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Social media are having an enormous effect on the 2012 United Methodist General Conference. People from all over the world -- most vividly shown in the Young People's Address -- are engaging with those who are on-site in Tampa, Florida.
And yet, perhaps because I am what's known as a "digital immigrant," I am eager for the second week of General Conference when I will attend the event in person.
Even though social media has toppled dictatorships and made powerful institutions (including The United Methodist Church) tremble, for me what's lost in the plethora of social media are two things that only actual physical presence can bring: personal connection and social context.
For example, on the morning of April 25, I prepared for the daily update of United Methodist Insight by reviewing tweets at the Twitter hashtag conference #GC2012. It wasn't long before I found myself entranced by a constant stream of pithy, sometimes witty, commentaries on the morning's three major addresses from laity, young people and United Methodist bishops. I retweeted so often that by noontime, @uminsight ended up among the top 8 General Conference tweeters listed by United Methodist Communications!
But among the gems there was also a lot of dross. Many people tweeted and re-tweeted catchphrases from the addresses. Others got caught by platitudes intended to inspire, but that only reinforced the General Conference ennui of jaded veterans like me. Honestly, I think if I read "If it is to be, it's up to me," one more time I may scream.
Fortunately, some brave souls are willing to put their tweets on the line, such as the Rev. Ken Carter's tweet that all of Wednesday morning's big addresses "could have benefitted from an editor" (alas, as I was writing this, Twitter informed me that older @gc2012 comments such as Ken's were no longer available). Then there are those like Matt Horan, who proposed that the 2016 General Conference meet entirely by Twitter to avoid the morass of parliamentary maneuvering that erupted over changing the rules on how General Conference works. I'm almost on board with that idea from a purely selfish motive of not wanting to hear any more hard-headed, ham-handed attempts to gain legislative power by manipulating the rules.
Yet, to be Ms. States-the-Obvious, I must point out that social media relies on enormous power: electrical power, transmission power and personal energy. The fact that the UMC.org website was inadequate to the task early on Wednesday morning, to say nothing of overloads on Twitter and Facebook, testifies both to large numbers of users AND to the demands that social media make on energy usage.