Category Archives: socialmedia

Crossing the Social Media Bridge

The following is also published in The Vermilion Standard

I have never personally seen Confederation Bridge but I hear it is something to behold. Spanning thirteen-kilometers, the bridge drapes the Abegweit Passage of the Northumberland Strait, connecting Prince Edward Island with the mainland (New Brunswick). It is an amazing feat of engineering and currently holds the Guinness World Record for the longest bridge over ice (winter).

In many ways, it is a perfect metaphor for social media and its ability to connect people like never before. For the first time in history, people have the ability to connect instantly with multiple people, in multiple places, across multiple devices and in multiple languages (using translation technology). In this way, social media is a gift to humanity and a bridge that has the potential to bring people together in unprecedented ways.

Although our hyper-connected world has given us the ability to connect with more people faster and further than ever before, paradoxically, people have never felt more alone. It is a phenomenon Sherry Turkle terms as, “Alone Together.”

In the midst of this unprecedented hyper-connected world, people are increasingly feeling isolated and alone. In many ways, social media has given us the gift of a bridge but we haven’t learned to cross it into the deep and meaningful relationships it has the potential to help facilitate. Just as a bridge is not the end but the means to the end, social media is a means to relationship rather than the relationship you need to have.

To put it another way, too many people have a relationship with social media rather than utilizing social media as a means to have increasingly meaningful relationships with others. Building on the bridge metaphor, we have gotten on the bridge and enjoyed the view but few of us have learned to cross it and experience the wonders on the other side.

We are challenged to then use social media as a bridge to friendship not the destination.

Consider this wisdom given in the Bible about friendship: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24, ESV

So many of us are “friends” with more people than we were before social media but we are still very alone. We have not experienced the gift of true friendship with others that social media has promised to provide. Therefore, my challenge for us is to use social media as the bridge it is destined to be rather than a destination of desertion. Let us use it to cross barriers and experience the deep community and friendships we were created for.

We were created to live on the other side of the bridge – in rich community – but too many of us are lost on it, unaware of what is available on the other side.

Before You Give Up On Social Media…

Social media is often accused of making society more narcissistic and self-centered.   Although there is truth embedded in the diagnosis, I argue against the treatment that is often prescribed.  The disease does exist but the underlying problem is not the technology – it is us.

In many ways, social media is a technology that has given everyone a platform and a megaphone.  It allows everyone a voice without filter or control.  As a result, the megaphone amplifies what we all, unfortunately, have always cared most about – ourselves.  These megaphones are addicting, ubiquitous, frustrating and, I would argue, hopeful.

In many ways, social media has taken the web of the Internet and placed interconnected megaphones of self-expression everywhere.  This reality frustrates us and, as a result, we protest, complain and even threaten to give up social media completely.  We consider and contemplate putting the megaphone down in protest.

Before you give up on social media and put the megaphone down, try turning it around.  

There are reasons people are posting information about themselves on their social media channels.  People desire to be heard, loved, respected, etc.  Social media provides a unique and amplified opportunity to express these needs but it also provides a unique and amplified opportunity to hear what is going on in the lives of our friends, family, and culture.

I often picture social media as millions of people with megaphones shouting words, ideas, pictures, links, etc. at each other in amplified fashion.  But what would it look like if we took that same technology and turned it around, allowing us hear the hurts, challenges, successes, desires, etc. of our friends, family, and culture?  What would it look like for God to use us in amplified fashion through our amplified listening and awareness of others?  What would it look like to use social media in a way that allows us a unique and amplified view of what God is doing in our world?

Before you give up on social media and put the megaphone down, try turning it around.

Five Guidelines for Social Media

The following is also published in the Vermilion Standard.

We are spending more and more time online.  Although some of this time is filled with people posting and watching cat videos on YouTube or checking email, most people are spending countless hours on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), in an inherent desire to do part of what we were created to do, participate in relationship with others.

Social media is in its infancy and we are still trying to understand this new medium and vehicle.  Like anyone understanding a new vehicle, there is a training period where one learns its abilities and limitations.  Social media is no different.  As we live increasing amounts of our lives online, knowing how to do this well is becoming increasingly apparent.  The Bible has lots to say about how we engage this new world.

Using the Bible, I would like to suggest five guidelines for life in social media:

