I am not usually a defender of technology. In fact, I’m usually the one always going on about how Facebook is making us hopelessly narcissistic, text messages rob us of real communication, Google is planning to steal our souls, etc.
That said, one paragraph in a really interesting article I read recently caught my attention: “Jesus was all about connecting with real people. What if he would have ‘Facebooked’ the Woman at the Well? She’d have checked her email and found: ‘Woman at the Well: Jesus has written on your wall.’ The email would say, ‘Heard you were at the well today. If you ask me, I will give you living water.’ It kind of loses its meaning.”
The author goes on to say that it was a big deal that Jesus risked being seen in person with a Samaritan woman, and I completely agree. I also agree with her statement, “Technology is a great thing, but overusing it can rob us of real relationships.”
(You knew it was coming, didn’t you?)
But I disagree with the author’s statement: “We can have ‘friends’ on Facebook, email pen pals, chat room buddies, and text messaging conversations—but none of it is real communication.”
None of it? Hmm. Not so sure about that. (Says the person who is currently involved in two long and wonderful group discussions of feminism and predestination via Facebook.)
I think what the article implies—that Jesus would always connect with people in person rather than the Internet—is a bit off.
Jesus didn’t reject cultural practices of his time, even when it looked like he should have. For example, the Passover. Jesus could have said, “Hey guys, this is an Old Covenant celebration. Let’s skip it, okay?” Instead, he changed the meaning of the celebration by making it a memorial to his sacrifice as the perfect Passover lamb.
Same thing with Roman taxes, which was mostly used to line the pockets of corrupt pagans. And yet Jesus transformed the tax coin into a reminder that we are made in the image of God and should give him the tribute he deserves. (And he still told people to pay taxes.)
Jesus redeemed and repurposed and restored cultural objects. But he didn’t reject them. And I don’t think he would reject social media either. He would redeem it and use it for good.
And in order to redeem something, it helps to know what its biases are.
“Bias” is a way of saying that technology is not neutral (something that becomes good or bad only based on how we use it). I don’t think that’s the case with anything, really.
No, you can’t blame weapons for violent crime, but they are biased toward destruction. The following video clip illustrates this idea:
Children’s pop-up books are biased toward whimsy and creativity. SUVs bring to mind all things rugged and outdoorsy. Cookie dough and pumpkin pie seasoning conjure up images of family and togetherness. Expensive perfume reminds us of luxury and glamor. Those are the biases the objects have.
(By the way, I’m completely stealing this idea from philosophers Albert Borgmann and Martin Heidegger* as well as my Ethics and Technology class.)
Social media also has some biases:
One: Broadcasting an image. We go to social media to find out who other people are. We post on social media to tell everyone who we are, although it’s not always an accurate image (and certainly not a complete one).
Two: Making connections. Some of these connections are shallow, and others are better left un-made. But we’d all agree that connection is an important part of being human.
Three: Generating buzz. There’s a lot of noise on social media. Headlines are crafted to get clicks. Comments are “liked” for being witty. People tend to react instinctively instead of responding thoughtfully.
No, Jesus didn’t have social media when he was on earth. But we do, and we can reclaim its biases for good. Here are a few ideas:
One: Resist the urge to compare and despair. Think of social media as a scrapbook you keep on a coffee table…that hundreds of people flip through. It can be a fun way for others to get a glimpse into your life, but it shouldn’t define your identity.
Two: Form real connections. There are lots of ways to use the Internet for positive things, from asking a long-lost friend how life is going to making an encouraging comment on a blog. Facebook can be used to get feedback on writing projects, spread news about a good cause, and set up fun events. We can do worthwhile things with technology; it might just take a little more work.
Three: Back away a bit. This one is the hardest for me, especially when so many friends and family members no longer live near me. It helps for me to think of those wasted minutes of aimless scanning added up into a huge pile. What will that pile be worth at the end of my life? Not much.
And now, just for fun…if Jesus had a Twitter account, what would he tweet? Any responses get 50 imaginary bonus points.
*Stuffy Technical Footnote for the Dedicated Reader: So, this is Theologian Thursday, and Borgmann and Heidegger weren’t really theologians. But if you squint a little, most philosophers look like theologians because they talk about stuff that has a lot of spiritual implications. So I’m saying it counts.