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5 Effects of Online Consumption

3. Online consumption is costing us community,

. . . or at least previously available dynamics of community. Consider dating. Singles today complain about the pitfalls and disappointments of online dating, as if it is the only kind of dating there is. In truth, it represents a radical cultural departure from what had been the norm. Online dating is radically individualistic, as opposed to the more communally based dating of the recent past. Instead of friends and family making suggestions and introductions, it is now an algorithm and two rightward swipes. As an article in the Atlantic puts it:

“Robots are not yet replacing our jobs. But they’re supplanting the role of matchmaker once held by friends and family…. [For] centuries, most couples met the same way: They relied on their families and friends to set them up. In sociology-speak, our relationships were ‘mediated.’ In human-speak, your wingman was your dad.”

Translation: Tinder, OKCupid and Bumble have taken the place of community. No longer are those most intimate with us serving and guiding and counseling; “now… we’re getting by with a little help from our robots.” Even those most involved lament “the spiritual bankruptcy of modern love.” Or as one person put it, the rise of online dating reflects “heightened isolation and a diminished sense of belonging within communities.”

4. Online consumption is making us angrier.

Polling reveals two things we all seem to agree on: people are more likely to express anger on social media than in person (nearly nine in 10), and we are angrier today compared to a generation ago (84%).

According to an NPR-IBM Watson Health poll, the more we go online to check the news or use social media, the angrier we become. The reasons are not hard to diagnose. News outlets are often openly biased toward a particular view (thus inciting emotions), and there is a cottage industry of trolling on social media. In other words, we’ve created a context for anger to be incited and expressed, and it’s working.

5. Rapid Change

Living life online is fueling the rapid change of culture, and not always for the best. For example, there are few changes that have swept the cultural landscape more swiftly than the West flipping its views on all things related to homosexuality. As recently as 2004, polls conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that the majority of Americans (60%) opposed same-sex marriage. Today, 61% support it.

How did minds change so quickly?

In a telling study, Harvard University psychology professor Mahzarin Banaji investigated long-term changes in attitudes. He found that between 2007 and 2016, bias toward people who are gay decreased dramatically. There are many dynamics that could be associated with this, such as the growing visibility of gay people in popular culture (e.g., Ellen DeGeneres, the show Will and Grace), but why did the landslide toward cultural acceptance begin in 2007?

That was the year the iPhone was released, Facebook left the campus, Twitter was spun off, Google bought YouTube and launched Android, Amazon released the Kindle, and the internet crossed one billion users worldwide.

All to say, there can be little doubt that social media accelerates cultural change—for good or ill. So should the church stay away from online consumption? Heavens, no. This just tells us where “salt” and “light” are most needed.

This article about online consumption originally appeared here, and is used by permission.