What is Social Media REALLY Doing to Us?

21 12 2011

I keep my finger on the pulse of real teen culture, all the time. I’m constantly talking to teenagers and preteens, surfing “teen” internet sites, reading articles and books about teens, reading the novels that teenagers are devouring, and researching what teenagers are in to.

So trust me when I say that I’m seeing some pretty strong red flags from today’s teenagers, when it comes to social media.

Much like the way that Abercrombie & Fitch lost its appeal when middle-aged moms started shopping there, Facebook and Twitter’s shiny newness and loyal adoration is losing footing amongst the teenage set, who increasingly complain to me about how “idiotic” the whole notion is, and how they are “so sick of hearing people say stupid things” online and in text messages.

Boy, I couldn’t have guessed that–kids would get sick of the drama that hounds them every day at school when it follows them home, in the form of Facebook, Twitter, and never-ending texts?

Doesn’t take a genius, folks.

But complaints and annoyances aside, I can’t help but ponder the effects of social media on our culture as a whole.

For one, a natural sense of privacy is being unraveled left and right, all over the place. People regularly carry their phones into the bathroom with them and continue texting and talking and posting, even if they’re in a public restroom. If you don’t believe me, then maybe you haven’t been to a movie theater or mall bathroom in the last year or two. I’ve seen teenagers do this in my own apartment. What should be arguably the most private place in your daily life is being infiltrated by people with bad manners and no sense of dignity.

I won’t even mention the fact that I know several teenagers who put their cell phone in a plastic baggy so they can continue texting while they shower…oops, I did.

Obviously, a lot is being discussed right now about how poor spelling, sentence construction, and even critical thinking skills are being dumbed down by people who text shortened words, slang, and half-thoughts more frequently than ever. But I sense that bigger issues could stem from communicating solely through short texts–we could not only lose the emotion behind words, but also the ability to truly decipher the meaning of others’ words. If all you ever do is text with someone, how do you know what they really mean when they say, for instance, “I’m going to kill myself?” Without reading their body language, tone of voice, facial expression, or observing their delivery of the phrase, one could easily misjudge the seriousness or humor of the situation.

Sure, social media is a valuable tool for sharing the often overlooked details of life with those you love. In my case, as someone who’s lived in 5 different states and lives apart from both sides of my family, I’m able to stay connected with friends and relatives all across the country. But it could be argued, overconnects us and gives us a false sense of importance. Why else do we think that others care what we had for breakfast, where we went shopping this afternoon, what we purchased, what shows we’re watching on television, and how our hair looks today?

As cute as it may be, do we really need to know what others think of their baby’s garbled sentences, or what books they’re reading, or that “we’re making chocolate chip cookies today with mini-chocolate chips–yum!”?

Isn't this enough for the world to know about me?!

I’m startled by the upcoming changes in Facebook’s new “Timeline” platform, which will splay my entire life across the internet–unless I take quite a bit of action to patrol photos, messages, friends, and status updates in advance. As Facebook’s Mick Johnson said, “As you scroll down, you’ll see your posts, photos and life events as they happened, back to the day you were born” and co-founder Mark Zuckerburg adds, “What Timeline does is show all the recent activity and then as you back in time it starts summarizing the things you’ve done in your life”.

Sure, on one hand, that’s compelling. No doubt many of us will have pleasant memories, inside jokes, and forgotten friendships drift back into the limelight. But since when do I need an automated system “summarizing the things I’ve done in my life”? Why does anyone want to see my entire life, “back to the day I was born”?

I’m more than the sum of my Facebook posts and photos–and I fear that the result of this may be just that: we’ll judge each other as the sum of our Timelines, and nothing more. We’ll know every detail of our days, every awkward stage, every like and dislike, every boyfriend and best friend, every family member–but will we actually know what each other’s laughs sound like? Or how we crinkle up our noses when we react to something unpleasant? Or how we sing off-key, hate when people chew on pens, or how we jiggle our foot when we’re antsy?

In other words, what happens when only the highlights (or low points) of our lives are on display to the entire world?

I don’t have enough time to sift through all the implications of the effect that social media will have on upcoming elections, careers, and reputations. But think about it–the future president of the United States is coming from my age group. No doubt he or she is deeply involved in social media right at this moment. All those silly inside jokes, off-color comments, embarrassing photos that they’re posting right now will be displayed for the world to see in the future.

