Source: Gary’s Social Media Counter
With all due respect, Rev. McCain, I’m not sure this proves anything other than that lots of Americans are addicted to ‘social networking’ and Web 2.0 applications which will be replaced almost as soon as they get written about in Newsweek. (Disclaimer: I am on Facebook and you and I are ‘friends’.) Trendmeisters and surveys show that many of these apps are already dinosaurs in webyears: blogs are seen as old news and too text-rich by the young; young people see Twitter as an ‘old person’s’ application and prefer texting; Facebook is a wasteland of shallow narcissism and ill-equipped for serious sharing of ideas.
These applications are making us dumber, enabling new addictions (see: http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/03/clicker_trained.html), and generally impoverishing language which is the medium through which the Reformation took its stand. While Christians should be aware of developments within the planned-obsolescence world of Web 2.0, we should remember that ‘the medium is the message’ and be cautious in our approach to technologies that, by their very nature, seek to level and lower and lull us to sleep.
I always find a dose of Neil Postman to be a refreshing tonic after too much Web 2.0 nonsense; we would do well to ask ourselves the following question more often: What if Huxley, and not Orwell, was right?
Chris, thanks for your remark.
I think the issues you raise are very important to consider and be aware of, but the point of this post is simply to demonstrate how explosively and ever-increasingly social media is being used by people. And where the people are talking, gathering and communicating, the Church must be there. Period. End of story.
Now, as for the issues you raise, we do well to consider how best to use the communication technologies at our disposal, but to assume a quasi-Luddite attitude over against social media and social networking is not helpful. It is a reactionary and even, perhaps, self-destructive attitude to embrace. Can we be addicted to social media? Of course. Can we be addicted to books? Or…attending conferences, or parties, or any form of human social interaction? Of course we can, and many are. But, I guess my opinion is that the old Latin phrase abusus non tollit usum is well applied here: abuse does not take away use, i.e., is not an argument against proper use.
Ironically, the very fact that you are having this conversation on a blog site, about social media, and we are “friends” on Facebook demonstrates the point: we are connecting, communicating, reflecting and … dare I say it? … networking, socially and I think we have both given each other something to think about, reflect on, and ponder. And that’s the point of how best the Church can make use of social media and social networking.
I understand wanting to be ‘where the people are’; but what does the Church do once it gets there? As a librarian I’m more than up to date on the Web 2.0 explosion and the desire on the part of a declining profession to remain hip and with it and ‘where the people are’ to the point of selling off their books and turning their libraries into places where people drink coffee and hold meetings and play video games and look at pornography on free internet. (I think a parallel between this barbarism and the current mad rush to make worship/church ‘relevant’ to today’s world could be made here.) Meanwhile fewer people read seriously; and skills that enable mankind to adjudicate between truth and twaddle dwindle in the wake of the social networking Babel. This is not neo-Luddite thinking; I am critiquing from the inside, as someone who tries not to judge without research and experience with the technologies we’re discussing.
That being said, I have greatly benefited from the internet in the past 4 years since leaving atheism behind and researching the various branches of the Christian tree; there are many valuable resources online that can help the weary pilgrim. But the web too often encourages sloppy thinking and the brain scientists are only now beginning to understand the effect of online ‘reading’ and time-wasting on the human mind. A new generation of children are imprinting online reading patterns in their brain that differ dramatically from our own. I fear that our new-found habits will have ill effects in the future on our ability to speak, think, and read clearly and critically, skills that are necessary for the Church in a relativistic and hostile world that glories in anything other than the Cross.
I would also note that addiction to social networking is being seen increasingly as a neurological/psychological problem quite different from books or parties. The only ‘addiction’ regarding books I’ve ever encountered is that of collecting, not reading. I concur with your Latinate maxim that abuse doesn’t argue against use; but our technologies are extensions of ourselves and have effects. Let us be wary of following too closely the whims and fancies of a transient culture, because the same advice could be turned around: just because people use it doesn’t mean the Church should follow suit.
