social media

COMMENTARY: Deliberate Distortion of Reality Won’t Work for Long

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich

I was dismayed when I learned that Mozilla Foundation, maker of the Firefox Web browser, had named an anti-gay activist as its new chief executive officer.

Brendan Eich wasn’t a hard-core activist. He had donated $1,000 in 2008 to a California campaign to ban same-sex marriage.

Even so, his ethical stance struck me as unfortunate. Mozilla’s naming him CEO struck me as tone-deaf. And his refusal to discuss his views seemed too aloof for a high-visibility enterprise like Mozilla.

I didn’t join the crowd demanding his resignation. I did the one thing I could do: I stopped using the Firefox browser.

The Dead Don’t Die; They Just Reboot

Virtual life concept, agsandrew / Shutterstock.com

Virtual life concept, agsandrew / Shutterstock.com

Religion has, for centuries, been fairly obsessed with the afterlife. For some, what awaits us after our physical death is fairly central to their faith. But thanks to the Internet, many of us end up having a sort of life after death, whether we intended to or not.

In a recent article published in the New Yorker magazine, Pia Farrenkopf experienced the sort of digital life after death that some might find appealing, while others would consider it rather horrifying. Pia traveled frequently for work, so it was not unusual for her neighbors not to see her for long stretches at a time. They would mow her lawn when the grass got long and kept an eye on the place during her long stints out of town.

As such, she lacked many close ties near home, and like many of us, all of her monthly finances were automated and tied directly to her bank account. So although she died in early 2009 while sitting in her car in the garage, it was not until very recently that anyone actually discovered she was dead.

It took that long for her checking account reserves to run out, which led to utility shut offs and a visit from the bank to issue an eviction notice due to missed payments. So although her body had set partially mummified in the garage for nearly five years, as far as the outside world was concerned, she was still alive.

In his book, The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil speaks of a not-so-far-off point in our future when the ability of computers to process information and replicate human thought and behavior will get to the point that we will question what it means to be conscious, and to be a person.

It seems like the stuff of science fiction, to consider the possibility of people uploading the entirety of their life experience, or even some iteration of what we understand to be their consciousness, to a network of computers. But the fact is that we already are wrestling with these sorts of ethical implications, even today.

Social Media and the Shepherd

M. Pellinni & VLADGRIN/Shutterstock.com

M. Pellinni & VLADGRIN/Shutterstock.com

This year, some have given up Facebook for Lent. Others joined the “National Day of Unplugging” on March 7-8, putting away their phones, tablets, and laptops for a 24-hour digital Sabbath designed to slow people down in an increasingly hectic world.

According to the National Day of Unplugging website, people unplugged in order to dance, sleep, write, play, reflect, relax, reset, tune in, chill out, stay sane, and be more connected.

But wait a second — be more connected? That seems odd, since the promise of social media is that it will strengthen connections. Facebook links us instantly to hundreds of friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors. Twitter enables us to follow people and collect followers of our own. LinkedIn links us to colleagues through an enormous professional network.

Social media seems to be all about connections. But its links have serious limitations.

11 Reasons Why People Love And Use Social Media

One criticism of the digital age is that we are sitting in front of our computer screens, isolated from the world. Even if this is true, social media allows us various levels of social interaction, even from the comforts of our own home. We can meet and interact with people from all over the world, and yes, even build friendships. Many of my strongest friendships are with people I originally met through social networks. Julie Clawson wrote an excellent blog about this over at Sojourners, titled Why N.T.Wright is Wrong About Social Media. The previously mentioned studies from Pew also indicate that:

When Facebook Is the New Daily Moral Reference

Facebook like in a coffee cup, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

Facebook like in a coffee cup, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

Maybe it’s fitting that I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across this very clickable headline from the AP: “Go Figure: Facebook Read Daily More Than Bible.”

Ouch. That one hits pretty close to home. That aimless scrolling through my Twitter feed could just as easily have been time well spent in front of the Good Book. Has my daily devotion to social media really eclipsed my daily devotion to spiritual practice?

After 10 years of operation, Facebook has usage stats that put it in the stratosphere of dedicated readers. Just over half of adults in the U.S. and Canada use Facebook daily. The same cannot be said for the Bible or other religious texts. Really, it’s not even close.

The AP story notes that Facebook “says worldwide it has 757 million daily active users. Of those, 19 percent are in the U.S. and Canada, so that's more than 143 million people checking Facebook daily.”

Compare that to these numbers from the same article about those who read a religious text every day: “A 2006 CBS News poll found 15 percent of U.S. adults read the Bible or other religious texts daily. There are about 267 million adults in the U.S. and Canada. That means about 40 million people reading the Bible daily.”

In a country where 79 percent of adults claim some sort of religious affiliation, less than a quarter of that number statistically reads their religious text daily. Historically the term “People of the Book” has referred to the Jewish people and their reverence for the Torah, their holy law. Perhaps those of us in the U.S. should call ourselves “the people of Facebook.”