Arguably, the campaign for public offices begins as soon as you activate your Facebook or Twitter account, no matter what your age–because once it’s out there on the internet, you can never truly take it back.

The fact that what you say in the heat of the moment, a drunken state, or in jest could permanently ruin a friendship, a run for office, your education, career or reputation, is a daunting one. 

We all have ups and downs in life, and we make errors in what we say and do. But when every thought that comes to mind is immediately transcribed and published to upwards of 700 “friends”…or when a stupid decision is broadcasted to your entire university…or when every co-worker sees the picture of you doing something idiotic…what’s the long-term effect?

Besides, as writer Dick Staub succinctly summarizes, we are now living in a world where “networking replaces craftsmanship”. As he writes in his own blog

“Today, thanks to technology, everybody can distribute written words, musical compositions or homemade films. Some of these are quite good and deserve a broader hearing and viewing; some are not, probably most. But most think they are worthy and good! (Think of the talentless contestants auditioning for American Idol). This monster of boundless indiscriminate self-expression is due in part to America’s educational philosophy of affirmation absent objective critique. Kids have been told they are really good at things they are absolutely not good at. Technology allows them to give it a go anyway! The elitist, snooty gatekeepers of the past are being displaced by the often intellectually and creatively clueless consumers of the present. They decide what is worthy, though generally ill equipped to distinguish craft from crap.”

So I ask again–what do YOU think social media is really doing to us?



A Call To Authenticity…and Only Read If You Want Raw Honesty (Otherwise, I WILL Offend You)

10 10 2010

Whether you’ve known me for thirty seconds or twenty years, you can readily surmise a few key things about me:

  • I’m confident and outgoing, and have never yet experienced a situation in which I was truly intimidated.
  • I’m curious and hungry to constantly learn.
  • I’m driven and purposeful, and attempt to plan everything in my life.
  • I’m steady and reliable, and will get the job done at any cost.
  • I’m brutally honest and open about who I am.

Lest you think I have an elevated sense of ego, let me quickly point out some negative qualities I possess:

  • I doubt and wrestle with literally every decision I’ve ever made.
  • I love people, but often run out of compassion and tolerance for them.
  • I’m competitive, and constantly have to refocus my zealous nature so it doesn’t consume me.
  • At some point or another, I scare the living daylights out of others because I’m “too much person in one body” (a statement made by not one, but two ex-boyfriends)
  • I feel and think more deeply than anyone else I know, which makes my life feel like a rubber band constantly stretched out and tight with tension.

In short, I am human. Fashioned in the image of God, but riddled with sin.

I think I’d be lying if I said my life was terrible—it’s far from that. I’ve been incredibly blessed by an amazing and relatively pain-free childhood, a wonderful family, and a loving and understanding husband. I danced through college and graduated with high honors, and secured a job in a highly competitive field before I was even done with my education. And, while facing daunting choices in the last few years, God has been faithful in every situation and every time.

But so often, I still feel unsatisfied and jaded. My life feels overly complicated, and I feel like I’m lost, stranded alone in the middle of a storm on a wild and unpredictable ocean.

I feel like no one can possibly understand me completely, and that I can’t hope anyone ever will. My zeal to win drives me to want to do anything it takes to achieve status, purpose, and acclaim—yet reaching one goal after another feels empty. I’ve given my life to work with people and share Christ with them, but I can’t help myself from wanting to sucker-punch a lot of these people in the face for being bean brains.

Remember that part about brutal honesty, and scaring people away? Yep. Guilty.

In all seriousness, if that last line offended you, you probably never should’ve started reading my blog in the first place. Trust me, there are plenty of nice people who write about loving kittens and needlepoint, and who like nothing more than Thomas Kinkade art plastered all over their walls.

If that appeals to you, quit this page while you’re still ahead.

Why write all of this out and share it with the world? Because I had a moment this last week, when I was attending the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. (Actually, I had several moments—but let’s be honest, I don’t want to write out every thought and you don’t want to read it.)

One of my biggest “Aha!” moments was this: I’m fed up with our shallow world.

I crave authenticity, not more meaningless, trite drivel. If I wanted that, I’d spend my life watching “E News” and reading Cosmopolitan.

I’m tired of filtering my words, walking on eggshells, and trying to say things in the most bland, politically correct way I can—and thus effectively not saying much at all.

I’m sick of living in a world where people think more about updating their Facebook page than about how to truly understand each other.

