To Unplug or Not to Unplug? That is the Question.

Dear Superfriends and Blogofans,

I crave your input (and no, that’s not meant to be a dirty joke).  While it has been my joy to be the favorite Internet Heretic Superstar for a small following, I’ve lately begun to reflect on and reevaluate my place in the online world.

On the one hand, as my wife recently pointed out to me, this blog has come to occupy the same mental space that my old Community Chaplaincy used to occupy in my mind, heart, and time.  It seems to be a place where fellow outcasts and like-minded spiritual explorers can find good news.

On the other hand, between the blogosphere and Facebook, I am daily finding someone or something that really sets my blood to boil.  I’m finding it more and more difficult to maintain my own personal commitment to sanity and civility when it comes to religious and political dialogue.  You might say that I’m steadily developing a case of road rage on the Information Superhighway.

I fear that the anonymity, isolation, and forced terseness of online social media is severely lowering the bar for effective public discourse in our society.  To put it bluntly: we seem to be losing our ability to communicate.

Nowhere is this observed tendency more obvious to me than in my own psyche.  My fuse is shorter and my patience thinner than they used to be.  In my best moments, I am exhausted from having to be the bigger person while I bear witness to online behaviors that are, frankly, cruel and stupid.  In my worst moments, I have participated in those same cruel and stupid behaviors.  Either way, I’m sick of it.

So, I’m thinking that it might be time for me to take a break from blogging and Facebooking.

What I want to know from you, Superfriends and Blogofans, is this:

Does my online presence (on this blog or on Facebook) contribute significantly to my relationship with you?  If I don’t know you personally, does it contribute meaningfully to your own personal growth?

If the answer to either of those questions is ‘Yes’, I would sincerely like to know.  That way, I can make a better-informed decision about whether:

a.  this exercise is worth continuing


b.  it would be better for me to unplug from this online drain of human mental and moral capacities.

I want to hear your thoughts.  Please leave them in the comments section.




20 thoughts on “To Unplug or Not to Unplug? That is the Question.

  1. Betty Abel-Jellencich

    I so enjoy reading your thoughts and would not like to see it end, but I also fully understand your feelings about the way people are on-line. It’s as if they can hide behind the “internet” and become as rude as they want. I find that especially with the upcoming election and with issues of gays. Such hate is so hard to understand.

    1. I would be sorry to see it go, but nothing is worth sacraficing your sanity. Opening up to the large cybercommunity is going to put you in contact with many different kinds of people. It can be good because you can connect with some amazing folks, and gain new perspective, but the risk is coming into people who are disrespectful and downright cruel. As you pointed out it is easier to be mean if you figure you will never meet the person face to face. It’s cowardly, but some people are also cowards. Perhaps you should try a trial separation from your blog to collect your thoughts and sort out your emotions, knowing that you haven’t severed ties completely, it’s just an idea. I think the blog is worthwhile, but anything worthwhile has risks, but you have to be able to live with the consequences of those risks. Of course only you know what you can live with. Good Luck in finding the right path.

  2. Angie Elkins

    I’m beginning to feel the same way re: road rage. I’ve started disconnecting from some people who are dragging me down. However you are not one of those dragging me down so I’ve kept you around. You are right though, it is destroying our ability to communicate. It’s all “I’m right and you’re wrong” and there is no discourse, no communication, no connection with each other. I don’t know if the internet or facebook is to blame, but there is something going wrong here. I’ve began to just ignore or block people who I’ve found to be waiting to start an argument on anything I post. I’ve also began to ignore posts that I disagree with simply because there is no “good” way to argue your point on the internet. So yes, we are losing our ability to communicate and reason…

    On a personal side though – facebook is really the only way I keep in touch with you and I would greatly miss your posts and communication on there if you were to stop. I don’t read every one of your blogs but I try to catch at least some of them.


  3. While I consider your online presence to be a very (very) minor part of your overall presence in my life, I do find it to be mostly positive. I enjoy the little glimpses at what has caught your attention.

    There are occasional days when the vitriol online spills over and you carry some of the anxiety and tension from those encounters into “real life,” and I probably see more of that than most. Maybe unplugging would eliminate that extra source of anxiety; maybe it will just facilitate the transfer of anxiety to some other situation/medium… I’m not sure I can predict the outcome with certainty.

  4. Chazz Hamilton

    Barrett!!! Noooooo…!!! I actually lok forward to reading your blogs. Daily! Daarrnnnn…!!! Oh well, it’s not me that has to live in your head, so if it’s better for you so be it. Namaste!

  5. I blogged twice a week or more for about three years then didn’t seem to have anything to say for 6 moths or so and took a break from all of it. Most of my readers were local folks and when I do put something into the blogs-sphere we often talk about it when we meet. In reality it is up to you—if it satisfies something in you keep doing it…if not unplug for awhile.

  6. I found you by typing “Progressive Christianity” in my search engine. I’m a progressive Christian, yet I’m also the wife of a pastor whose congregation is sometimes threatened by the ideas I hold true and sacred. I’ve been battered more than once for my belief in equality for the LGBT community, for instance. So I’m quiet in “real life,” for the sake of my husband’s ministry. Reading you is a lifeline for me. I apologize that I’ve only responded a couple of times to posts that have moved me. That has led you to believe that I’m not out there, or that I don’t care. Meanwhile, you’re taking the hits that I would have been taking had I not chosen to clam up (and if that ain’t Christological, I don’t know what is). Ultimately it is your choice. But I will miss you. Tremendously. I often read parts of your sermons to my husband. I keep all your posts in a file. They comfort me, challenge me, guide me. You are an important part of my day, and I deeply appreciate you.

