The Purpose of Life

Paul Rutherford looks at the purpose of life from his Christian perspective as well as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Hollywood.

On a warm day recently I visited my alma mater. And between the hallowed halls of old, a chance encounter reconnected me with an old friend. Eager for news, she asked me what I’d done since graduating, and my easy reply included mission work and how much I enjoy it. She smiled and said, “That’s great, as long as you’re happy.” Have you had this type of conversation before?

Download the PodcastIf you have, then perhaps you also understand my consternation at my friend’s response. I don’t do mission work to be happy. I do it to honor and please the Lord Jesus Christ. On some level I felt misunderstood. Yet, her response indicates, I think, a prominent view held in our culture that happiness is what really matters. As far as her response is concerned, I could just as well have taken a job at a coffee shop, so long as I was happy.

Her response, while not uncommon, demonstrates a prevailing value in our culture today—pluralism. Mankind’s ultimate purpose can be attained through multiple acceptable means, be they religion, economics, or otherwise.

You might be saying to yourself, “How did you get from your friend’s comment about your happiness to mankind’s ultimate purpose?” Good question. I skipped a few steps. When my friend bases her approval of what others do on their happiness, that means that what they do to be happy matters less than the fact that they are happy. Being happy then becomes the primary purpose or aim in life. You see? Happiness becomes a sort of general unit of measure for life’s success. Since I am happy in life, I received my friend’s stamp of approval.

But what is our ultimate purpose? Isn’t that the million dollar question! And it’s precisely the question I want to explore in this article. The answer you give will depend on your perspective. So I’ll consider several different perspectives, or worldviews, including my own, Christianity. Contrary to current thinking, the fact that there are different perspectives which result in differing meanings to life does not mean that all perspectives are equally true or even valid. Truth is found in Scripture so that’s where we look to discover the true meaning of life.

As a Christian, I believe the ultimate purpose in life is salvation; that is, after I die I want to be with God for eternity.

“Being with God for eternity is great,” you might say. “But how does one do that?” That’s a great question. Certainly not all Christians will state it the same way, but the answer is believing in Jesus Christ of Nazareth as God who died for your sins and rose again to new life (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-4). A Christian living out this principle patterns his life and relationships after Jesus Christ—serving, loving, and teaching.

Christianity is unmistakably present in America, but obviously this isn’t the case in every culture. Next we’ll consider mankind’s purpose according to a very different worldview closer to home than you might think: Buddhism.

Buddhism

I was at a diner last week grabbing a late night burger with my friend from Bible study, and I mentioned a desire to start a new workout regimen. He handed me a business card for a place doing some new form of yoga, apparently really good for you.

Is it me, or does yoga seem to be increasing in currency among Christians as just one more way to work out?

It’s totally fine for Christians to practice yoga as physical exercise, isn’t it? The answer is too complex to say here, but the sheer fact that we pose the question underscores the unmistakable impression yoga has made on American culture.

What if I did practice yoga? What if I were a practicing Buddhist? Would that make a difference anyway? I think so.

To ask a larger question, what is our ultimate purpose? Once again, the answer depends upon your perspective. For the yoga-practicing Buddhist, the answer is nothing. Literally. The ultimate purpose for life is to cease to exist, or what is called nirvana.

Traditionally understood to be from India, yoga is a discipline of the mind and the body, and is actively practiced today by both Buddhists and Hindus.{1} But increasingly, Americans have jettisoned the spiritual disciplines of yoga, ignoring its spiritual aspects, in favor of the sheerly physical, often in lieu of the morning jog.

Now, ceasing to exist, or nirvana, may seem more like an anti-purpose for life because it is defined by not living rather than that for which one lives. Nevertheless, much thought and action is involved in this monumental goal of nirvana.

One such step in attaining nirvana is realizing the second of the Four Noble Truths: all frustration in life arises from desire. Did that make your head spin? It makes mine spin. Simply put, frustration is an unmet expectation or desire, so frustration’s origin then, is desire.

Life is filled with desires—food, shelter, or clothing may be the first to come to mind—but there are a myriad of others from cars, to jewelry, technology, even relationships.