I’m annoyed with people who arrogantly think they know it all in a big world that’s constantly growing and ever-changing.

I’m fed up with a Christianity that attempts to summarize itself onto a t-shirt or bumper sticker, when I connect with and revere a Savior who defies description and operates in ways far beyond my pea-sized brain can ever attempt to understand.

Part of the courage I feel in saying this is that I think we’re truly at a crossroads in our world, at this point in history. Our world is changing and shifting literally every day—but at the same time, Christ is timeless and unchangeable.

And in a world that never stops moving, we can only find rest, relief, and richness in Him.

That’s what our world needs to realize.

I’ve read a lot of books lately, and have been weaving together a lot of challenging concepts and keen words from people who seem to be saying these same things I’ve felt for a long time. I just flew through Pete Wilson’s book, Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would?, and recently pondered my way through Josh Riebock’s My Generation, Tim Elmore’s Generation iY, and Dick Staub’s The Culturally Savvy Christian.

In short, all books that deal with understanding our world, the emerging generations, and what our society most needs to hear.

In all of these books, I see a calling for more people to shed the lame, crippling superficiality that punctuates every nuance of our lives.

I see a calling for the true Jesus to be shared—our incomprehensible Savior who didn’t walk around giving out daisy-chains and pats on the back, but who powerfully spoke the truth, hung out with the unlovable and marginalized people in society, and wasn’t afraid to flip tables around in a sacred place to stir up a place rife with mediocrity and apathy.

I see a calling for us to shed the stigma that we all have to fit in one perfect box with a nice Christian label, to operate a certain way or be a specific gender or have the right degree in order to effectively reach people.

I see a calling for Christians to speak the truth in love, in a post-modern society that barely comprehends what absolute truth is, and to offer a deep and satisfying Truth that defies earthly explanation—a Truth so rich and consuming that it stands in stark contrast to the empty, meaningless sham of society we’ve brought about through chasing empty foolishness for far too long.

Hey, if you’re offended, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Frankly, I don’t really care what you think—not when my brain is fired up with wrestling with divine truths. Sorry.

As much as it bugs me, I know not everyone likes me—but as screenwriter Randall Wallace quoted his mother’s wisdom this week in reference to being well-liked, “If they crucified Jesus, don’t you think there are probably going to be some people out there who don’t like you?”

One of the real privileges of my job is that I get to roll up my sleeves and not only study culture from a front-row seat, but connect with teens before they’re overly consumed with the pressures of adulthood and forced into a one-size-fits-all mold of a person.

And I think maybe my willingness to be transparent in who I am and how I feel—the way I can admit my faults and failures and not pretend to be something I’m not—helps them feel like they, too, can be honest with me. So, I think I probably hear a lot more brutal and unfiltered stories and emotions than your average person.

So, what do these honest kids say to me?

“I’m fed up with the bull crap.”

“I’m sick of this world.”

“I hate the fakeness of everything.”

“Life feels totally empty.”

“Why am I even here? Where am I going?”

If our thirteen and fourteen year-old kids are saying this, what are our thirty-five and fifty-year-olds saying?

More importantly, what are they feeling?

What are they daily wrestling with, doubting, fearing, questioning, and dabbling in? And who can they possibly share it with?

We’ll never know what truly goes on in our world, with the people we claim to love, and never be able to reach them with the Truth they desperately need to hear until we can first shed our protective layers, risk vulnerability and rejection, and take the step to be real with others—to show our mistakes, fears, failures, and personality flaws to them.

And, at the same time, powerfully show them without words that we have a Savior who’s bigger than our biggest screw-up, faithful even when we’re not, restoring and life-changing, and utterly incomprehensible in power and majesty–in contrast to a world where everything is explained and detailed on Wikipedia and the only real mystery is why they can’t make a mascara that doesn’t flake off after twelve hours.

Authenticity. Maybe that’s our simple calling in this century.

And hey, if I offended you? Just spend some time playing with your kittens and gazing upon your Thomas Kinkade prints. You’ll feel better in the morning.

Internet Smut Challenges Me. Bring It On, World.

1 10 2010

I’m currently alone in my office on a Friday evening, working and listening to my Pandora music station all by myself.

Ever the ball of contradictions, I’ve set up my Pandora to be a veritable smorgasboard of musical genres–everything from Jimmy Eat World and OneRepublic to Eminem and Chris Tomlin.