Bad religious puns aside, personally, I’ve never been one to read my Bible with much consistency, and certainly not on a daily basis. While I’ve tried my fair share of daily Bible reading programs, plans, and even Bible apps, I’ve yet to develop the habit of daily reading.

'Like If You Love Jesus!' The Gospel According to Facebook

'Like' illustration, Gonzalo Aragon / Shutterstock.com

'Like' illustration, Gonzalo Aragon / Shutterstock.com

Facebook, with its nearly 500 million users, connects us to the world around us and we are able to share everything from vacation pictures to memorial pages for those who have died. The site has moved past its original intent of social networking between friends; businesses, churches, civil groups, clubs, and even TV shows all have a presence on Facebook. Breaking news is reported, shared, liked and commented on, all within the confines of one website. The goal has moved from friendly conversations to specific advertisements and mass information around like issues, causes, and beliefs.

But what has Facebook done for Christianity? Has it helped or hurt the Gospel message? Recently I began to see more and more pictures shared that read “Like if you Love Jesus” or “Keep scrolling if you love the Devil, like if you love God.” These pictures call for Christians around the world to share their faith boldly and proudly on their Facebook page so that all who may grace it will know that they are a follower of Christ.

To be honest, I can’t stand them. 

I Emailed Pastor Rick Warren and There Is No 'If'

So, here is the dilemma. Do I think so highly of myself to think that Warren’s apology and reference to an email is actually about me? That is ridiculous. I know there were others who emailed him. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume Warren is talking about my email, which I re-read. I never say “I am offended.” I had a lot of questions because I wanted to understand. I wanted to hear and open up dialogue because I didn’t understand Warren’s logic, humor, or joke. I really didn’t understand why Warren’s supporters would then try to shut down those who were offended (and I include myself in the camp of those hurt, upset, offended AND distressed) by telling us/me to be more Christian like they themselves were being.

There is no “if.”  I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed, not just because “an” image was posted, but that Warren posted the image of a Red Guard soldier as a joke, because people pointed out the disconcerting nature of posting such an image — and then Warren told us to get over it, alluded to how the self-righteous didn’t get Jesus’ jokes but Jesus’ disciples did, and then erased any proof of his public missteps and his followers’ mean-spirited comments that appeared to go unmoderated.

I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed when fellow Christians are quick to use Matthew 18 publicly to admonish me (and others) to take this issue up privately without recognizing the irony of their actions, when fellow Christians accuse me of playing the race card without trying to understand the race card they can pretend doesn’t exist but still benefit from, when fellow Christians accuse me of having nothing better to do than attack a man of God who has done great things for the Kingdom.

Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Nadia Bolz-Weber

Kardashian family, admedia / Shutterstock.com

Kardashian family, admedia / Shutterstock.com

One odd way that we all keep up with the Kardashians is in the extraordinary effort we put into maintaining our own personal “brand”. The reaction of Khloe to recent allegations of drug addiction against her husband, NBA player Lamar Odom, is a Kardashian case in point. In reporting on this newsworthy event (sarcastic sigh), Huff Post speculated as to why Khloe was continuing with business as usual, posting “booty shots” and making no reference to her husband’s problems. They asked, “Is the 29-year-old trying to avoid the harsh reality that her husband is struggling with drug abuse, or is she simply trying to keep up the family’s brand?”

Posturing like a Kardashian

We can all appreciate that Khloe might need some privacy from prying and judgmental eyes because you don’t have to be a Kardashian to want privacy when things go wrong. Who wants to be judged for our mistakes by gleeful critics and gloating rivals? When we err, we tend to hide our errors from others and all too often, from ourselves. We are as desperate to maintain our “brand” – our self-identities as flawless, perfectly good, failure-free paragons of virtue – as if we were the public face of a multi-million empire.

Twitter and Tragedy: A Revamped American Religious Experience

On my first Patriots’ Day in Boston, I was enjoying lunch with several colleagues when someone rushed into the restaurant: There had been an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Moments later, caravans of ambulances and police cars raced, and the reports of casualties rolled in.

In the hours and days that followed, social media became for me, and many others, a sacred space to share our prayers and words of disbelief.

‘God is the Best Artist’ Takes Off on Social Media

Screenshot of post on Carrie Underwood's Instagram feed. Photo courtesy http://i

Screenshot of post on Carrie Underwood's Instagram feed. Photo courtesy http://instagram.com/.

The notion of God as an artist is hardly new. In the Middle Ages, the concept of a divine artist, or architect, was often invoked. The biblical artists Bezalel and Oholiab are described as being “full of the spirit of God.” In Catholic art, angels often guide St. Luke’s hand when he draws the Virgin.

But when Twitter and Pinterest users take to their smartphones to snap pictures of sunrises and sunsets and attribute those “masterpieces” to God, they are exhibiting a new sort of adoration.

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