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Why to Avoid Becoming a Brand - Issue #326

It's probably the crusty Mainer in me, but I like playing the contrarian. I get almost the same juice from the things I do not do as from the things I do. It makes me more than a little smug to say that I'm not on Instagram (or Facebook or Tiktok); I'm such a hipster that I gave up social media for Lent in 2006 (but I definitely posted about it on social media to get those classic thumbs-ups).

There is something flattening about social media. The platforms take anything—a baby picture, an obituary, a comment about the weather—and make it the same; they take anyone—a college student, a pastor, a parent—and make them behave the same. That kind of flatness obscures the nuance and difference that gives life much of its depth and purpose. The difference between a college student and a parent matters, as does the difference between a baby picture and an obituary.

About a year ago, I was knee-deep in church committee work: I was a small part, a ninth, to be precise, of our church's search committee. We were on the hunt for a new priest. The sorts of questions that I found most revealing were about how the priest interacted with social media, advised congregants on social media, or how the church should use such platforms. Does the priest need to build a brand? Can good Christians be formed by the internet? Can the church actually do anything virtually?

The more I thought about it, the answer to all of the above is "no." A church shouldn't be online, it should be real; if Christians are most formed by social media, then they won't be good; priests shouldn't be online brands.

We should reject the flattening. My Mainer contrariness comes out strong sometimes and I found a NYT columnist who agrees!

Enjoy the reading.


The Temptations of the ‘Personal Brand’

Whatever else social media may do, it makes nearly everything performative.