Just a gadfly’s two cents. In this economy, that ain’t worth much.
If I may try to illustrate my argument:
I have found that much of this debate about Web 2.0 applications doesn’t take into account the real divide between the generations that exists as we transition from a print to a visual/online culture. The Kindle is a good example: this is a device for people who grew up in a ‘reading’ culture, people for whom books hold a central place in their lives. To these people, who still read for pleasure, the Kindle is just a way to read books. But studies increasingly show that young people are not reading like their parents and grandparents have read, making the need for an e-Reader moot. If no one wants to read books, who cares whether or not they can do so via a device?
My point is that we often take it for granted that when we discuss these issues we are sharing a similar worldview with the public at large, and I’m afraid that’s not the case. WIRED magazine recently declared the blog dead, since it still apes the print culture from which it was an extension, a place for prose and declarative sentences, hopefully well-reasoned and written with some thought and care (like this blog, for instance). But young people like texting, where economy of language is paramount, and are increasling incapable of sustained online reading. Libraries have discovered that young people don’t want to be ‘friends’ with Libraries on Facebook since that’s not why they use Facebook. Increasingly, young people are being faced with technocheerleading from Baby Boomers; in other words, much of this discussion about Web 2.0 is among people over 40 who just see the web as an extension of the life they knew when people held books, listened to cd’s or records, wrote letters, and weren’t tied to an electronic device all day long. The youth of today don’t know that world and don’t use the web in the same way we do and that too often gets ignored in these discussions of how best to implement social networking to preach the gospel (or drum up business for ailing edifices like libraries and publishing houses and newspapers).
The average age for a Facebook/Twitter user is still over 30. How to reach the young? Make a Second Life church with avatar ministers and sacraments? Online church via YouTube and Twitter? Looking at that social networking counter again, I’m hard pressed to see where the Church can ‘be’ among most of those applications. Most of that stuff is private sharing between two people or the passive viewing of videos and status updates. Be online. Make theological materials available online. Have useful and informative websites. When God draws men and women to Him, then there will be good information available. But there is a new generation out there who distrusts our attempts at ‘relevance’ and ‘trendiness’ and is searching for authenticity and something more substantial than passing technologies.
Chris, I find myself in the odd position of entirely agreeing with you, but…also saying that you are missing the point of my post in most dramatic fashion.
To repeat: The point is that the Church needs to be where people are talking and communicating. It’s just that simple. How they do so? Where they do so? Your post illustrates the ever-changing nature of that communication on the Internet. Oh, by the way, the “young” as you describe are most active on Twitter and Texting. Facebook is the favorite and ever growing favorite for 35+ year olds, and blogging? The point is not the technologies. Everything can be used effectively to communicate and reach out. That’s the point.
Thanks for both remarks. That I read it, proves in another way, how well we are connected globally. Also: I have had several chances to do pastoral and missional work via Facebook, for instance. One way of serving people, not the only one, not the best, maybe, but nobody challenged that it is the one and only way, yet. Greetings from Germany.
Chris, I understand what you are saying. Yet this _is_ the world and culture the young people and technology “addicted” (your word, not mine) crowd live in every day. The proper Lutheran question is: What does this mean? It means we will proclaim the Gospel without as much reliance on books and well-reasoned arguments. It means some aspects of the future church culture will poorer rather than richer, dumber rather than more sophisticated. But let’s not overlook there’s also ample opportunity in this thing, both in terms of near-instant communication, ways to find fresh expressions and outlets for the Gospel, and the _huge_ benefit that tyrant and anti-Christian governments have not yet figured out how to keep the message OUT of their cultures. In other words, we just don’t have to think in terms of “smuggling” Bibles or Books of Concord into countries anymore–anything can be downloaded.
Example: Someone in Tehran, Iran, downloaded at least a couple episodes of “Radical Grace,” and I’m sure no one asked the Mullahs for permission first!
