Where's God in Social Media?
Here are three excerpts from an article about "new media" that I was recently asked to write for Reflections: A Magazine of Theological and Ethical Inquiry. The question was how we can think about our faith in our "wired" culture. You may find the rest on the Reflections website.
From "Connecting With a Theology of Technology":
... A conversation at the ideas festival about education turned to how educators might keep the attention of students in the face of so many distractions in their hyper-mediated world. We spoke of the new normal in the upper middle class: an iPhone in one’s pocket, an iPad in one’s purse, and a laptop in one’s bag, all syncing every 15 minutes with Facebook, Twitter, and whatever one calls an office. Websites and other apps are designed to scour other Facebook pages, websites, newsfeeds, and blogs on our behalf, signaling every time a tailored topic of personal interest appears. Eyes look down to laps instead of up to a teacher, checking a handheld screen for whatever's being “pushed” toward us.
“Why?” one of the old-timers asked. “FOMO!” came the answer, spontaneously, from a couple of voices in their late 20s. They spoke at the same time, as if surprised that the inquirer didn't know the answer. “FOMO?” came the reply right back. And with glances at each other, our young tutors responded in concert again: “Fear Of Missing Out!”
I tested the acronym with anyone under 30 I could find; they all knew it immediately.
FOMO. The idea’s nothing new, of course. It has been a hallmark of youth all along: wanting to know what’s happening, keeping one’s options open, scanning the terrain for what you want. We’ve always measured youth by energy and experimentation. By contrast, we’ve always measured maturity by the ability to move beyond grazing distraction in order to make promises, then to mark those promises with commitments, with persevering and building something that lasts. In that sense, the FOMO of youth is as predictable as the stability of age.
Except ... something feels different about this moment, and not just because FOMO has been promoted to acronym status. I think that something has to do with acceleration and mediation. FOMO is now supported technologically, mediated electronically, and monetized for profit in ways we’ve never seen. It is becoming the signature reason for wiring in. And that might make it the great underestimated impulse behind social media — more powerful than the desire for association and friendship that we’re told stands behind it all. FOMO rules. And when it seems like there is so much more to miss out on these days when we can capture the world on a tiny screen in our palms, FOMO also drives. The fear fuels itself.
So in our churches, our youth groups tweet, blog, upload videos and photos for the church’s website or their parents’ iPads when on retreat – to assure that no one will miss out. Our friends post what they had for dinner on Facebook and take a survey of who likes Chipotle Grill better than Baja Fresh – so no one will miss out.
... This new set of expectations has slid into place without much conversation, resistance, or even notice. Yet religious tradition has some questions to ask. For hasn’t the religious vision of spiritual maturity always staked at least part of its claim on the value of “missing out”? Hasn’t it cherished the experience of deep exploration, of closing off options, focusing attention, and accepting limits? Hasn’t spiritual wisdom demanded patience, forgiveness, a grace that is shaped (not data-banked) by memory? And haven’t the disciplines of restraint, choice, concentration, humility, and focus been essential to the work of prayer? Can these questions be asked today without appearing hopelessly naive?
... The Holy Spirit searches us, not to feed our FOMO, but to fill it and so quiet it. The Spirit searches us to know our innermost thoughts, to unearth and reveal to us our deeper, hidden desires, and to shape our desires in ways that might teach us to say “no” as well as “yes,” and transform our fear of missing out into a desire for love. What becomes now of that possibility? It isn’t gone, but is it changing?