Un-Social Media

Dr. Jon Roebuck, Exec. Director

It all seemed like a good idea at the time… carefully developed apps on our smart phones that were going to connect us to one another in ways that we never dreamed possible.  Social media programs like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram promised to reunite us with old friends, connect us globally with family and co-workers, and fill our lives with meaningful content. And in all fairness, a lot of that has happened.  With just a few clicks of a mouse or taps on the screen, I can see wedding pics from a ceremony on the other side of the globe.  I can experience the joy of a parent holding their newborn through a video link.  I can see the places where friends spend their vacation money.  I can read prayer requests, learn of accomplishments in the lives of others, and even discover a great recipe for cooking ribs.  And of course, if you like animal videos… there is no end to the content.  There are a lot of positive aspects to the world we call social media.  But then again, there is a downside to it all and it’s my fear that the dark side is starting to win out.

I have discovered that social media is quickly becoming very un-social.  Anyone with a smartphone or laptop now has the ability to gain a world-wide audience.  It has become easy to give an opinion, offer an attitude, or attack others from comfort of an easy chair.  Social media has enormous power to do evil.  Social media is a critical tool in the world of politics.  People rant and rave and spew venom.   Real facts get lost in the confusing maze of “fake news.”  Anger, abuse, and hatred are spread on the web with wild abandonment.  Soft porn gets peddled, identities get stolen, and friendships get forsaken.

I know people, and you do too, who have to “block” former friends from their Facebook feeds because of the political opinions and intolerance that gets spread around.  Instead of finding old friends with whom to reconnect, many are trying to escape from lifelong friendships on-line because the divides are so deep and the hurtful opinions are so strong.  It seems that we have learned how to connect electronically, but have forgotten how to live relationally with a sense of civility, respect, and common decency.  I have friends who have deleted their on-line accounts because they can no longer tolerate the stress and anger that social media brings to their screens.

I attended a conference last week that focused on the intersection of faith, business, and culture.  One of the sessions dealt specifically with this whole problem of social media.  One enterprising start-up company has developed a new cell phone concept called “Lightphone.”  This cell phone can do only two things.  It can make and receive calls.  That’s it.  No email.  No web access.  No social media.  They pitch the idea of creating more light in your world by spending less time tethered to the smartphone.  In the first 3 days it was introduced, the company had orders from 17 different countries.  They are on to something.

The problem may well be one of timing.  We have let our development of technology outpace our moments to reflect on how we use technology to aid in human development rather than tear it apart.  Even this morning Facebook CEO and cofounder, Mark Zuckerberg, said that company will add 3,000 people to its global community operations to help “Review the millions of reports we get every week.”  That is in addition to the 4,500 people already on the team. “Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen people hurting themselves and others on Facebook – either live or in video posted later.  It’s heartbreaking, and I’ve been reflecting on how we can do better for our community.”  (CNN – 5/3/17)

If you’re like the average American, you will check your smartphone 160 times today and many of those times you will look at social media.  You will have to sift through both the good and the bad to glean what you want to glean from your experience.  Is it worth it?  As the late Dan Fogleberg once lyricized, “Is the knowledge gained, worth the price of the pain? Are the spoils worth the cost of the hunt?”  Can we be so connected to the on-line world that we have lost our connection with the real one?  I don’t know about you, but I’d give up a thousand Facebook friends to gain just one more face-to-face friend.  It’s time for us to get “smarter” with our phones and more social in places like our neighborhoods, homes, and offices.

If Jesus was right in saying that “where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also” (Matthew 6:21), then I want to invest in the lives of others, and not just in the technology I hold in my hand.