Impacting Social Media Landscape

Alvin Toffler in his book ‘Third Wave’ describes three types of societies based on the concept of ‘waves’—each wave pushes the older societies and cultures aside. The first wave is the settled agricultural society which prevailed in much of the world after the Neolithic revolution, which replaced hunter-gatherer culture. The Second Wave is industrial age society. Key aspects of second wave society are the nuclear family, a factory-type education system and the corporation and as such based on, amongst others, mass production, mass distribution, mass recreation, mass entertainment, mass media and weapons of mass destruction and so on.

The Third Wave is the post-industrial society. Toffler says that since the late 1950s most countries have been transitioning from a second wave society into a Third Wave society. He coined many words to describe it and mentions names invented by others, such as the ‘information age’. Key invention of ‘Transmission control protocol’(TCP)/’Internet protocol(IP) by Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn in early 1970s heralded infant years of social networking through Bulletin board system, American on line, CompuServe. Later, ‘world wide web’ was invented by Tim Bernes-Lee. In 1990s, internet boom placed the world in ‘Information superhighway’. The same period witnessed the advent of social networking sites viz. with 57 million accounts and 21st century brought in proliferation of Social Media-Friendster in 2002, LinkedIn and MySpace in 2003, Face Book (FB) and Twitter in 2004/2006 and Google+ in 2007. “Fourth screen’ technology, smart phones, tablets have revolutionised social networking. Today, almost one-third of world’s 6.8 billion people use internet regularly.

FB has 1.5 billion active users. Google+ has 693 million active users whereas Twitter and Linkedin have 554 million and 297 million users respectively. Apart from the above main three pre-dominant social media, photo and video sharing applications, Snapchart and Instagram, garnered 20 billon images since inception in 2010. Tinder boasts of 10 million daily users, each of which swipes for potential partners based on their approximately in relation to the smart phone. Foursquare application users use their smart phone to check-in to various locations in the globe and various matchmaking services. FB now owns popular apps including WhatsApp with 900 million users and its Messenger platform, the second-most popular app ever-behind only FB with 700 million users.

It is startling to know the statistics of the extent of involvement of people at large with social media. One out every seven minutes spent online is on FB. Each day FB users spend 10.5 million minutes (about 20,000 years) on social network excluding mobile devices. Every minute of every day, 684478 pieces of content are shared on FB; Instagram users share 3600 new photos; Foursquare users perform 2083 check-in. 58 million tweets per day, 9100 happen every second. Average pinterest users spend 98 minutes per month on the site; 14.2 minute per visit. Gender-wise engagement in social media is as follows: FB-60%Female/40% Male, Twitter-60% Female/40% Male, Pinterest-79% Female, 21% Male, Google+ 29% Female/ 71% Male and LinkedIn- 55% Female/45% Male. Age group 55-64 age bracket is the fastest growing demographic group with 79% growth rate since 2012. As per recent news report, one billion people from around the world logged on to FB on a single day on 24th August 2015.

Social media have been extensively used in secular world for mobilising huge gathering for protest, forming opinions among groups, spreading messages or rumours for various purposes, circulating images or videos for attracting or distracting the public in general, connecting with family and friends, creating an open and connected world, providing opportunity and a voice for everyone in the community. Social media have been utilised to spread the gospel to the unreached, especially in forbidden areas. Recently video on good news was transmitted through social media to reach out the people around the globe. It is a powerful tool for communicating the truths of God and His word. Many post Bible study, Bible verses and quotations in the media for encouraging different groups and friends.

Social media have been used, abused, misused and overused. Social media have slowly and stealthily crept into time and space of everyone’s life. It has become integral part of modern life. It is ubiquitous. Now with smart phone one can use social media in the car, at a meeting, in class and at church. It has invaded into our lives with or without our knowledge and is here to stay in the ages to come. Versatile potentiality of the social media is being explored from time to time to make it effective and user friendly. Social media in itself is considered morally neutral-neither inherently good nor bad. But the fact that social media controls our time and space has thrown open many questions for the believers. Is constant using social media good for us? Will it be allowed to control our lives? To what extent believers should be engaged with social media? There is no direct reference or answers in the Word of God to all such questions. But the principles of walking in the footsteps of our Master as written in the Bible may be followed to understand our engagement with the social media. A few principles are narrated below for guidance. These can be used as seven buttons for impacting the sweeping wave of social media.

Principle-One: Driven by God given purpose, not by social media.”… Do everything for the glory of God.”(I Corinthians 10:31). We are created to glorify God (Isa 43: 7). We need to guard ourselves whether we are seeking to glorify God through the social media. Our indulgence in media should not stray us away from God given purposes in our lives. Otherwise we will quickly fall away from our calling and what He wants us to be. Let not social media drive our lives. When we are driven by God given purpose, we can impact social networks for His glory.