  1. Social media is NOT a place to confront someone.  The Bible teaches that if someone has done something wrong, you are to first go to him or her privately (Matthew 18) before making it public.  Humanity’s temptation is to bypass relationship and instantly cast judgment rather than seek understanding and, with humility and love, help the person that needs confronting (Matthew 7:1-6).  Thus, a public Facebook status or Twitter tweet is not a healthy way to confront someone about something they have said or done (or not said or done) because it does so outside of relationship, understanding, and love.
  2. Social media is social – keep it that way!  The tendency with social media is that it can become a convenient means to express our love of self.  If social media is simply a means of self-promotion, it ceases to be social and ends us isolating people further.  Jesus calls us to “love our neighbour as ourselves.” (Matthew 22:39)  Thus, we need to celebrate others and foster relationships rather than just use Facebook or Twitter as a place to celebrate our own lives, family, accomplishments, etc. 
  3. Social media is public – what goes online stays online.  The Bible calls us to live lives of integrity – for our private life to be consistent with our public life.  Thus, if you are not able to tell the world about something you have done (with photographic evidence perhaps), then maybe it is a caution to you doing it in the first place.  Proverbs 20:7 says, “The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him!”
  4. Social media is powerful.  The Bible teaches that the tongue is extremely powerful and has the ability to be used for amazing good or tremendous evil (James 3).  Words are powerful.  They can be used to build someone up or they can be used to tear someone down.  Just as the tongue is powerful, the type or text is powerful and can extend the reach of our hatred, jealousy, selfishness, bullying, or unhealthy relationships.  Therefore, understand the power of social media and wield that power for your love of God and others, rather than for love of self at the expense of others.
  5. Social media expresses our thoughts.  Our thoughts should represent the renewed mind we are called to have in and through Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”   May what we post, view, and read, represent these qualities.  If we did this, imagine the kind of place the virtual world would be; imagine the kind of place the physical world would be.

Technology is not evil and wrong but technology does extend our reach and sometimes, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we reach for evil and wrong things.  

The Future of Privacy in a Digital Age

Google recently unveiled Google Glasses for beta testing (see the news story here), bringing up a number of questions regarding the future of privacy.

In the pre-digital age (before the Internet, social media and mobiquity (ubiquitous use of mobile technology)), a sign of one’s wealth and power was demonstrated as public fame.  Although we are still riding the crest of this wave, it is beginning to break on the shores of the present.  As that wave breaks on the present’s shore, it will begin to pull back into the ocean of history, reversing direction and changing culture’s landscape in the process.  One of the many impacts of the retreating waves of history is the reversal of public and private.   As the crest retreats, privacy will become a sign of wealth and power rather than public fame.

The controversy and conversation that Google Glass is creating highlights this shift.  The future of technology will, increasingly, compress everything into the public sphere with accumulative complications.  Google Glass is the latest manifestation of this increasing reality, conjuring several privacy related questions:

  • Where is it appropriate for the average person to film and publicly broadcast, and where is it not?  
  • What is private and what is public?  
  • Are private and public distinctions an increasingly archaic and obsolete distinction in an emerging digital society?

It is an interesting observation that although the general populace is, typically, infuriated by the government’s video surveillance, they are largely ignorant of the pervasive cameras in their possession, sharing videos, pictures, audio and text that are filtered through private companies’ servers (this information is then sold to the highest bidder – remember with free services (Gmail, Instagram, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), you are the product being consumed).  Consequently, we have moved away from cities with thousands of cameras (owned, operated and regulated by governments and corporations) to cities with millions of cameras (owned and maintained by individuals, filtered through private companies’ servers, with little to no regulation).

In our emerging world of DUB (this is an acronym for my phrase “Democratized Ubiquitous Broadcasting”), will privacy, rather than public fame, be the new sign of wealth and power?  Will wealth be shown through the ability to hide?  Will wealth create privacy behind virtual digital fences the way it does with physical mansions and estates?  Will a sign of wealth be anonymity, in a way the vast majority of the populace can’t experience?

I am, intentionally, posing questions rather than answers.  As we enter the digital future, in mobiquitous fashion, we need to be asking these questions – recognizing the ubiquitous effects of social media and Internet technology.

Another Facebook Prediction

As Facebook forges ahead into the undiscovered social media landscape, it has and will continue to push boundaries on many levels affecting and shifting culture as a result.  Consider the cultural change to online pictures and privacy in the last couple of years.  It was only a couple of years ago when people were concerned about people seeing images of their children on Facebook and they initially refused to post them.  This privacy concern emerged again with the addition of the GPS tagging and location sharing.  It was considered an invasion of privacy at first and now has been adopted into our collective and ubiquitous use.

Inevitably, the next stage of this development is what I call: “auto-tagging.”  I predict that Facebook will soon release a software upgrade allowing face recognition to automatically tag your pictures based on the facial profiles of your friends.  This technology already exists on a consumer level with Apple’s iPhoto and it will be inevitably utilized by Facebook in the near future.

In fact, you may have recognized this already beginning to develop.  Still in its infancy, it is already utilized by Facebook.  Just try tagging someone.  When you place your cursor over the image, Facebook already can identify what is a face and what is not.  The next inevitable evolutionary step is to utilize facial recognition software and “auto-tag,” saving the user time and effort.

People will, as they always do, cry foul at first; however, people will, as they always do, eventually accept it and welcome it into their ubiquitous social media experience.

This reality highlights the cultural shift that is occurring regarding our concepts and perceptions of privacy.  In people’s desire to narrate their lives with social media and mobile technology, privacy is being eroded into the public sphere.  As more and more of our lives are lived online with open transparency, it is creating sweeping cultural impact and societal change.

In the pre-digital age, people longed to be wealthy and famous, living public lives on a public stage, but this is changing and so will people’s desires.  As the future unfolds and privacy erodes for the average citizen, people will desire what only the wealthy and select few will be able to experience – privacy.

A shift is occurring and privacy is experiencing a tipping point.