Social media: Yay or Nay? Four things to consider:
By James Syrow
The church has much ground to make up in understanding our culture and making an impact for the Gospel. Here are some thoughts to consider:
1. Don’t Judge Social Media
This may be a hard point to accept, but it unequivocally deserves to be the first. We live in an age of transition, where fundamental social structures seem to morph and transition into something different and unaccounted-for. Too often people condemn the unusual for the dangerous. Believe it or not, I too once saw social media as dangerous and of more social harm than good. That is, until I was made to realize that change in itself has no moral weight. Our ‘age of transition’ is exactly like the era of the Reformation when Martin Luther ushered in Modernity with his ‘war of pamphlets’, and his aggressive use of social (printed) media to disrupt the genteel world of the hand-written codex. Our age of transition is no different from the era of idyllic 18th century farmers being made obsolete by the grimy and clangy world of the Industrial Revolution. Those who preferred to ‘live in the past’, in 1517, or in 1849, or in any ‘age of transition’, were quickly made obsolete, while those who embraced the ‘urgency of now’ became the leaders in the new age. That isn’t to say that modernity is a moral good; progress is not always good, and therefore our task must be to fully engage the era we live in, dispense with nostalgia, and sanctify the levers which move today’s culture by harnessing them to the right, instead of the wrong, purposes.
2. There Is Nothing New Under The Sun.
We think the world is developing some new paradigms that will alter the way humanity functions. We once had our morning newspaper, our radio, but then the television killed the radio, and the Internet killed the television, so now in this strange new world, we may be grudgingly forced to accept the Internet, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it, right? And yet consider the recent Internet statistics which show that one form of Internet media (podcasts) is rapidly taking people’s attention away from Youtube and other video platforms. What are podcasts (online audio), if not “radio”? So believe it or not, “radio” is defeating “television”; far from dead, it is in fact becoming a dominant medium for 2018, 2019, and 2020. But wasn’t “radio killed by television” decades ago? Yes, but then it was reborn in a new form, and now “television is being killed by radio”. What are Youtube and Netflix if not the ABC and NBC of the new era? And finally, consider an intelligent, highprofile, famous blog: will you deny that it is no different from the (printed) Newsweeks of yesterday? You see, as the world gets more ‘advanced’, it doesn’t change much at all. We, human beings, still, and always have, consume three simple and elemental forms of content: Visual, Audio, and Written. How those forms are expressed may change, but the basic patterns of human nature can never change ‘for something new’. Therefore have no fear, for nothing is different; it is just in a different place.
3. Social Media Is "Old-Fashioned".
What is the baker’s dozen? It is a concept from centuries ago, when you knew everyone who lived in your village; when you went to the donut shop, the baker would know you personally, and if you bought the twelve donuts, he would throw in an extra for free. Why? Because in that tightly-knit world, he’d want you to think of him more fondly than of his competitors. Why did the baker’s dozen go out of fashion? Because mammoth corporations like Walmart Corp., and Sears Corp, and Dunkin Donuts Corp, came along in the rapidly industrialized 20th Century. It didn’t matter if you thought well of your donut shop, because it had the lowest prices, and put everyone else out of business. As villages died and the world became urban, we lost the personal connection with each other. You may bewail ‘the death of the village’, but I guarantee that when you ‘get on social media’ you will most likely follow the game plan of the impersonal mega-corporations, assaulting your audience with cold impersonal ‘ads’: come to my event, give to my cause, like what I say. However, remember that “Nothing Is New Under The Sun” (point #2 above). In the hyper-industrialized and hyper-connected world of today, we are reverting to very old social patterns. The world is becoming a village once again. Your audience are no longer the silent faceless industrial masses they were before to Walmart Corp. or to Dunkin Donuts Corp. You once again know, today, the name and the face of everyone who interacts with you and your church, your school, or your ministry; and giving them your baker’s dozen will differentiate you from all the others who still treat them coldly and impersonally. Kindness has never been more “in fashion”!
4. Know Your Platforms.
Finally, where do you go? In brief: wherever you want! In the past, becoming a “radio” star, opening your “television studio”, or becoming a world-famous writer, was practically impossible. The gatekeepers that watched over those platforms were implacable. The infrastructure of a TV studio, or a radio show, or a world-wide newspaper/magazine, cost a veritable fortune. Today, and I wish you’d take it as literally as I mean it, the cost of starting your TV studio is free. If you want to start a world-wide newspaper/magazine, then God be with you; for it is free. Should you wish to be a Radio mogul, the cost of entry is: you’ve guessed it, free. What platform you choose today resides solely within your desires, your personality, and how you prefer to express yourself. If you don’t like to be a tv/radio/writer, then just engage with your audience, baking them a baker’s dozen of your time, attention, and bringing them value and joy on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. If you aren’t comfortable with video cameras but have a great voice, then consider starting a podcast, and building for it a community on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. If you are a great writer, then you should have an exceptional blog; also consider blogging on Facebook, for people read what others write, and the “sharing” abilities allow more people to encounter your content. If you want to achieve the most notoriety, then video will always be king: formulate a “TV show” and start filming yourself with your phone (the most inexpensive “tv studio” on the planet!). Posting your work on Youtube and Facebook Watch, and promote them (with old-fashioned kindness, point #3 above), on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
James Syrow runs a Christian media ministry in Philadelphia.