Zadie Smith, in a review of The Social Network, wrote an article called: Generation Why?
“We know the consequences of this instinctively; we feel them. We know that having two thousand Facebook friends is not what it looks like. We know that we are using the software to behave in a certain, superficial way toward others. We know what we are doing “in” the software. But do we know, are we alert to, what the software is doing to us? Is it possible that what is communicated between people online “eventually becomes their truth”? What Lanier, a software expert, reveals to me, a software idiot, is what must be obvious (to software experts): software is not neutral. Different software embeds different philosophies, and these philosophies, as they become ubiquitous, become invisible.”
Nobody wants to admit the affects of Facebook and Twitter on our souls. We tell ourselves it’s harmless, entertainment, and a way to connect with friends. This followed with the loathsome quip:
Just the way it is…
You don’t need a sociology degree from Harvard or have developed experiments on social media users to know the “feel,” Smith talks about.
We’re wounded humans who are fragile and weak on our best days. Life under the sun is tough and the effects of social media on our minds, hearts, and souls is real, and becoming more obvious, as this invention creeps toward its tenth birthday.
Philosophy professor James K. A. Smith argues in Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (146-148), social media is a cultural liturgy. It’s telling a particular story about the universe, God, me, you, and what’s important. Social media is not a neutral medium harmless for the consuming public. It does something to us. More than we’d like to admit.
Just the way it is…
Maybe I’m the old guy remembering the times when social media, Netflix, email, and the internet, were not a thing. We still had cords on our phones and beepers not only reserved for doctors and drug dealers. Remember when you got a “page,” and had to find a contraption where you inserted coins, and you could talk to people. If not, ask someone older than thirty.
But, from this old guys perspective, phrases like: just the way it is, are not extremely helpful in the conversation over the shaping and forming affects of social media, discussions on theology, or politics.
Just the way it is… is the language of dismissal. A cheap phrase we use when something’s a problem, and no one wants to speak up, challenge the status quo, and potentially admit, “Houston we have a problem.”
Social media has created a rift between our private and personal life. Nothing is off limits, everything is shared, and apparently, this is what the Age of Authenticity looks like (Charles Taylor’s phrase in A Secular Age).
But is it working? Does it deliver on its promises?
Think about it. Imagine a world when you meet a person for the first time because of Facebook you know where they went to school, where they live, employment, hair color, and specie of dog they own.
Mystery, surprise, and wonder sucked out of the relationship because of our ability to stalk others on social media, too strong?
That’s our world.
Not only has the mystery and wonder of new relationships and friendships been sucked out, but we have already made judgments on the person. The way they dress says something. What they like on someones page says something. The books they read, and people they quote, have meaning. We’ve made judgments and evaluations on the person before ever having coffee or Sushi.
Maybe Facebook and Twitter creates a kind of accountability guarding us from saying moronic and hateful things on the inter-webs. A safeguard for securing future employment and romance.
But with a quick glance on our social media feeds we know that’s not the case.
Or maybe, just maybe, the Age of Authenticity and the free-for-all that is social media, is doing the opposite. Not creating accountability for putting foot-in-mouth, rather, creating a false self.
Now because of social media we have to create a self, a self of our own making. Not a genuine self with all the ordinariness, joy, struggle, and pain. A new pressure is building to construct a self that’s culturally savvy, swims on the right side of history, is open minded, tolerant, and never says something is wrong, or destructive, or evil.
Social media creates a new anxiety, worry, and pressure to not miss out. And, an addiction to post every other minute to make sure the world, whoever that it, knows we’re alive, cool, up with the issues, and doing something awesome my friends and colleagues deem worthy.
Maybe you’re the exception. The cultural liturgy of social media is not doing anything to your heart and soul. Maybe you have access to social media Kryptonite.
But, if I’m honest, if I could find my most authentic self, the things I post would disturb, likely be lame, and ordinary.
The epic photo of my family on a vacation overlooking the ocean, replaced with the moments right before, when dad lost his mind and said words making even Jesus blush.
I feel what Zadie Smith is describing in our social media world. We know something is happening, not pinned down, but something is brewing in the cultural ethos.
Just the way it is… needs removal from our working vocabulary. I hear it from the staunch secularist who has found the religion of science, to the fundamentalist Christian who’s confident the Republican Party is the Messiah. The good intentioned social justice warrior certain of their solutions on racial reconciliation and gun control. The good-willed author trying to explain sexuality in the modern age.
Just the way it is… leaves little room for engagement, dialogue, questions, and turning from what is life destroying, to what might save our lives. This phrase riddled with arrogance and pride and god-like qualities.
I’m not sure what Facebook and Twitter will do to our culture in the next ten years. But when the best we have is: just the way it is… get on board, or get left behind.
I won’t accept it.
Maybe we need a new liturgy that tells a different Story.
Someone outside time and place, One that says: come and hear how its always been… A Story about good news, not dependent on one slice of human history.
A Story robust enough to endure any cultural moment.
I’d be up for hearing about this…