By Trent Holden, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
My take on Andrew Zirschky’s book Beyond the Screen is slightly more personal for me since I have recently come from the youth ministry world, having worked as a youth director for over a decade. I have seen the rise of importance of the social-media-world and been a part of it myself. When I was working as a 20 year old youth director of a high school group, youth that were only a few years age gap from me, there were still restrictions on Facebook interactions between high school and college students (since you needed a college or high school e-mail address to sign up for Facebook). At that time, it was an unspoken goal to see how many followers on Facebook you could get, but it was already common to be selective of who you allowed to be your friend. Permissions for what people could see on your profile page were less restrictive too. For instance, if you had a friend of a friend, you were likely able to see most of their pictures and posts. It wasn’t until a large number of parents started friending students on Facebook that privacy settings became a thing to manage. Social media only grew from there in my opinion and has been a monster to manage ever since.
At this point do yourself a favor and play “Selfies” by Nina Nesbitt while you read the rest of this post.
The lyrics perfectly sync up with the problems faced by someone trying to manage the social media monster and why Christians need to help create community on social media rather than promoting networked individualism. Deciding who is ‘in’ and who to ‘unfriend’ and for what reasons, deciding your ratio of ‘followers to likes’ for a particular post, and creating your own content to attract followers are all what feed this monster instead of creating community. The way we use social media drives us to be more networked to others so we can in turn mange those new interactions in the same way.
Zirschky’s goal seems to me to be a charge for church leaders and youth directors to help guide youth into managing this monster of social media, to help students find community through their networked individualism rather than a loose connection of people. In a sense, we need to help create a Christian culture on how to use social media in a way that fits into our ideal of Christian community. I have three ways I think this should be done:
- We use our networked individualism to create pastoral care points in the lives of our network. This is where Zirschky’s idea of “communion” comes into play. Which is a fancy way of saying we need to act more like a community rather than a network. This can be done by being intentional with your interactions, and seeking out people in your network when you are off-line. Personal and quality iterations help create this community.
- We need to show students how humility exists on social media so that it feels less like monster management and more like cuddling puppies. What I mean by this is, we need to help students understand that they don’t need to feel anxious over the number of likes a post gets and take it down if it doesn’t meet their standards—we need to stop measuring our own vanity and use our social networks in different ways to express our individuality. This could be done by helping to create content that is less superficial and has a greater purpose than ourselves. I’m not saying that students need to create selfless content, but it may help to encourage them to join a social media cause that matters to them and begin promoting more noble aspects of social media instead of self-seeking ones.
- Friend someone you don’t like. And not for the purpose of cyber bullying. For the purpose of finding common ground that brings you into community with someone you wouldn’t normally be connected with.
I’ll stop there because I think those are the most important ones. The reality is, we need to change the cultural monster than exists within social media into something that would be more fitting of a Christian community. And we don’t do that by banning students from using social media, we do it by incorporating it into our ministries and challenging students to see their individual networks as a way to be Christian.