I know. I’m probably the only person you’ve ever met that actually dared to mention Eminem in the same breath as Chris Tomlin.

You should see what else is on my playlist.

As I was dutifully answering the nine thousand (only slightly exaggerated, believe me) emails that accrued in the mere three days I was away at a conference this week, one of my favorite Christian songs blared across the radio.

I cranked it up. And, since I was alone in the office, I started singing along.

Someday I’m going to find out there’s a hidden camera in the office and I’ve been on my own reality television show for the last six months. And I’ll die of shock once I realize how many times that camera caught me with my feet up on my desk, simultaneously answering emails and talking on my phone to some guy named Joe who’s trying to sell me cookie dough fundraisers for my youth group.

Come to think of it–my life would probably be the most boring and thus poorly rated reality shows of all times.

After all, I am in the office at 6:00 pm on a Friday night.

Anyway, as I sang along to this inspiring worship song, I clicked on the webpage to star this song as one of my “favorites”. And that’s when it hit me:


 A gigantic, half-page fluorescent advertisement for–well, I’m not sure I can actually admit what it is on here. Heck, this is a family friendly church, after all.

Suffice it to say that it was a very worldly, very adult product that I felt ashamed looking at.

It got me thinking, though–this is the age we live in. Sinful, dangerous, disgusting products are marketed alongside the most innocent and pure enjoyments we have.

I’ve recently been reading an incredible book that has my mind firing constantly, The Culturally Savvy Christian by Dick Staub.

The man is a genius. He has the uncanny ability to succinctly summarize every thought and feeling I’ve had about the world in my short life into an incredible book. Read it. It’ll change your life.

Virtually everything Staub wrote in this book has hit a deep chord within me, and has resonated with me. It’s affirming so many thoughts I’ve kept to myself about the Christian world–what Staub calls, “Christianity-Lite”. The basic message of the book is that just as our American pop culture has become totally superficial and soulless, American Christianity has devolved into “its own mindless, diversionary, and celebrity-driven superficiality”.

As Staub says in his book, “As thoughtful, culturally engaged Christians, we resonate with this world but at the same time experience dissonance when exposed to its mindlessness, soullessness, and spiritual delusions. Our role is to be discerning, discovering points of disagreement between our faith and culture by listening to both, then choosing a path that pleases God. We will pray and work for the enrichment of our culture, careful to avoid the threats and seize the opportunities it offers.”

As I thought about that ad that popped up on my computer and pondered Staub’s words, I realized that this was a perfect demonstration of that tension I experience with the world.

I live in it. I enjoy many aspects of it. Heck, I just admitted that I actually enjoy some of Eminem’s songs (I know, I know–I’m not saying I accept his foul language and woman-beating lyrics–just that he has some catchy beats).

As a Christian, I have a few choices on how I can react to situations like that ad popping up when I was in the midst of an uplifting, spiritual moment:

I can let it distract me and take me out of my worshipful mood.

I can get angry, and feel embittered–like I was just spit upon by an enemy. I could write a letter of complaint to Pandora and the company, complaining about how they ruined my “wholesome” afternoon. And then I would refuse to ever listen to Pandora again.

I can point to myself as a victim of “the Man” and rant and rave to my fellow Christians about how evil the world is.

I can glaze over it and not even think about it, giving in completely to apathy. I could completely forget that things like that ever happen.

Or, I can think about it critically–as Staub says, I can be “discerning”. I can continue to listen to both what our pop culture celebrates and what our Christian faith celebrates, and enjoy both–but with a mind that’s always running, always looking, always examining.

I think that’s what it means in Scripture where Jesus says, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:15-16). And where He reminded us, as Christians, that He is sending us out into the world as sheep in the midst of wolves and tells us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where God tells us to put our heads in the sand and pretend like the world around us doesn’t exist. Or where He tells us to create our own cultural “bubble”, which allows us to effectively cloak ourselves in every concievable item of Christian marketing without peeking out into the real world.

It seems like a pretty good ploy of Satan, if you ask me. To try to scare us away from living in the world and dialoguing with people and items who may be totally contrary to what we live for–and thus effectively shutting up our potential eternity-changing messages to those lost people.

So, I guess I’ll keep on listening to my radio station, regardless of what smut is marketed to me–with my ears, eyes, and mind fully engaged, that is.

Bring it on, world. I’m ready.