Quaker Folkways and Being Patterns on the Interwebs

Last Sun­day I have a pre­sen­ta­tion to Had­don­field (N.J.) Meeting’s adult First-day school class about “Shar­ing the Good News with Social Media.” As I pre­pared I found I was less and less inter­est­ed in the tech­niques of Face­book, etc., than I was in how out­reach has his­tor­i­cal­ly worked for Friends.

For an ear­ly, short, peri­od Quak­ers were so in-your-face and noto­ri­ous that they could draw a crowd just by walk­ing a few miles up the road to the next town. More recent­ly, we’ve attract­ed new­com­ers as much by the exam­ple of our lives than by any out­reach cam­paign. When I talk to adult new­com­ers, they often cite some Quak­er exam­ple in their lives – a favorite teacher or delight­ful­ly eccen­tric aunt.

Peo­ple can sense when there’s some­thing of greater life in the way we approach our work, friend­ships, and fam­i­lies. Let me be the first in line to say I’m hor­ri­bly imper­fect. But there are Quak­er tech­niques and val­ues and folk­ways that are guides to gen­uine­ly good ways to live in the world. There’s noth­ing exclu­sive­ly Quak­er about them (indeed, most come from care­ful read­ing of the Gospels and Paul’s let­ters), but they are tools our reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty has empha­sized and into which we’ve helped each oth­er live more fully.

In the last fif­teen years, the ways Friends are known has under­gone a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion. The Inter­net has made us incred­i­bly easy to find and research. This is a mixed bless­ing as it means oth­ers are defin­ing who we are. Care­ful cor­po­rate dis­cern­ment con­duct­ed through long-developed tech­niques of Quak­er process are no match for the “edit” but­ton in Wikipedia or some com­mer­cial site with good page rank.

That said, I think peo­ple still are dis­cov­er­ing Friends through per­son­al exam­ples. George Fox told us to be pat­terns and exam­ples in the world and to answer that of God in every­one. A lot of our exam­pling and answer­ing today is going to be on the thread­ed com­ments of Face­book and Twit­ter. What will they find? Do we use Face­book like every­one else, trolling, spam­ming, engag­ing in flame wars, focus­ing on our­selves? Or do Quak­er folk­ways still apply. Here are some ques­tions that I reg­u­lar­ly wres­tle with:

  • When I use social media, am I being open, pub­lic, and transparent?
  • Am I care­ful to share that which is good and eter­nal rather than tit­il­lat­ing for its own sake?
  • Do I remem­ber that the Good News is sim­ply some­thing we bor­row to share and that the Inward Christ needs to do the final deliv­ery into hearts?
  • Do I pray for those I dis­agree with? Do I prac­tice hold­ing my tongue when my moti­va­tion is anger or jealousy?

What strug­gles do oth­ers face? What might be our online folkways?

Focused blogs and side trips

Over on Eileen Flanagan’s Imper­fect Seren­i­ty, there’s an inter­est­ing post on blog pub­lic­i­ty, “Blog­ging dilem­mas,” inspired in part by Robin M“‘s recent “How did you get here?” post. Both bring up inter­est­ing ques­tions about the role of blogs in com­mu­ni­ty build­ing and the loca­tion of that line that sep­a­rates good blog­ging from mere self-promotion and pandering.

Read­ers will prob­a­bly be unsur­prised to learn that I use Tech­no­rati, Google Blog Search, etc., every day to keep track of the Quak­er blo­gos­phere. I act as a kind of com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er and my search­es are for inter­est­ing posts talk­ing about Quak­ers (until read­ing Eileen’s post I hadn’t check my Tech­no­rati “rank” in months). Many people’s first intro­duc­tion to Quak​erQuak​er​.org is get­ting linked from it, and I sus­pect I’ve acci­den­tal­ly out­ed a few begin­ning blog­gers who hadn’t told any­one of their new blog!

I have a pro­fes­sion­al blog on web design and ana­lyt­ics (with a some­what off-topic but sat­is­fy­ing post on top at the moment) and sep­a­rat­ing that out has allowed me to use this per­son­al blog, Quak­er­Ran­ter, for what­ev­er I like. Most reg­u­lar­ly read­ers would say it focus­es on Quak­erism and cute kid pic­tures and while those are the most com­mon posts, the most read posts are the minor fas­ci­na­tions I indulge myself with occa­sion­al­ly. Quak­er plain dress is some­thing I prac­tice but don’t think about most of the time (806 read­ers in past month). My wife and I love to bust on bad baby names and unfair­ly unpop­u­lar baby names (627 vis­its). I’ve also detailed some out­ings to semi-legendary South Jer­sey haunts (317) and score high on search­es to them.

The con­ven­tion­al wis­dom of the blog-as-publicity tool crowd would prob­a­bly say these off-topic posts are dis­tract­ing my core audi­ence. Per­haps, but they’re infre­quent on the blog and long-lived on Google. Besides, I think it helps peo­ple to know I’m not just obsessed with one top­ic. Being a part of a real com­mu­ni­ty means know­ing each oth­er in all of our quirks. I’m more ten­der and for­giv­ing of oth­er Quak­er blog­gers when I know more of their sto­ry: it puts what they say into a con­text that makes it sound more lived, less ide­o­log­i­cal. There’s cer­tain­ly good rea­sons for tightly-focused pro­fes­sion­al blogs (I’d drop Techcrunch from my blogroll if they start­ed post­ing kids pic­tures!), but as more peo­ple read posts through feeds and aggre­ga­tors I won­der if there’s going to be as much pres­sure for per­son­al, community-oriented blogs to be as single-minded in their focus. 

We all have diverse, quirky inter­ests so why not indulge them? I have seen blogs that try too hard to pan­der to par­tic­u­lar audi­ences and boy, are they bor­ing! A cer­tain degree of idio­syn­crasy and sub­jec­tive orner­i­ness is prob­a­bly essen­tial. Per­son­al­i­ty is at least as impor­tant as focus.

PS: I’m also inter­est­ed in mak­ing sure I don’t loose the core audi­ence with all my side trips, hence the “lat­est Quak­er posts” at the top of the page. I have at least one request for a Quaker-only RSS feed and will even­tu­al­ly get that going.
PPS: As if on queue, the next post in Google Read­er after Eileen’s is Avin­ish Kaushik’s Blog Met­rics: Six rec­om­men­da­tions for mea­sur­ing your suc­cess. Parts of it are prob­a­bly a bit tech­ni­cal for most QR read­ers but it’s use­ful for think­ing about blogs as outreach.