Principle-Two: To control but not to be controlled. “All things are lawful for me but not everything is beneficial” (I Cor. 6:12). We have been set free not to become slave to the beeping of our smart phones or computers for always checking for notifications from social media. It may be a useful servant but let us not allow it to be a master over activities of our lives. Whenever, we’ve extra minutes a day, we are prone to the habit of pulling out phone or laptop to check social media instead of cultivating practice of reading scriptures or praying (I Thess. 5: 17). Let not beep control me and you, rather rein it with the Word of God and biblical thoughts.

Principle-Three: To cultivate discipline of renewing mind. God has given each one of us equally 24 hours a day with the advice of redeeming the time (Eph.5:16). More often we decide to check FB or Pinterest for 5-10 minutes but lured to stay on for an hour or more. Some social media act as a black hole sucking our time and attention leading to numbing our mind ineffective. On the other hand God can use little moments we give to Him throughout the day to grow us. This includes time on social media by using FB or Twitter stream to grow in faith by following people and organisation that honour God. It’s of very limited importance to read every posting but to stop and read bits of scripture posted in the media will build and sustain us spiritually. Let’s cultivate discipline of utilising the social media for renewing our mind in God’s truths (Rom 12:2) and motivate our network friends to develop discipline of renewing their mind.

Principle-Four: To Influence but not to be influenced. Social media provide unique opportunity to let our light shine before others and use it as a ministry (Matt. 5:16). We are here to influence others and reflect Christ through what we write and post in the media but not to be influenced by a host of sinful behaviours viz. bullying, rekindling unhealthy relationship, sexual perversion and other worldly regressive ideas. Let God reveal sin and idols that may exist in our engagement with social media and grant us grace and power to repent and be the salt of the earth and light in this world. It may mean removing friends or changing persons who we follow. Godly wisdom is required to be exercised to snap cords of bad company that corrupt our minds and bodies.

Principle-Five: To be content, not to contend: Social media has triggered unhealthy competition and consumerism adding fire to the fuel of covetousness and insecurity as we often tend to compare ourselves with others. Never-satisfying and ever-grabbing attitude has distorted our value system and as such, refrain us to follow what God values. Contentment eludes us as we keep on contending with others. Secret of contentment is not having everything what we want but being thankful and satisfied with what we have. A discontent heart is never satisfied but has a continual lust for more (Eph. 4:19). Paul had learnt the secret of contentment in any and every circumstance whether he was satisfied or hungry, had plenty or nothing. He was able to do all things through the One who strengthened him (Phil. 4: 11-13). Let us spread the message “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Tim 6:6).

Principle-Six: To build up, not pull down. Only blessings, not both blessing and cursing, ought to proceed from our mouths (James 3:10). Social media are rampant with gossip, complaints, unprofitable arguments and pessimism. Topic or situation may tempt us to speak negatively. Before posting in the media let us recall prayer of the Psalmist “My words and thoughts may be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my sheltering rock and my redeemer” (Psa19:14) and exhortation of Paul to the Philippians “Do everything without grumbling or arguing so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world.” (Phil2:14 &15). Words of life not death, optimism not pessimism, flow through our thoughts and words of communication in the media. God has given us the tongue of the learned…….. to speak a word in season to the weary (Isa. 50:4). Let us be channel of blessings to the media users fraught with problems and anxieties and pessimism. As children of God, let us invest time and energy into something useful and profitable.

Principle-Seven: Value reality and real-life relationships. One lie social media induces us to believe that we only have value if people follow us or like our comments/photos. It tends us to boost our egos and we feel good about ourselves. If one’s mood depends on numbers of ‘likes’ or ‘re-tweets’ his status or photos receive that means he cares too much about the approval of men. There may be some benefits of establishing, following and developing relationship on social network, but he will be building his mood and self-esteem on shaky foundation of virtual world. It’s a dangerous trap. Instead of treasuring up worldly things like Twitter followers or FB friends, one needs to strive for storing-up treasures in heaven that will be of eternal value.

That will also help him to escape people pleasing trap that is so common on social network. Social media act as a mask hiding true identity and charming others to look at us differently than what we really are. Self-exaltation will ultimately lead us to frustration and disappointments and bring dishonour to God. Christians should be aware of the danger of narcissism inherent in self-orientated sites.“Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10). A young man posting suicide note in social media as per the news report leads to the conclusion that he may be suffering from frustration, alienation from the real world or disillusionment as he is devoid of warmth of human touch. Probably he could not reconcile his virtual image with his own real self. Real-life relationships are more valuable than virtual social media interactions. Instead of ‘like’, ‘poke’, cultivating relationships with social network friends by having meaningful conversation, get-together and face-to-face interactions will help us to demonstrate our love for the neighbours (Matt. 22:39) and therefore, worth-while.

Social media can be a great gateway to reach out the confused world. But there is rising complaints against Christian posts and move to stop them. In that event social media will be attempting to stop the Truth and spread untruths. Let us hope to have freedom to continue engaging this ubiquitous media for communicating good news in the days to come and leave an indelible imprint in the social media landscape.

Dr. Nanda Dulal

Dr. Nanda Dulal
The author is presently working as Group Director (Administration) in a central Government Department. He resides in Bangalore with his wife Geetanjali and daughter Bonita. He and his wife are involved with UESI ministry from their student days.

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