A re-stirring of the personal for 2022
December 29, 2021
The coming year could be a pivotal one with respect to social media growth or decline. The most popular platform of all, Facebook, is undergoing a rebranding. Frankly, all platforms could use some positive change, especially with respect to the behavior patterns of those that drive the ratings: we the users.
Yet, a brain check is in order. It involves thinking through how we go about using these programs, particularly as people bound to project some form of Christian witness to the world. Social media promotes groupthink. It is the lit match for the herd of togetherness. The togetherness force is a powerful entity, especially when it comes to social and political concerns on social media. Jumping on the bandwagon of group-led ideology without giving the matter at hand the critical thinking it is due is unhealthy and dangerous. We have seen more than enough of this during the past few years, and it is especially detrimental to our young people.
One thing that might help cast light into some of the darkness is a commitment to more direct, one-on-one communication, without a program middleman such as Facebook or Twitter. I’m not advocating that folks quit using these platforms altogether, but turn toward one another for ideas and clarification of meaning, particularly during disagreements. This could probably be done better these days with a phone call or video chat. The point would be to cut through the mixed messaging. The Book of Proverbs can enlighten us here: “The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil” (Prov. 15:28). The point is that rancor is less likely via thoughtful responses within the context of conversation absent an audience.
As we politely but firmly usher 2021 out the door, what is to keep us from committing to more of these person-to-person contacts? Sure, we still have a pandemic going on. But I’m not just talking about in-person encounters. Instead of using social media as our perpetual online broker for human interaction, what about actually talking more with people in 2022? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the rest will likely be around for a long time to come. One can always come back to them, lest one miss some vital piece of information, such as what type of shoes one’s friend from high school bought today. We have cellular telephones that, for some time now, most people seem to want to use only as texting machines. No doubt some think texting is a necessity; it generally isn’t. Like other forms of online communication, it lacks facial expression and tone of voice, those human characteristics that can make or break a social interaction.
As we politely but firmly usher 2021 out the door, what is to keep us from committing to more person-to-person contacts? Sure, we still have a pandemic going on. But I’m not just talking about in-person encounters. Instead of using social media as our perpetual online broker for human interaction, what about actually talking more with people in 2022?
Though Jesus sometimes sent people ahead of him with messages, his most effective teaching and communicating was done in person. He exercised voice control and clarity. He probably would have made use of Zoom or FaceTime to directly connect with others if he’d had them. I doubt, though, that he would have spent much of his valuable time on social media platforms that placed pleasure over principle.
Social media has become an excuse, sort of the way email did, for not talking directly to people. Granted, email can be considered direct communication, just not quite in real time. “Chatting” with someone in real time on a social media network might be direct and one on one, but it is supported and buoyed by someone else’s (the company’s) ideology, which the participants cannot help but be affected by. When I was in college (back before the Internet existed), a wise professor reminded me that if I had a problem with someone, to take it directly to them if at all possible. I wasn’t to air my dirty laundry with that person in the middle of a shopping mall or the town square. Some time ago, to our great misfortune, social media became the new town square, the place for the juiciest, ugliest, most lethal political and religious arguments and gossip. How did we allow this to happen?
Surely, we can do better. The New Year could mark the gradual return of civility, if we simply allow it. In the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about subjects ranging from kindness to being salt and light, to anger to lust; to swearing oaths to loving our enemies (Matthew 5). It’s the best example we have of reframing our thinking to fit God’s higher purpose for our lives. It’s too bad there isn’t something explicit from him in there about social media platforms: “As for Facebook and Twitter, I say unto you, ‘Watch out!’”
The coming year will provide the perfect opportunity to think for oneself, bringing pause to the tendency to latch on to the latest idea promoted by “friends” on social media. It can grant us permission to break from the herd of togetherness-based ideas (often unverified and inappropriate) and exercise our individuation, something Jesus seemed particularly adept at. It will give us a chance to be more direct in our conversations with others, which would likely elevate the thinking that is truly our own and in turn reflect God’s higher purposes for us.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.