Social Media and the Christian [3]: What Ain’t Right?

In the previous post, I discussed some of the good things in Social Media, that is, what about Social Media reflects the imago Dei in man as well as the goodness of God’s creation. This post is an attempt towards discussing some of the ways Social Media reflect the fallenness of this world. Read through and add your thoughts in the comments.

Directional Forces at Play in Social Media

McDonaldizationBelow are some of the dangers I see where it is obvious that the effects of the satanic world system allied against God and the rebellious, self-deceived human heart are both at work in Social Media, that is how Social Media is directed. I ‘ve also included some principles of communication theory to help us see the fault lines.

  1. Extreme Individualism—studies have shown that the more times a person posts on Facebook, for instance, the increasingly narcissistic (i.e. believing that everything exists for one’s own pleasure) a person becomes. Conversely, the more time a person spends checking their Facebook wall, the increasingly depressed they become. As much as Social Media is designed to create community, it often creates a false sense of community leaving people more isolated and alone than ever before.
    • Communication Principle: Communication is Involvement—to truly be communicate with someone and to be understood it requires personal involvement in their everyday life. Social Media may aid this to a degree, but it can never replace it.
  2. Meaninglessness and Short Attention Span—Often, the types of things being communicated in social media are extremely mundane, too personal (TMI), incompletely stated, and sometimes blatantly false. Before long, people stop reading if you only talk about yourself and especially if you don’t contribute anything meaningful. Furthermore, there are space limitations as to what can be stated via Social Media. Twitter limits tweets to 140 characters. Facebook posts are increasingly limited (currently 420 characters; less via cell-phone apps). Not much (quantity-wise) of value can be said there. Most people won’t watch a YouTube video longer than 3 minutes, nor will they read a blog post more than about 400 words in length (such as this one coming in over 900). It’s difficult to communicate weighty and important things, like Truth, in such short supply. Brevity reigns supreme and we further fragment our reality!
    • Communication Principle: Marshal McLuhan famously quipped long before any of us were born: “The Medium is the Message!” While this statement easily fits in a tweet, his point is well taken. The way in which something is communicated actually communicates something about the message. What does Social Media communicate about the important and authority of our message? I’ll leave that one up to you!
  3. Economic Reductionism—Money is the driving force of most things in our culture and Social Media is no exception. Businesses want to know who your friends are, what you like, what your friends like, where you live, how much money you make, etc, etc, and Social Media is an easy way to obtain that information. Swagbucks, which I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I recently joined is a primo, explicit example. Other media do the same thing less explicitly. Thus, in order to generate the cash needed to upkeep their burgeoning internet bandwidth, some Social Media sites sell your information, or they barrage you with meaningless ads (and those often appealing to the darker sides of human nature). Remember, before there was Social Media, there was CGM (consumer generated media). Whether we like it or not, Social Media reduces humanity to commodities to be bought and sold.
  4. Loss of the Ability to Communicate Well—Communication involves the uses of twelve signal systems, from sight to sound. Body language and tone are important aspect of communication missing from most Social Media. As a result, the longer we live our lives digitally, we forget how to live analogically. We can easily, and quite ironically, become anti-social! Furthermore, we are often far removed from any real audience when using Social Media. We speak and type to the universe, so it seems, hoping that someone on some plant is listening. We need to know the person to whom we are speaking to be heard well.
    • Communication Principle 1: There are internal and personal factors involved in communication. These factors are technically called “noise.” Like the crackle on the radio or white noise on the TV (does that still exist?), or background noise in a loud room. Noise can easily drown out a message. Examples of noise may be something someone is going through emotionally. They could be having a bad day. They may actually not like you. They may think differently. Without knowing these things, it’s very difficult to communicate meaningfully.
    • Communication Principle 2 & 3: Communication is what is heard, not only what is said; and, mass media extend the range of a message but ultimately distorts the message. Social Media is a form of mass media (like TV, radio, newspapers, megaphones, microphones w/sound system). It is difficult to discern the intention of a Tweet, blog post, or Vimeo upload without context. It’s difficult to provide context to a message when you don’t know to whom you are speaking well. And when you don’t know your audience well, it’s difficult to know what they are hearing compared to what you speak. I’m sneaking in a fourth principle, but feedback is an important part of communication. You need some level of involvement with your audience to receive helpful feedback. In other words, the goal of communication is to be receptor-oriented.
  5. There are other problems, such as wasting time, the rise of internet pornography in Social Media, the tendency to pretend to be somebody online that you are not, etc. Each deserves its own post, pornography will be dealt with in a later post.
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