The Day Social Media Died
A few years ago, there was a commercial in which a lame, uncool dad was updating his twitter followers with the anticlimactic tweet, “I am sitting on the patio.”
The reason the quip was funny is, at the time, social media was in large part considered a somewhat invaluable waste of time and energy. It was simply boring people uploading boring pictures of food, cats and, as my dad always said, telling people every time you go to the bathroom.
But social media was also fun. It was engaging. Though waddling a bit in its toddler stage, apps like Twitter, Instagram, and even big brother Facebook were adopted not only by tech-savvy hipsters but by virtually everyone in society. To many, this wasn’t necessarily a good thing (remember Farmville?), but it was inevitable and brought a big world just a little bit closer together.
One of the unintended cultural shifts resulting from social media has been our capacity to get news from the source – immediately – and often in real time. I recall watching protesters in Ferguson, Mo., not on my local the 10 o’clock news, but directly on a live video feed from a concerned participant. Today, I open my twitter feed seconds after Russell Westbrook has yet again slashed to the rim with a signature slam (AAAND ONE!) to celebrate with Thunder fans across the globe.
Social media has been a revolution.
But as with every revolution, there is resulting chaos. Revolutions are defined not merely by what they overthrow, but what they replace it with. This often gets bloody. It gets ugly. Before the phoenix rises, the ashes are red hot.
The main outcome on display in the social media revolution is that no longer are journalists the tried and true resources of information – we are. We are all producers of our own media worlds with studios not in New York, LA, or even major marketplaces. The studios are in our pockets. We are the editors. We may not create the news, but we create our news. Our resulting appetite is insatiable.
This has led us out of the Information Age and has birthed the age of the Information Race. Who can get the first quip or quote? Who can get the first opinion? Who can be the first to spin or slant to get points for their team? It is not a race to get to the bottom of a given situation or idea. Accuracy and comprehensiveness are no longer viable targets. The target is to be first.
So what will rise from the ashes of this media revolution? It appears the reigning victor in the Information Race is activism. The ink barely begins to dry on a writer’s notebook recording a quote before lines are drawn, picket signs are made and the reaction becomes the story whether or not anyone knows, or has read, what was actually said or written.
In some ways, this is beneficial to society. Caring people hold other people accountable.
But this is not sustainable.
Spotlights swivel often, and voices clamoring for attention grow louder. When reactions become the news, provocations are needed to stoke the fires of the reactionary. In such a world, only the loudest noises get attention. Headlines become provocations. Society is too busy reacting to invest time in understanding.
Eventually, the more noise there is, the more it becomes white noise – indiscernible, indistinguishable and eventually, unimportant. The more words are said, the less words are heard.
When social media simply becomes yelling, it ceases to be social or media.
At some point, our infatuation with social media will turn into indifference. The revolution that overthrows the information race will not come loudly from the sky reigning down in hellfire and brimstone. It will come unnoticed – little by little, as people frustrated with the lack of truth turn off their devices and withdraw from their accounts. The old axiom is true: the revolution will not be televised. Neither will it be with the death of social media as we currently know it.
But facts will still remain. There will still be news. As concerned citizens, and particularly as the church seeking to follow Christ in an increasingly post-Christian culture, we will need engagement. We will need truth.
I would not want us to see the giant self-consuming flames of social media as a victory or even as a cause to reject social media completely. Social media is amoral, meaning it is not good or bad in and of itself. It is a sword only as capable as the hands of those who wield it. It is a mirror.
As Christians, we need to be wise about our day and age. As our world begins to look for a foundation of truth under the rubble of opinion, it will be vital that the church still stands as the buttress of truth – the Word of God – and not merely as another noisy set of opinions. The stalwart bedrock of the Scriptures will increasingly need to be on display as the cultural wind blows away shaky structures. We will need to be a church steadily feeding on, and with, the authoritative, inerrant, sufficient Word of God.
Church, lift high the Word of God. Some will hate it and hate you for it. They will yell loudly. But it will remain. In a world pursuing new news, let us hold fast to the truth that the only worthwhile news is the good news of the Gospel.
Social media, as we know it, is dying. Let the Word of God be preached at its funeral.