Follow me here. Since desire leads to frustration, the best way to eliminate frustration is to eliminate desire. This is precisely the path to nirvana, the elimination of desire. Therefore, we must cease to exist in order to free ourselves from this frustration or suffering.

Do you see the difference in life’s purpose? The ultimate purpose in life for the Christian is to be with God for eternity, but for a Buddhist it’s to cease to exist. Very different indeed.

Hinduism

Fifty singers gather on a Sunday morning in Queens. The director groups them together and gives them one final word of instruction before they begin. Listeners don’t entirely fall silent. Priests in the background continue to laugh among themselves, as the choir begins, “Om! Ganesha Sharanam!”

Notice something different about this picture? It may not fit your expectations. That’s because this choir isn’t singing praise to Jesus Christ; they aren’t even in a church. Rather they’re Hindus worshipping in their New York temple.

Surprised? So were many of the devotees gathered that Sunday morning in late August 2009, the New York Times reported.{2} Most of the faithful Hindus worshipping there for years had never before heard a Hindu choir. It is a mix of both Hindu and Christian traditions.

This story testifies to the strange and wonderful effects of very different religions meeting in a single culture, and undoubtedly demonstrates the pervasiveness of Hinduism in American culture today.

Choirs seem so commonplace in America. How can a Hindu, like those mentioned earlier, have never heard one in his own religion before? The answer lies in the difference between Hindu and Christian worship.

Hindu worship tends to be much more individualistic. And while predominantly occurring at a temple rather than at one’s home, Hindu worship is more focused on prayers and rituals rather than on an assembly or gathering as a Christian understands a church service.

Take a step back. Ask a larger question. Why does the Hindu go to temple? What’s his motivation? The answer? To appease a myriad of gods in hopes of being reincarnated in the next life as a higher life form. If you’re a human being listening to this right now, then you’ve already had thousands of good lifetimes prior, combined to bring you to your current form.

To be fair, Hinduism is a huge religion with over one billion practitioners, spanning thousands of years, and existing in multiple different cultures. Some scholars believe it is the oldest recorded religion. So to ascribe the Hindu’s motivation as wanting to please the gods is a drastic over-simplification, but is nonetheless true for many if not most Hindus.

You see, for the Hindu the world exists eternally. People die and are reborn all the time in a never-ending cycle. The ultimate purpose for life, then, is to be freed from the never-ending cycle of rebirth and become one with Brahma, or the ultimate singularity of the universe. This release is called moksha. It’s achieved by offering sacrifices to the gods, including prayers, and right living.

Does this sound like your life? If not, you’re probably not Hindu. This further underscores the fact that all religions at their core may not all be the same.

Islam

“Boycott Facebook” reads the placard of an Islamist protestor in Karachi.

Late spring 2010 in Pakistan, a Facebook page declares, “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” A Pakistani high court deems the material highly offensive, and the entire Facebook website was shut down within its borders as a result, the Wall Street Journal reports.{3}

Ban Facebook! You may find yourself asking, why would anyone ever do that? What about rights to free speech, or exercise of religion? Doesn’t a Facebook ban deny people just such rights? Well, under a government far less liberal in doling out these liberties, claiming rights quickly makes a sticky situation.

But the short answer to the motivation for banning Facebook is because they’re Muslim, and as such they regard as sacred Mohammed, their most famed prophet. He’s so sacred, in fact, that to depict him in a portrait is a kind of blasphemy. Hence art from Muslim cultures is either calligraphy or geometric (think mosaics).

There is more going on here beneath the surface, leading an entire country to ban Facebook. It’s not just reverence for a significant religio-cultural phenomenon, or even devotion to their faith. No, it goes deeper than that. Muslims have a different perspective from most Westerners on how this world operates at its most fundamental level.

For the Muslim there is one God, Allah. He is the supreme unquestioned creator and Lord of the universe who revealed his intentions for mankind through his prophet Mohammed. Reverence for Allah is paramount, even above the value of the individual. This leads Muslims to value obedience to Allah over freedoms of the individual. In this case obedience is not portraying Mohammed.

You may respond by posing once again the previous question: what about a man’s right to speech or religion? But for the Muslim, you’re simply asking the wrong question. A better question the Muslim would ask is, what about putting Mohammed in his proper place, and by extension obeying Allah?

