on 27 May 2014
I imagine that there was, and always will be, great debates and sincere wringing of hands in the face of new technology, scientific advances and other aspects of human 'progress'. Doubts, misgivings and concerns should rightly be expressed, as accepting everything that comes across our paths, unquestionably and without concern for what it might bring, simply helps lay the roads paved with good intentions which, sadly, often lead to dead ends.
So it is nothing new to see a well respected Pastor and Christian writer tackle the knotty problem of Social Media. From reading his short, and succinct book, it is clear that Tim Chester is not likely to back swiftly out of the room holding a silver cross up high, at the mere mention of Facebook or Twitter. Though he does have sincere concerns, and these concerns are well expressed and, for the most part, rational presented.
However: you did know a, 'however', was coming didn't you?
However, many of his arguments concerning the recent phenomenon, and it is really recent, of Internet Social Media such as Facebook and Twitter, et al, could very easily be laid at the door of every communication advance over the last couple of hundred years, perhaps even the last two millennia.
'Put that new-fangled book down James and get the Scrolls out.....'
'Sarah-Jane, you've been writing those letters all day. Go and help your Mother churn the milk.....'
'I certainly will not have one of those new telephonic things in my house....'
'This Electric Tricity stuff is ungodly. Bring back the candle...'
Of course there are alternatives to technology. As the Amish have found (although certain branches of the Amish are now, in a limited way, giving technology a go) you can live well, and piously, with nothing more complicated than a horse and cart, which somewhat ironically, uses technology: the wheel.
The real questions are: Does technological advance take our eyes of God? Does it become a distraction from the godly life? Does it become an idol? Does it turn us from the righteous path to a darker way that leads to some digital slough of despond?
Well the answer is both, yes it can, and, no it doesn't. This is, of course, the same set of answers that could be applied to almost any technological, and many non-technological, advances.
What Tim Chester does in this book is fire a well intended, and much required, warning shot across the bows of our personal ships. Yes, there are Dangers of Distraction in Facebook, Twitter etc. You can waste time on Social Media, but there are many other things in our modern world upon which you can 'waste time'.
What this book does is damn with faint praise the very real positive aspects of Internet based Social Media, and there are many. Folk who find face to face socialising difficult, and I am thinking of attended a building with others for the purpose of worship, can actively engage with others in what is, for them, a safe and non-threatening/frightening way. Those unable to regularly leave their home because of disability, physical or mental, can engage with others in a way that, a couple of decades ago, would have been impossible. Friends who have lost touch over the years are able to reconnect (in my case, recently, after a gap of some 30 years with two old college friends). Warnings and requests through Facebook groups can be issued regarding all manner of things: suspicious adults, lost pets, stolen bicycles etc. Community action can be initiated, developed and sustained through Facebook. Evangelism can be carried out via Internet Social Media into countries otherwise closed to Mission.
So not all bad then!
Finally, read this book if you are in any way concerned that you, or someone you know, may be in Danger of Distraction by Social Media, but don’t get unnecessarily put off. Social Media, as with many things, is not inherently a bad thing. It is very much, importantly, about how we use it.
on 27 February 2013
"A technology wears its benefits on its sleeve - but the drawbacks are buried deep within. Technology is good, but readily gets perverted by our sin."
At last - a decent Christian analysis of the social media phenomenon!
Just like a pub, a television, a job or a house in the country, Facebook and the rest bring dangers as well as blessings, and this book seeks to equip people to think biblically about them.
And, at 48 pages, it's small enough even for those of us with an internet-depleted attention span to read!
After perceptively outlining the benefits and dangers of social media, Tim Chester aims for the root of the problem by asking: Why are social media so compulsive? In answering that, we see how easy it is for social networking to supplant the Christian Gospel. For example, instead of looking to God for justification, I try to justify myself in the way I present my image. Instead of accepting my place in God's chosen people (the church), I seek to create a place among my chosen people (my 'friends').
The final, intriguing, chapter is entitled "The Face Book of God".
My only criticism is that Tim Chester could perhaps have said a bit more about the positive uses of social networking technology. For example, he talks a fair bit about how people for whom Facebook is a 'problem issue' could do with spending less time online. I'm sure that's true; but I'd have loved to see more practical tips about ways in which we can exist online rightly and helpfully (which he frequently proclaims as perfectly good and possible) - not least because it won't be long before 'going online' is not something anyone does anymore! To take another example, his 'danger checklist' of possible warning signs includes things like "Do you check your Facebook page more than once or twice a day?" But isn't that rather like asking "Do you spend more than an hour or day on the phone?"? It depends entirely on what you're doing on there!
But all-in-all, a long-overdue analysis that is punchy, readable and quotable. Online networking and constant connectivity are here to stay, and this book helps us understand them and use them without selling our souls to them.