Tag Archives: Twitter

“Let down your nets…”

22 Mar

iconsI think Jesus would have done pretty well in the 21st century socially networked world. I’m not quite sure how he would have managed all his followers on Twitter, but do know he would have more than a few friends – all sinners – on Facebook. I guess he would have known what it feels like to be “unfriended and “unfollowed” too. He would have been LinkedIn with the Sepphoris carpenters’ guild, rovingexorcists.com and #thesabbathisforpeople group but chosen not to accept endorsements from Sadducees, Herodians and other Judean heavyweights.

I wonder if he’d have stuck with those “big three” of social networking, or maybe he’d have taken social networking up a notch. It would be interesting to browse his circles on Google+ — family, the three, the twelve, the seventy(two), 500+ resurrection witnesses, the four thousand, the five thousand, the women, blocked contacts… Reading the conversation thread on his WordPress hosted blog would have been entertaining, to say the very least. The “Parables” board on Pinterest would have become a favourite of his, and a DiggIt from Jesus would have been well cool. His Tumblr would be filled with daily doses of creativity, with a double ration of Flickr photos and Youtube or Vimeo videos on the Sabbath, and he’d have answered most questions on Quora with another question. He’d even have a legacy MySpace account for life’s eternal nostalgics, not to mention Orkut and Tuenti as part of an early effort in cross-cultural communication. You may have run across him in his local Meetup group, though the one place I don’t think we’d have seen him, is Meetic…

SoMeWordleAll that should have kept him busy, Though there again, the “tell no one about me” warning after another amazing miracle could have got quite complex: “No WhatsApps of this one please, nor Instagrams, and don’t even think about SnapChat-ing it. Oh, and keep it off RSS too while you’re at it…”

Social networking has always been part of life; the digital age is no different, it is simply the means of forming those links that has changed. Physical contact in the same time and place is now no longer the deciding factor in who we relate to and how.

At its simplest, church is about relationship: relationship with God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ; relationship with others in that larger family which is church (and remember, family is in itself simply another social network); and relationship with the world of people created in God’s image who are yet to find relationship with their creator God in a meaningful way.

Social networks are not an optional extra for those of us involved in church, for church is built out of the fabric of human relationships. The question is not if, but how. And if today “social networking” is becoming part and parcel of the way human beings the world over relate to one another, it’s where we need to be. Whilst the effects of decisive engagement with the social networks of the world may not be directly measurable, the long-term results of failing to do so certainly will be: the dilution of relationships within churches on the one hand and growing irrelevance to those outside on the other. To distance ourselves from people in general by failing to understand how individuals relate to one another in today’s world simply is not an option for anyone wishing to follow in Jesus’ relational footsteps. To refuse to take seriously technology’s impact on the way we relate and apply this in church is missional suicide. And yes, you can tweet that if you like!


BFF of sinners

6 Jun

More acronyms. BFF or FBF? Best Friend Forever or Facebook Friend? Which does your social sphere most resemble? (I realise that there are more social networking sites than Facebook, some more popular depending on location; I use Facebook as a discussion starter simply because it is the largest and most influential global site, not out of any sense of personal devotion…)

Social networking is changing both the way we relate and what language itself means. (Nothing wrong with that, by the way; this is a simple observation, not a bring-back-the-good-old-days moan. Culture, of which language is an integral part, is dynamic and in a constant state of flux, there are just times when we notice it more.) Let’s start with language.

Beyond the growing influence of txt-speak with new terms such as lol finding their way into everyday vocabulary, existing words are being reshaped. For example, a normal conversation will involve chatting, talking and listening. But not in the world of cyber-relationships. Are you a good listener? “Listening” normally involves paying attention to the content of what another wants to transmit. But in the blogosphere listening is simply skimming what is “out there” to discover “trending topics” or where our own name gets a mention. More a case of keeping a virtual ear to the ground than taking anything in. And “chat” no longer implies talk. When someone wants to “chat”, further definition is now required to know if they in fact are looking to “voice-chat” (how strange is that?) or rather write/type – probably on a smartphone if connecting with a member of the emerging “thumbtribe”, the English term commonly used to express the original Japanese oyayubizoku.

