No one doubts the prevalence and therefore the importance of social media generally and also particularly in college culture. A few of my notes, observations, and questions from the World Assembly of the IFES:
1. Data Dangers. Some people are deeply concerned about the security of our data, especially how it’s used by governments and corporations. While most nod a bit, we mostly scoff. In a generation, we may herald their prophetic attempts to get us to see what’s happening.
2. That’s a problem. Social media (@jamesdoc on Twitter called it “immersive media”) can be problematic for some people. It may be that someone has an addictive personality, as one person I chatted with mentioned. Or it may be that such a medium can release internal and social sin in a way that is unique in human history. Or maybe there’s nothing new under the sun.
3. Some students are well ahead of older leaders in their media savvy, management of different relationships and spheres (or acceptance of the impossibility of doing so), and theology of socially mediated relationships. One student pointed out how many more relationships one can begin and even maintain well with Facebook.
4. Social media permit us to put out soft and intriguing invitations to dialog, through quotes, observations, links, and the like. The “weak links” of social media are wide (and yes, often shallow), but they can lead to significant conversations both online and face-to-face.
5. With Skype, Apple FaceTime, and Google+ Hangouts, what does “face-to-face” mean anymore? There’s general agreement that there is great value in actually being in the same physical space, but why exactly? People have flown in from 130 countries for this conference. What is it about being together that makes it worth such a significant investment? Further, we have commented dozens of times how amazing it is to sit with biblical texts in the middle of ten people from ten countries here at the World Assembly, hearing different perspectives brought to bear on it (and being born by it). We can do this every week online if we so choose. That didn’t exist at the last World Assembly in 2007.
6. “We have lost control. And that is good.” @Andy_Shudall said this during his presentation, explaining that it is no longer possible to moderate—let alone manage—any large, long discussion online. The question was raised, with concern, of starting students in discussion online and then not being able to be there, with the result being wrong answers given, hurtful things said, and (in this case) the Bible being misquoted. I found myself explaining the two options in this scenario. First, you don’t facilitate it and make it happen. It either occurs elsewhere and you may not even know about it, or it doesn’t happen at all and you can’t ever deal with whatever would have surfaced. Second, you facilitate it and deal with all the wonkiness that arises. The latter is preferable for the student ministry that IFES does.
7. It’s not so different. Several times in the social media sessions, we found ourselves talking about new scenarios and saying, “But hold on—how is that different than this analog situation?” For example, the conversations and the lack of control is no different than those had after an event by students as they walk back to their dorms and apartments. Technology gives us an illusion and expectation of control, and it scares some people to release that.
8. We value being together more. Andy Moore, acting head of communications for IFES (@lovingmercy on Twitter), opened the plenary session on new media by having us turn to our neighbors and acknowledge how good it is to really be together. By having socially-mediated relationships, the contrast of our incarnate friendships makes us cherish the latter, perhaps.
9. Nothing is private anymore. And maybe that’s a good thing. Someone raised a question about online deception and false identity. I suggested that it’s actually harder to deceive others on Facebook than real life, given the interconnection evident through that medium. (Andy Moore recommended the movie Catfish.)
10. The potential needs our attention. While concerns and questions arose in abundance, I really wanted more careful thought and discussion of the potential of social media in the work of the IFES. Who are our best thinkers on relating well to people on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the rest? What are the bleeding edge students trying and is it working? How do we share insights between Brasil (Portuguese), Hong Kong (Cantonese), and the South Pacific (several languages)?
It’s here and we’re going to be surfing for a while, just barely staying up on an unstable but exciting platform.