The ultimate purpose in life for a Muslim is to obey Allah and to be rewarded after life by entering paradise. Unlike Christians, Muslims do not believe mankind is sinful and in need of a savior, but only needs to perform the right actions, of which we are certainly capable. While Muslims hope for the mercy of Allah, the right to enter paradise is a result of obedience, not his grace. So central is this unmitigated obedience to Muslims, that many give their lives to defend Allah and their way of life.

Rights to free speech aside, when given the choice between a Facebook ban and martyrdom, suddenly Facebook deprivation doesn’t seem so bad.

Hollywood

An honest working man returns home from a rough day at the office. He’s a struggling ad specialist for a sports magazine. He’s in his mid-thirties, single, and completely eligible. But the right woman just hasn’t come along. He’s a handsome, brown-haired man with kind blue eyes and a knack for making you want to trust him when he flashes you his easy smile. We long for him to find satisfaction in someone as we trace the story of his search.

One night he meets a dashing young lady. Our hearts jump for him. A relationship ensues and they grow closer. One night in desperation to express his deepest and truest feelings for the gal, he confesses, “You complete me.” Perhaps now you realize I’m describing the story from Hollywood’s hit 1996 film, Jerry Maguire.

We’ve been considering the ultimate purpose of man from different perspectives, and, with an ever-increasing number of Americans considering themselves not religious, I’ve gone to a secular source for consideration: Hollywood.

Jerry Maguire’s famous confession, “You complete me,” is a wonderful illustration of mankind’s ultimate purpose being himself, or what is called humanism. Maguire realizes something is missing in his life. He longs for satisfaction, for joy, for love, but his seeming inability to find it causes him pain. We realize that the world in which we live is broken and imperfect, and who would disagree?

Maguire finds in this woman, in this relationship, the completion of himself. He looks to her to be what he cannot be himself. In so doing, he creates out of her a savior. He looks to her to save him from his misery of singleness and heartache. He needs her in order to be whole himself.

This story is a clear demonstration of mankind looking to himself to be his ultimate purpose. I am generalizing a bit to choose words from a single film, but many messages from Hollywood films don’t contradict this theme. We want to be able to save ourselves. Isn’t that the American ideal: pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps?

Beware what Hollywood would have us believe, that our ultimate purpose is ourselves, and only we can save ourselves. Hollywood would have us believe that life can be found in relationships, people, or even ourselves. It’s a lie. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Only Jesus can save mankind. Serving Him is the only purpose that will bring satisfaction and joy in life, only in Him alone.

“What is my ultimate purpose?” That’s the question. The answers we’ve considered from different perspectives range from happiness to appeasing the gods. Why does it matter? Because your ultimate purpose determines how you live, and while we may all be alike, since we are all human, when it comes to what really matters in life, we are very different indeed.

Notes
1. “Yoga,” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga (accessed May 6, 2010).
2. Jonathan Allen, The New York Times online, nyti.ms/hJUJ8b (accessed May 20, 2010).
3. Tom Wright, “Pakistan Maintains Facebook Ban,” The Wall Street Journal online, on.wsj.com/dJiwI6 (accessed May 20, 2010).

© 2011 Probe Ministries


Social Media

Kerby Anderson assesses how social media’s influence is changing our brains and the way we think. He also provides an overview of censorship within social media.

The influence of social media in our society has increased dramatically in the last decade. This leads to two very important questions. First, how are the various forms of social media and these digital devices affecting us? Second, should we respond to the documented examples of censorship on these social media platforms?

Social Media Influence

More than a decade ago, social scientists and social commentators expressed concern about how the Internet in general and social media in particular was influencing us. Nicholas Carr raised this question in an Atlantic article entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” He observed that “Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory.” He believed this came from using the Internet and searching the web with Google.

He later went on to write a book with the arresting title, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. He surveyed brain research that helped to explain why we don’t read as much and why it is so hard to concentrate. The Internet and social media are retraining our brains. He says, “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

A developmental psychologist at Tufts University put it this way. “We are not only what we read. We are how we read.” The style of reading on the Internet puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above other factors. Put simply, it has changed the way we read and acquire information.