What about “follow”? Once a relatively sombre term, in certain situations even with overtones of stalking, “follow” is a term still in evolution. Jesus’ “Follow me” certainly has a different meaning in a world of tweets than in 1st century Palestine. To have a couple of thousand Twitter followers is no huge achievement; to have followers who embrace your ideals and values is a completely different story.

And then there is “relationship”. What exactly is a “relationship” these days? Sometimes it is clearly an exclusive (normally sexual) bond, as in “I’m in a relationship with so-and-so”, but more often than not it is predicated on the ties created on social networks, thus being as thick or as thin as these. A relationship becomes whatever the participants want it to be.

“Like”, is an interesting one too, seeming to resemble the “amens” in some churches, which mean anything from “Yes, preach it!” to “We can hear you at the back”. In other words it is a generic response that somehow lets the other person know that you are there and are paying at least minimal attention. A Facebook “like” does something to cement “relationship”, particularly if someone has suggested that you “like” a page they have created; it does not necessarily imply agreement with the content, or even in fact “liking” it at all.

Coming finally to the focus of this post, take the term “friend” itself. To its definition of friend as “a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations” the Oxford dictionary has added a sub-definition: “a contact on a social networking website”. How many of your Facebook friends would you describe as people with whom you “share a bond of mutual affection”? Friend may have been a less inappropriate term for the original Facebook restricted to a closed university context but has somehow stuck as Facebook has mushroomed to a vehicle with the potential to connect anyone on the planet to absolutely anyone else. “Friend” has lost its meaning. Given that 80% of Facebook friend requests are accepted, “friend” now refers simply to a person who has been granted access to one of the (virtual) networks that we belong to. We have come a long way from the Philia of Aristotle or Amicitia of Cicero. As Mark Zuckerberg himself said: “Facebook is the most successful social network in the world, enabling millions to share information of no interest with people they barely know”.

There are more, but that, I think, shows what we are talking about. Is Orwellian “Newspeak” able to control thought and mould the surrounding world, or will language simply express whatever is happening at a deeper level within a given society? In other words, is language a reflection of where culture is going, or can culture be steered by language? For me, this is never an either-or; language and culture are so intertwined that language will always grow out of cultural innovation, but then, in turn, will impact future social development. So, the very meaning of “friendship” has been forever altered, both linguistically and in cultural practice, through the combined social and technological revolution that is Facebook.

What does all this mean? According to the American Sociological Review study published in 2006, “friendship” is in fact in decline. The average American may have 245 Facebook friends, but in “real life” that number of close friends (not family members) drops to two. That’s right, just two friends. In 1985 the average American had three, still not enough for a football team, but statistically well above today’s figure. Worse still, that is the average. One in four Americans confesses to having no friends. None, not one. “One is one and all alone and evermore shall be so.”

Retreating into the isolation of home is paralleled by exponential growth of cyber relationships (whatever that means, as we have seen…). Friendship is largely lived out online. Socially inept individuals can avoid the angst of real-life encounters and yet still forge meaningful, intimate even, friendships with other like souls. And these do not just allow for the sharing of superficial information or interest-based activity; for many, this is where the deepest feelings are expressed and the closest ties built.

This is not being addicted to technology – it is addiction to people, connected through technology, in what Pew Research’s Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman describe as “Networked individualism”. But what has changed is that the focus is no longer on the unit, the community, the family – it is on the individual. Social networking sites link individuals together independently of the social group that formerly enabled this interaction. No wonder this manner of relating has exploded in the individualistically minded West: autonomous individuals at the centre of self-defined networks that enable multithreaded simultaneous relating to other selected individuals from the comfort of one’s chosen environment – heaven on earth!

Friendship is morphing. But Jesus is still “friend of sinners”. And we are still to love as he loved.

This is our world. Stay with it.

Be a friend, BFF to some – I reckon Jesus had a few of those – and FBF to others. (No, Jesus had no Facebook friends, but he did reach out with a similar depth of relationship to numbers on a par with our FB friend lists.) But be a good friend, especially of sinners.

And please friend me.

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