When my sister-in-law, Amber, was recovering from her near-fatal car accident in late 2005, early 2006, we all had some laughs. I know. A violent car accident is no laughing matter. I’m with you there. And her rehabilitation period was pretty painful to watch. But there were some great moments of levity. This is primarily because Amber’s filters were gone.
Since Amber’s head hit a tree at 65mph, her brain was pretty damaged. It’s a miracle she didn’t die on the spot. (You can watch more on her miraculous story here). As a result, her brain took a long time to get back to functioning the way it always had, and one of those effected operations was her speech process.
No, not her speaking abilities. She could still talk, and did plenty of it. I mean, the way her brain processed what she was going to say before she said it.
The neurologists explained it to us like this, and I’m paraphrasing the half dozen or so that studied Amber over many months:
“All of us have filters in our brains. They’re like gates. They measure what we think we want to say against what we actually should say, and prevent us from making logical, cultural and emotional mistakes with our words. Most people employ between 25 and 30 filters to every sentence before speaking. Amber is employing a big fat 0.”
In other words, Amber was saying every single thing she was thinking the moment she thought to say it. She was truly being her most honest self 100% of the time.
It was scary. And crazy funny.
From calling the nurses at St. Mary’s Rehabilitation Hospital “penguins” because she was convinced they were all nuns, to using every four letter word you can think of, to telling a doctor, “I’m pretty sure my mom is trying to kill me,” Amber was the source of much comic relief. And given how stressful the situation really was, we all needed something hilarious.
Bring On The Filters
Over time, Amber’s brain healed. The filters dropped back in place, and her quick wit, humor, and incredibly accurate memory returned. (Sometimes we all wonder if we’re the ones dealing with traumatic brain injuries as she’s so much smarter than us).
This blog post could end right here, praising God for his miraculous power, and I’d be quite fine to let it. My wife’s older sister is alive today, and according to physics and science, she shouldn’t be.
But in the same way that Amber’s speech filters returned over time, I’m watching society’s filters break down. Specifically, in Facebook-land.
Instagram is for appreciators.
Twitter is for intellectuals.
But Facebook is the collective societal brain injury.
Those 25 to 30 filters between our brains and our tongues were put in place by God, I’m convinced of it. They keep us from saying stupid things. Damaging things. Things that would betray our innermost selves. And for good reason: our innermost selves need redeeming. If Amber’s filter-less brain is a reflection of what a stunning, brilliant, Bible-schooled lady can think, you definitely don’t want my brain hard wired to my mouth. Lord, help us.
I could lump all of social media together, and call it all rotten. But that’s simply not the case. And I could and probably should subdivide Facebook into smaller groups, as there are many great users (and great uses for it). But the reality is, if you’ve been on Facebook for any length of time, you’ve experienced some level of filter-less communication. Maybe you were the one saying something you shouldn’t have, or more likely, you received a comment that irked you. That rattled you for days. One little comment that kept you awake at night. And you said, “If I were with that person face to face, I’d…”
And therein lies my point.
The bane of Facebook, and arguably anything that’s not “in person,” is that it’s fake at some level. Not fake as in what’s being said isn’t real. Quite the opposite. What’s being said is too real. It’s your brain with a head injury.
When you’re sitting with your dad over coffee and you want to say the real thing in your head, but don’t—because you know it would crush him—you’re filtering.
When you’re standing in your boss’ office and can’t seem to resurrect that fantasy from the night before where you threw a stapler at his head, and instead you’re speaking with a calm tone to try and reason through a dilemma together, you’re filtering.
When you want to fire an employee but don’t, when you want to ground your child for life but refrain, when you want to slam the phone down, throw the computer, or pull the pin from the grenade but leave it in, you’re filtering. You’re preserving.
There’s a myriad of reasons, causes and stimuli that keep us in check, that keep you and me filtered. Some good, some bad, but all working together. Decency, intimidation, loyalty, eye contact, fear, cameras, honor, respect, humiliation, tone, power, nobility, patience, hostility, cultural faux pas, expectations, breathing speed, physical dominance, security guards. As humans, we’re extremely alert creatures. We notice everything. So much so, only 7% of communication is verbal. That means, to convey all the emotions and meaning behind your statements, 93% of what you’re communicating has nothing to do with what you could type.
That’s why a book, the Bible, can never be the fourth person of the Trinity. That’s why Jesus had to come in the flesh to get across what we’d been messing up since the dawn of time. And that’s why Facebook is so good at fostering environments that propagate rhetoric and not relationship.
The filters are gone, the nuance is lost, and we’re trying to have conversations with 93% of the information missing.
We’ve all been taught that being afraid of certain people, and therefore not saying “what we really want to,” is bad. And to a certain degree, I agree. There’s something to be said for confidence, for standing up for what you believe in. But there’s also an argument that certain type’s of fear are healthy. It’s a filter. As is not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, not wanting to disrespect someone’s age or position, and not wanting to offend.
I know, imagine that.
