albertus Magnus Society of the Siena Center.

“My main take on the lecture is that we should judge technology based on if it helps to improve the community or if it brings down the community,” Siena Center Director Claire Noonan said.

Sharmon Jarmon, Contributing Writer


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