A father checks email “one last time,” ignoring his four year old. “Just a minute, then we’ll play, okay?”
A mother preempts the tantrum, handing the tablet to the two year old in the back seat.
A married couple having dinner at a swanky restaurant bow their heads, faces lit blue, scroll through Facebook (maybe even checking out each other’s profiles).
Two friends sit side-by-side on a couch, #hangingout.
A teenager stands alone in front of a mirror, getting the image just right.
These scenarios are probably familiar enough. Some might hit closer to home than others. Social media is a modern fact. Like the Borg, resistance is futile. You might be reading this very post because it showed up in your Twitter feed. As the entire world (not just first-world technological Western society) deepens into established practices and rituals of social media, we need to consider how technology is changing us—how it forms us, psychologically, spiritually, intellectually, morally—and how we can use it well, with attention to the bad and the good.
For some other great reads on using technology well, check out QIdeas.org this week: they’ve curated several articles on “Digital Virtue in the Age of Social Media.”
Also relevant is CCT’s most recent episode of From the Table, a YouTube series that provides a sneak peek into life at CCT. In it, Jerry Sittser (author of A Grace Disguised and professor at Whitworth University) tells a story about how his college students escape addiction to social media and the voyeurism it encourages. During a three-week mountain retreat, they confront their reliance on technology and social media and expose their true self to God and each other: in silence, monastic discipline, prayer, scripture reading, and embodied common life together.
With piercing insight, Sittser notices how hard it is to unplug from social media because we feel like “we’d be missing out.” That is, we have a deep desire relational connection. So of course we like the idea of social media. We are human. We are the social animal. Sittser suggests that a paradox of connection haunts our digital lives: the more connected we are, the more disconnected we are. It takes deliberate, intentional practice to establish flourishing relational connection.
Social media will form us. One way or another, for better or worse, we will be formed by our phones. Formed by our screens. Formed by our gadgets. But is resistance really futile? Above the din of the digital age, we need to find the space to get some perspective, live into the moment, shake hands with our neighbor, play with and form our children, actively commune over a meal together, allow others to see who we truly are… and in so doing, take a deliberate role in our own formation.