I knew I had a problem when it became difficult for me to delete my MySpace account. That’s an embarrassing confession.
In the past decade, we’ve seen an enormous range of social media services emerge and gain prominence, moving us far beyond the awkward self-engineered HTML arrangements of the classic MySpace page. Blogs have evolved. Web based connection services have proliferated. More tools are surely on the way. And we can use them all, if we wish.
According to a Nielsen poll conducted late last year, the use of social media services is only increasing, with an increased percentage of the population dedicating more of their time to logging on and getting connected. For the technologically adept, this trend isn’t surprising. Not only has the availability of wireless access points for laptop computers made logging on to various social media sites convenient, the rise in the use of smart phone devices has made staying connected simple through easy to use applications. Some see this as a huge advantage, others as an aversion to being fully present with friends, family, and coworkers, and others as opening a channel for a burgeoning of pointless babble and misinformation. An honest assessment of the explosion of media should conclude that these tools are both a blessing and a curse.
As Christians, incorporated through Christ into the family of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing, not a curse. You can read about it first in Genesis 12, and then follow the lines of Scripture forward to Galatians 3. Wisdom is required, therefore, for how to best use various forms of social media as an expression of our identity as a people who, by faith in Christ, have inherited a calling to bless the entire earth.
There is a challenge here, however, that runs both inward and outward. We must be mindful of both how we can use social media services to be a blessing to others and how using social media services might have an affect, for good or ill, on our own souls.
As I have observed the many varieties and uses social media technologies have presented to humankind, I can’t help but wonder what such tools are doing to us. From McLuhan, to Postman, and beyond, philosophers of media have made sure that we never forget that as much as we manipulate and use technology to shape our world, technology itself has the power to shape both what we are and what we are becoming. When it comes to our tools, it could be the case that many of us have forgotten exactly who is the master and who is the servant.
With that in mind, some rules might be in order. If you do not like the idea of rules, consider these as suggestions for evaluating your own media usage and moving toward simplicity.
1. Don’t turn to social media for an ego boost.
One of the most prevalent temptations that exist among those who use social media services is narcissism. Admit it. You care how many “friends” you have on Facebook. You get excited when you gain new “followers” on Twitter. You worry when that number dips, concerned that you’ve offended someone or executed some other gaffe that has cost you a connection.
This is real. And it is unhealthy. Don’t look to social media to stroke your ego. If that is why you use it, if your mood depends on whether or not someone leaves a comment on the blog post you took hours to craft, if your day will be made if more than five people retweet something clever you said, or if you will be crushed when none of those things happen, then it might be time to take a step back.
2. Only utilize media that best supplements your personal and ministry goals.
Signing up for services is easy. Usually all you need is an e-mail address. Many of the best and most widely used social media services don’t cost any money. But it is possible to overdo it.
Take a look at the media services you currently use. Do you use any services that are superfluous? Are there services you could eliminate? Can you declutter your life on the Web? If you’re signed up for services that don’t help you meet personal or ministerial goals, close those accounts. Simplify your media usage.
3. Ask others to hold you accountable.
Discernment is both an individual and a communal discipline. Could it be that you consume so much media that your relationships with those in your immediate community are somehow inhibited? Friends may be able to see this in a way you cannot. Ask for help.
In addition, it might be helpful to grant approval to a trusted friend to watch what you say using social media and call you to account if you express something that is detrimental to your life and ministry.
4. Regularly conduct media fasts.
That’s right. Go dark. Don’t log on to the Web for a full twenty-four hour period. Take a break from blogging. If you need to, schedule out some posts, but refrain from checking the comments. Shut your e-mail off. If you want to take it a step further, refrain from watching television, closing off an even broader range of media that we daily consume. And during that period, listen intently for God’s voice. By breaking from media, you’ll be cutting out a lot of noise. And in the silence, you might just hear a whisper.
5. Remember who you serve.
This reminder is perhaps the most important of all. When we use social media of any form, we are projecting an image of ourselves. Does that image reflect the image of Christ, in whose likeness we are being remade? Rather than casting our idols in bronze, or molding them from clay, do we formulate a digital image of ourselves that we elevate and worship? Does our usage of media make God’s name great or ours?
Simplicity and Soul Care
Through prayerful reflection, I’ve become more selective concerning what services I use, with what frequency, and to what ends. I’ve tried to constantly reexamine my own heart and test my own motives for using social media. And I’ve concluded that healthy soul care requires the wise selection and paring back of those things in our lives that crowd out the space required for the Holy Spirit to lead us forward in to an abundance of life.
If you’re a media junkie, examine your addiction. Maybe it’s time to admit you have a problem. Maybe it’s time to start living more simply. For the sake of your soul, perhaps it’s time to find a new rhythm, new habits. Maybe God is calling you to flip the script on your media usage, relegating your tools to the role of servant through simplification, and, in the process, acknowledging the rightful role of the Master, Jesus Christ. Along the way, may you find yourself with an expanded capacity to love others, to serve selflessly, to speak humbly, to be fully present. To be a blessing.