“you are missing the point of my post in most dramatic fashion”
Well, if you’re gonna miss the point, you might as well miss it dramatically.
McCain reply: Now that’s funny.
Gary: Yes, anything can be downloaded behind the gates of tyrannical and atheistic regimes; but by the same token anything that can be downloaded can be far more easily traced than a book or pamphlet. We can be more observed, monitored, and manipulated in a technocratic society than ever before, so this is a mixed blessing, at best.
Thanks to Chris, Paul, and others for a fascinating discussion. Good points made by all.
There are many aspects to this.
As a mother I was most frustrated by the electronic beast that invaded our family. And with my children I felt I was always on the “bleeding edge of technology”, meaning that parents just a little behind me (with children younger than myself), were more savvy, than I was.
I could not get someone to help set the table because this and that had to be done online. The texting under the table. The arrangements for meetings that had been made without consulting me. All the sudden they are gone and they did not tell you where to. You can phone them and text them, but they may not answer (no more minutes on the phone, no more charge on the phone…). Aggravating to the extreme.
In the end, my son died in a car accident this year, while traveling as a passenger in an inexperienced driver’s car on icy roads. He was beyond consulting with me, which may or may not have prevented anything… Anyhow. Parenting seems greatly impacted. It has become much more difficult to hold on to your kids and this is to their detriment. They need to grow up and become independent but not like this.
On the other hand, there are the most amazing benefits to the medium. Many have been mentioned. I cannot imagine why the church would not make use of them. It would be really dropping the ball and very badly.
I am not sure how much less literary we are becoming. People seem to be either readers or not, like a genetic trait. So many more have so much more ready access to materials, that one would think that more is being read, rather than less.
It is always interesting to hear how people react to new forms of media, and I do agree with “the medium is the message”. But with this in mind we have to be careful of what we react to and how. Similar arguments were made when it came to the Gutenberg press and the ability to place in every person’s hands the printed word. We would all sing the praises of what this did for educating the masses. But on the other hand this “technology” has also brought about the destruction of the community. In fact the mass printing of books has done more to create an isolated world than a unified world. No need to go to the town square, family gatherings and even the church to hear the stories of a community and of God – we can just read it on our own. Some would say freedom from tyranny and control by those who “know the story” but I think it also created an environment that becomes too self-reliant and misses the whole point – we learn and grow better together than apart.
But would I give up on print books? No way. Has it had great benefits? Yes! But it has also had negative affects as well. The same will be true for the digital age – great benefits and great pitfalls too. Only God can redeem our “resources” to be used for His glory.
P.S. I have been able to connect in whole new ways with people by email, facebook, blogs, etc and I think have created new ways to bring depth of interactions that wouldn’t have happened before.
Through the power of social media (specifically micro blogging via Twitter), I ended up here, and boy am I thankful. I’m active in my church as a volunteer, and my day job is helping media companies and businesses harness digital media.
This conversation is loaded with deep, thoughtful, and even provocative points.
Here’s some new perspective to consider:
- My 10 and 12-year-olds are masters of new tech. No FB allowed, but they have computers, internet access, youtube videos, websites, iPhones. The list goes on. They also have a bunch of books. We research books online and physically go down to Barnes & Noble to buy them. We also rely on digital medial to research books in our public library, which we frequent and always have something that needs to be returned there. My kids are digital natives, but they read books everyday too. Discipline.
- We as a society are just beginning to figure out how to integrate super-short bursts of digital communications into our lives. The largest category of content on Twitter today is meaningless noise. But guess what? Somebody posted a tweet about a lively discussion going on at this blog. I can only hope that more people like me subscribe to the right content providers, and find their way to content that is meaningful.
Just because there is an abundance of meaningless garbage on social networks doesn’t mean you have to subscribe to it. To the contrary, add value, and you’ll attract people that are interested in your message.
Enter your email address and get Cyberbrethren delivered to your inbox: