Last week, I was in some fascinating meetings about how technology might be used to encourage and facilitate living how we ought, according to the Bible. (Read my post on the problems and possibilities of a prayer app.)
Andy Crouch, the author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, said something there that intrigued me: “The form is more formative than the content.” He went on to say that the Facebook Like button itself is forming our culture more than the content people are “liking.”
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking and working to put good content up with Like buttons on it, I had to follow up. I asked if he’d written anything more on the “culture making” of social media platforms, or if he’d like to guest post on this for the InterVarsity blog. He replied that he hadn’t, he wouldn’t, and “You should write it.” I really respect Andy Crouch.
Now, I’m not a brain scientist or a software engineer or a theologian. But I am employed to use social media for good, to equip others to do the same, and I think critically about what I do. So I aim here to reflect a bit and start some conversation on this.
So what are the effects of the Facebook Like button?
We share only what is positive, and its corollary, don’t be a downer. This might be overstating it, but there is a clear preference of one over the other.
We’ve all seen friends lament the lack of a “dislike” button. Is it appropriate to click Like on a post about someone finding out they have cancer and that they’re going to fight it? You like the latter but not the former. So, we are subtly pushed to share what will cause others to read, smile, nod, and Like.
Does this keep us from important topics that are difficult? Are those reserved for face-to-face conversations? As more of our relationships are mediated, do we lack the time and physical space to deal with the hard things in our lives? (Click to tweet this.)
We are inordinately focused on others’ opinions, and its corollary, these are the opinions that matter. I think it’s human nature that we want to be liked, and that this even has some positive social norming to it. We may be more desirous of a life that is worth living—that others commend—as a result of the Like button.
But more often than not, we can end up chasing the approval of the crowd, even if the crowd is headed in the wrong direction. Rather than hearing heroic voices, those who are living—and thinking—in exemplary fashion, we are voted up and down by people who may be trying to feel good about their choices. This is why we need to choose our Facebook friends carefully. (Click to tweet this.)
We have an illusion of action and relationship when we use the Like button. (Click to tweet this.) Does it really matter that I’ve liked a friend’s update or the page of an anti-human trafficking organization? I may have an undue sense of accomplishment from the weakest of all responses: clicking a virtual button while sitting on a couch.
A million little actions can build up into something significant. Maybe the publicness of Facebook inherently fights off hypocrisy. But there is certainly a temptation to Like something and then not write a thank you letter to someone or a letter to your public official, right?
Other effects of the Like button come to mind: it’s hard to have respectful disagreements, we may inflate ourselves, we substitute a thousand shallow connections for a few deep ones, we waste time, numbed to the effect of the tool itself.
So, do you think “The medium is the message?” How is this form forming us? Let’s interact in the comments.
Can your phone help you connect with God?
This week, I had the opportunity to meet with some talented, smart people about using technology to encourage Christian practices.
We gathered in a well-designed, shared workspace, listened to Andy Crouch, and the team from YouVersion, and then split into working groups. I was in the one on the group’s first solid initiative: a prayer app.
Consider some of the possibilities:
- Prayer is a cornerstone of relating to God, and most Christians struggle with it.
- You could see where in the world people are praying for the same issue as you (e.g. conflict in Mali, the fiscal cliff, human trafficking).
- Maybe you could connect with others around you who are praying.
- You could read stories of answered prayer and see them coming in real time.
- People who do not follow Jesus could share needs and connect to someone to be prayed for and counseled.
Consider a few of the pitfalls:
- The Bible warns about public prayer: “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
- People have radically different ideas about what prayer is (and Who it is with).
- We are questioning our technology and our own disembodiment and disconnection.
- Prayer is messy, and sometimes it seems like God is not answering our prayers.
- Smartphones are for the wealthy and privileged. We need some of our sisters and brothers with limited resources to be teaching us about prayer (and the rest of the life of faith).
We had the question posted to us, “What problem do you personally face in prayer that this might address?”
First, I am cynical about that moment, that exchange, where someone says, “I’ll be praying for you.” I know my own failings in remembering to pray. I suspect lots of people are like me in this.
Today, if I mean something I say, I often pull out my phone to do something. “Hey, let’s get together!” If I mean it, I get out my phone and look for a time. If I don’t get out my phone, I’m just being polite.
I would use an app to grab those moments. This could have categories and reminders built in. If I would find myself saying, “I’ll pray about that,” I would get out my phone. And I bet I would say it more, and I would actually pray more.
Second, I lead a small group at our church. I gather up prayer requests from our time in my journal, then I often later enter them into The City, a web-based tool we use to stay organized. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I’m too busy.
It would be much easier if I could do this through my phone, right as we are gathered. An app, along with an associated site, could help everyone track with one another, reminding us and telling us about answers to what we’re praying about.
Again, I think we’d actually pray more because of this. I do think it would be fascinating to have data displayed about where prayer is happening and to some extent on what issues. Doing this anonymously would avoid some of the theological questions raised by Matthew 6.
1. Call yourself a “writer.”
2. Make a big cup of coffee.
3. Put on a scarf or jaunty cap.
4. Buy a big notebook and nice pen.
5. Sit and watch people.
6. Chew on pen.
7. Think a lot.
9. Marry a writer.
10. Have a couple kids.
11. Go to interesting places.
12. Talk to fascinating people.
13. Take notes.
14. Get motorcycle.
15. Ride motorcycle.
16. Crash, but not too bad.
17. Google “motorcycle travel magazine.”
18. Write an article.
19. Get a camera.
20. Learn to take decent pictures.
21. Email three editors.
23. Send article and pictures to the one who will “pay” you with motorcycle gear.
24. Call yourself a “motorcycle travel photojournalist.”
25. Repeat steps 11, 12, 15, and 16 for a few years.
26. Write column for that magazine.
27. Make sure your writing doesn’t suck.
28. Approach other motorcycle magazines.
29. Fake it ‘til you make it.
30. Get Honda to give you a better motorcycle for three months.
31. Tell other companies that Honda gave you a motorcycle.
32. Ask other companies for gear.
33. Get free helmet, jacket, pants, gloves, boots, etc.
34. Ride through eight countries in eight days in Africa.
35. Over three months, write 15 articles about “8 in 8.”
36. Meet deadlines.
37. Write web articles for that cool magazine for free.
38. Pitch pieces for print version of that cool magazine.
39. Meet deadlines.
40. Make sure your writing doesn’t suck.
41. Encourage your writer-spouse to write a book.
42. Make sure your spouse’s writing doesn’t suck.
43. Meet Famous Author (FA).
44. Ask FA to endorse spouse’s book.
45. Get name of Famous Author’s Agent (FAA).
46. Learn that FAA also represents George Foreman and Chuck Norris.
47. Flip out.
48. Help market your spouse’s book.
49. Move back to the U.S.
50. Visit offices of that cool magazine.
51. Try not to say anything stupid.
52. Especially, “You guys are all so cool!”
53. Travel and speak to audiences about spouse’s book.
56. Write regularly for that cool magazine.
57. Meet deadlines.
58. Make sure your writing doesn’t suck.
59. Get a job to support your writing habit.
60. Give up your free time to write.
61. It’s 6:09 a.m. as I type this line.
62. Make another big cup of coffee.
63. Regret goofing off during English classes.
64. “Remember that time when…”
66. Open a Facebook page for your writing.
67. Start tweeting.
69. See which of spouse’s ideas FAA thinks is best.
70. Give spouse a backrub.
71. Ask spouse if you could co-author FAA’s pick.
72. Spend months writing the book proposal and first three chapters.
73. Wait months for FAA to sell the book to a publisher.
74. Sign contract with cool publisher.
75. Don’t really think about it for a few months.
76. Take a week off of work.
77. HOKBOC: Hands On Keyboard, Butt On Chair.
78. Write thousands and thousands of words.
79. Yes, another big cup of coffee would be great, thanks.
80. Also, paint your living room.
81. Add your words to spouse’s words.
82. Rejoice that the rough draft of 43,862 words is almost long enough.
83. That’s 190 pages.
84. Post the good news on Facebook and Twitter.
87. Think good ideas.
88. Write them.
89. Convince people they should pay you for your good ideas.
90. Repeat steps 85-87 until you die.
91. Die happy.
Drink all the coffee you want
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.
Here’s a fun presentation I did for 80 InterVarsity staff members at our recent staff conference. Caution: it’s not your normal corporate PowerPoint.
As I go about my work and life as it now is, I think about media a lot, and thus about technology that delivers the media.
If you think about how video games now look, and you look at some of the most amazing websites already out there, I think that there is a revolution of input coming. And it will change what websites can do. And that will change what we read/watch/look at/experience in a bunch of arenas: news, art, and comedy to start.
I imagine there are even some things out there that I don’t even know about. The Wacom tools are out there and facilitate some stuff, but I’m thinking a 3D experience, which is nearly inconceivable now but will be really engaging once it happens and spreads.