“While we need to acknowledge that a virtual, internet relationship is really no relationship at all, we also need to be honest and acknowledge what can be the real world benefit of knowing, for instance, that I’ve been thinking of doing some freelancing work, playing PS3 a LOT lately, and meditating on the vanity of life. This sort of knowledge makes the conversation a heck of a lot more meaningful and challenging when we come together on the weekend. By knowing what’s happening in one another’s lives, we know how to speak truth to one another, how to pray for one another, and how to serve one another.”
I challenged this sort of thinking last Friday very briefly. Rich left a comment on that post that linked to a piece he had written featuring the above quotation. Rich has a keen mind. After considering his argument, I think that there are some beneficial aspects to Twitter and Facebook status updates. This medium can allow for quick communication that can convey important information–”Grace had her baby today”–or uplifting information such as “Brock was encouraged by a sermon he heard on 1 Timothy this morning.” This kind of thing can be useful and beneficial.
But there seems to me to be a category wide enough to drive a semi through of information that does not need to be shared. With all due respect to Rich, I don’t need to know that he’s been playing a lot of PS3, and he doesn’t need to know that I ate french toast this morning. Should we exchange this data, a whole lot of nothing would have happened, time would have been taken up, and we would have contributed a little bit to the culture of insignificance that pays great attention to what is unimportant and far less attention to what actually is important.
I also wonder about the danger of narcissism with this new method of communication. Why do we need to tell each other what tv show we’re watching? Why do we constantly change our Facebook profile pictures? Why do we blather on forever on our blogs about what we’re doing, liking, missing, and hoping? Ours is a narcissistic, self-focused generation, and the level of this narcissism boggles the mind. We know so little in the way of self-control and modesty and are so skilled in the ways of self-promotion and impulse-gratification. I fear that our Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and blogs all too often represent a shallowness of soul that cries out for attention we do not need and should not want.
Look: all the cultural momentum points away from self-control, modesty, and the pursuit of a significant life. We are encouraged by culture to be self-promoters, shallow, technologically obsessed, and unconcerned with the larger things and bigger questions of life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen all of these problems cohere in a student in a class on some important Christian doctrine updating their Facebook page. This, I would argue, is our generation’s constellation of problems captured in a single picture. One is self-promoting (oftentimes), frequently posting a silly picture or comment, surfing the web, and ignoring complex instruction that requires concentration and that will almost certainly stretch and bless one’s mind and soul. Such behavior is too frequent almost to notice and frighteningly bankrupt.
Many of us can make a quick sarcastic remark, but how many of us can follow a philosophical or theological argument? Or, better yet, how many of us would want to? Wouldn’t we rather Twitter, or check our email, or our Facebook page, or play a fun electronic game? Most of us. And most of us are becoming spiritually and intellectually thin, even as our narcissism grows bloated and our instincts for self-promotion wax hot.
I would challenge readers: speaking generally, don’t use Twitter. Cultivate deep thinking even as you use technology. If something smells strongly of self-promotion, give it a pass. Be a part of Facebook, of other media, but do so thoughtfully, responsibly, edifyingly. Glorify Christ not simply in how you use media, but in what media you use.