  7. Jon Stovell

    It doesn’t have to be either/or. You could still post to your blog without reading all the crap online. Switch to a mode where you send out thought online via your blog, but cut the Facebok interactions, etc., from the mix. Then that energy could be reinvested in your local community context again instead. Actually, that’s be better for your blog, too, I think. Your best posts have been the ones rooted in your local experience, iin my opinion.

  8. Gary Oaks

    Frankly, Barrett, Facebook is nearly the ONLY communication I have with you. I’d hate to lose it, but you know best for yourself.

    Unplugging is equivalent to becoming a sort of e-hermit (which is OK, if this is helpful, I suppose).

    My experience … and I freely admit to much less online social communication than you … is that there are as many assholes and other negative people/energy offline as online. Learning to deal with this is a lifetime, ongoing adventure. Interacting online requires a different set of social skills in which most of us are just learning. There are no courses to take, there are no text books (that I am aware of). (Will YOU write the book??)

    I tend to agree with those who, when confronted with intolerable degrees of intolerance and other forms of ignorance and folks who are as yet insufficiently evolved to master their emotions, to simply *delete* them, or at least their comments. This in cases where reason has flown out the window.

  9. I have to say number 1 – I fully understand where you’re coming from; number 2 – I, too, sometimes get frustrated with the ‘banter’ going on in social media not all of it is appropriate nor is it said with kindness for someone else’s feelings; number 3 – and this is personal – I enjoy both your updates on Facebook, especially all the great things the kids are doing since I don’t see you that often and your blog is always a source of information – giving me the opportunity to sometimes rethink how I think and feel.

  10. brotherbob

    Please consider modifying how you explore the Internet rather than end your presence in it. Would you stop writing in a diary or journal? would you stop sending opinion pieces to the newspaper because people who think in terms of enemies respond? Would you stop preaching because your congregation did not respond the way you want them to do? Would you stop reading because the price of electric lights went up?

    Barrett, ask yourself what in your life is leading to the changes. I am now past my midlife crisis, and find myself less accepting of the sharp edges of society. It is not because of my wanderings on the ‘Net, it is because of changes in ME. Perhaps the same applies to you.

    Personally, I look forward to your posts, and take comfort that there is someone not too distant geographically, but very close in presence, on whom I can depend to speak to me in a calm, loving rational and understandable voice. And the most recent ones have meant the most.

    My advice to you is to do what you want on a day-to-day basis. Do not lay weights on your yoke but follow the HS where it leads you. It seems to me, so far God has done well by you…..

  11. John Faust

    Moderation in all things. I really, really enjoy your posts and thoughts, but many times I find myself in the same situation. NOTHING beats face to face conversation (as in real, not virtual).
    I worry MUCH about the fact that every thought has to be quick and terse. Your blogs are very thoughtful and courteous, but unfortunately not everyone reads anything much in depth anymore. I fear for the coming election and the way vitriol is already spewing forth online.
    So for your sake, I would suggest PLEASE continue online BUT at the same time take breaks away from all electronic devices.

  12. I greatly appreciate your blogs as an “American” voice in my Canadian landscape. I understand your frustration about the limitations of internet communications, but I hope that we Professional Communicators can rise to the challenge. I imagine that the first people to use the printing press also had their struggles with pamphleteers using the medium to air their prejudices and biases. I am not certain that the anonymity contributes to more negativity, I think this level of negativity is a real presence in our society. Blogs like yours help to combat this with thoughtful discourse that isn’t limited to 250 characters. By all means, take a break if you need one. But I would encourage you to continue the challenge and feel free to ask for positive reinforcement from your peers anytime the enemy is breathing down your neck..
    Love to you and Sarah

  13. Reed

    Take a step back and regroup a bit my friend. I really enjoy your posts but I also know where to find you otherwise. There is not much out there worth shortening your fuse with your wife, kids and friends over. I understand how fb and blogging can suck the time out of your day so fb/blog less and play with your kids more. I promise it is a much healthier use of time. Much love to you and the family!

  14. Leslie

    Hi Barrett – Just wanted you to know that I very much enjoy reading your postings and all of their diversity. You always have very informative and beneficial postings and I would certainly miss not receiving them and reflecting on their content. I know that they must consume a great deal of your time and energy to compile and I hope that you continue with them however I completely understand if you feel that you need to focus on higher priority projects as well. – Leslie

  15. I faithfully read eveything you post, to the extent I wish I had your courage to speak out. At present the steps are very small. I will miss your wisdom, your point of view, your faithfulness. People in our calling meet enough negativity without having a blog or a fb account to expose ourselves to or invite more. You have to make your own choice, may God guide your decision process and continued blessings.

  16. Sam Pendergrast

    I have to confess that you are not an essential part of my day! I have more to read than I can get my brain and heart around already. Simplifying gets my vote. – Sam

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