Anytime someone types, “I don’t mean to offend you, but…” what they’re really saying is, “I would never say this to your face in the same way I’m typing this now, but since you’re not here, and I don’t feel responsible to you, I’m going to say it anyway.”
Reigning It In
In a world where everyone is entitled to their opinion, everyone is empowered to share their opinion sans filter, and further, everyone thinks their opinion is the right one, people’s statements lose their relevance because they’ve abandoned cultural sanity.
I’ll give you an example. I’m a clergyman. I’m paid to know and study scripture, to counsel people, to lead a community. It’s not my hobby on the side. It’s my profession. And I’ve been at it professionally for almost twenty years. And yet I find it ironic how easily people can argue with me over theology. Not that they can’t, or shouldn’t. But that it’s careless. Can you imagine arguing with your doctor as he’s making an incision during an operation? “Hey, doc, maybe a little more to the left.” Or how about with your mechanic. “Are you sure that’s the wrench you really want to use?”
In a virtual world, everyone’s an expert, because everyone’s opinion matters. But opinions rarely sway people; more often, they tick them off.
No one ever wins a hard lining liberal to a conservative position in a comment thread. Nor does an atheist get a Christian to disown Jesus. Yet those attempts, and many less polarizing ones, are representational of the countless I’ve seen on Facebook. Sports, scriptures, television shows, recipes, the weather. It’s insane. It’s a collective brain injury.
The Face Test
In the absence of filters, people say what they never should.
While I could give you “10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Posting or Commenting on Facebook,” the chances are, you’d never remember them. Especially in the heat of the moment.
So here’s my cardinal rule that I try and follow daily, sometimes breaking when I hit my forehead too hard on a desk:
First, if I wouldn’t say my criticism to someone’s face, it shouldn’t be typed, and if it is, it’s private; and second, I must consider whether I have an actual physical audience with the person in real life.
The first part is hard enough, and I think it’s self explanatory, arguably solving the large majority of public Facebook issues that arise.
But the second is more intense. Meaning, if I don’t actually know the person, or the likelihood of me seeing them within the week is non-existent, I refrain from commenting. If it’s outside of my relationship, it’s illegal.
If the Bible calls this gossip and a loose tongue, I’d call it modern gossip and being an idiot. It’s why you don’t see me lambasting celebrities online. It breaks both parts of the cardinal rule: first, I wouldn’t say it to their face, and second, I don’t know them. (Read Matthew 18:15-17 on how to handle offenses).
All this stems primarily from how I want to be treated as a person. When someone easily says something to me online that I know that they’d have a much harder time saying to my face, and when someone acts like they know me when they really don’t (listen to Creativecast episode 3 on familiarity and transparency), it demeans me. If I don’t like it, why should I subject others to it? That’s hypocrisy, and unChristlike.
Picking A Home for Content
The second measure I employ is selective posting.
Facebook: The only things I post on Facebook anymore are announcements, general updates and pictures that are linked from my Instagram account. I still have 8,000+ followers on Facebook, and the majority of them are awesome, so it’s a great way to get information out. But the reason that the majority of what I post is pictures is simply because it’s hard to argue over pictures of someone’s life, especially when my goal in posting to Instagram is to give meaningful glimpses into what Christian life can look like. It’s a tool. That’s all.
Because Facebook is such a varied audience, and the nature of long-form posting there requires a thorough and sometimes exhaustive explanation in order for people to get your point without having a brain hemorrhage, it gets the least amount of critical information from me. I don’t need the headache, and users should spend their time doing better things. I had one famous theologian private message me on Twitter and confess, “I treat it very differently. Facebook is the devil.”
(As a humorous but no less intentional example, you won’t find a link to this post on Facebook, at least from me, because too many users there would freak out that I’m critical of the platform. You will find it on Twitter, however).
Twitter: In contrast, Twitter, by virtue of it’s short form context, allows small, poignant statements that invite users into a larger dialog, stimulated by their own experiences and pursuits. While there may be intense discussion, users are limited to 140 characters at a time, which means you’ve got to know what you’re talking about (and if you don’t, everyone can tell). The large majority of my posting happens here, and I love the Twitter community for that very reason.
Instagram: Posting to Instagram became a daily discipline over two years ago, when I realized it forced me to view my life intentionally. There are thousands of visual moments that make up my day; by pinpointing at least one, it’s made me savor the richness of life around me, and promote the things I see God doing in my world. It is, simply put, a form of visual evangelism.
Communicate Where and What You Love
Listen, if you love Facebook, and you’ve found a niche there where you can have a positive impact, I salute you. I genuinely admire that. It’s simply not something that’s healthy for me; I prefer Twitter, my blog, and Instagram. But regardless of where you spend most of your time, remember to filter. Avoid virtual brain injury syndrome (VBIS). Guard your words. Filter your statements. Be selective on where certain content goes. And for the love of God and all that is holy, make sure to breath. People do need our love more than our opinions.
All the other things he wanted to say].