You might say that would only be true for the younger generation. Older people are set in their ways. The Internet could not possibly change the way the brains of older people download information. Not true. The 100 billion neurons inside our skulls can break connections and form others. A neuroscientist at George Mason University says: “The brain has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”

The proliferation of social media has also begun to shorten our time of concentration. Steven Kotler made this case in his Psychology Today blog, “How Twitter Makes You Stupid.” He once asked the author of the best-selling book why he called it the “8 Minute Meditation.” The author told him that eight minutes was the length of time of an average segment of television. He reasoned that “most of us already know exactly how to pay attention for eight minutes.”

Steven Kotler argues that Twitter was reducing the time of concentration to 140 words (back when that was the word limit). He showed how Twitter was constantly tuning “the brain to reading and comprehending information 140 characters at a time.” He concluded that “[I]f you take a Twitter-addicted teen and give them a reading comprehension test, their comprehension levels will plunge once they pass the 140 word mark.”

Not only is there a problem with concentration; there is a problem with distraction. A study at the University of Illinois found that if an interruption takes place at a natural breakpoint, then the mental disruption is less. If it came at a less opportune time, the user experienced the “where was I?” brain lock.

Another problem is what is called “continuous partial attention.” People who use mobile devices often use their devices while they should be paying attention to something else. Psychologists tell us that we really aren’t multitasking, but rather engage in rapid-fire switching of attention among tasks. It is inevitable they are going to miss key information if part of their focus is on their digital devices.

There is also the concern that social media and digital devices are reducing our creativity. Turning on a digital device and checking social media when you are “doing nothing” replaces what we used to do in the days before these devices were invented. Back then, we called it “daydreaming.” That is when the brain often connects unrelated facts and thoughts. You have probably had some of your most creative ideas while shaving, putting on makeup, or driving. That is when your brain can be creative. Checking e-mail and social media sites reduces daydreaming.

These new media platforms present a challenge to us as Christians. As we use these new forms of media, we should always be aware of their influence on us. They can easily conform us to the world (Romans 12:2). Therefore, we should make sure that we are not taken captive (Colossians 2:8) by the false philosophies of the world.

Christians should strive to apply the principle set forth in Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

A wise Christian will use discernment when approaching the various social media platforms. They provide lots of information and connect us with people around the world. But we should also guard against the worldly influence that is also promoted on many of these platforms.

Social Media Censorship

Big Tech companies have been censoring content for many years. Many years ago, the National Religious Broadcasters began monitoring censorship on these social media platforms through their John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech. Even back then, their report concluded that “The free speech liberty of citizens who use the Internet is nearing a crisis point.”

A recent Senate hearing provided lots of additional examples. Senator Marsha Blackburn asked why her pro-life ad was pulled during the 2018 campaign because Twitter deemed it “inflammatory.” It is worth noting that she did receive an apology from the executive who added that they made a “mistake on your ad.” Senator Ted Cruz pointed to a Susan B. Anthony List ad that was banned. It had a picture of Mother Teresa with her quote: “Abortion is profoundly anti-woman.” At the top of the poster in the committee room was the word: CENSORED.

A number of commentators (Laura Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones) have been banned from Facebook and Instagram. Steven Crowder’s YouTube channel has been demonetized. Nearly two-dozen PragerU videos have been slapped with a restricted label on YouTube. The list goes on and on.

Big tech does control much of the media world. Google controls 90% of worldwide search, 75% of smartphone operating systems, 67% of desktop browser, and 37% of digital advertising. Add to this other platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube that also have a profound influence. At the Senate hearing, Ted Cruz noted that these big tech companies “are larger and more powerful than Standard Oil was when it was broken up” and “larger and more powerful than AT&T when it was broken up.” But does that mean government should get involved?

Those who are advocating government intervention make the case that “platform access is a civil right.” The argument is that private companies are actually violating the civil rights of Americans in the same way that preventing someone to speak in a public park would be a violation. They argue that the big tech companies are a monopoly. And they call for federal and state regulation of these social media platforms arguing that the Supreme Court has argued in the past that government cannot restrict your access to the public square.

The problem with that argument is two-fold. First, these big tech companies are private companies not the government. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube platforms are private property and not the public square. We may not always like what they do, but they are privately owned technology companies and not the federal government, which is governed by the First Amendment.

Second, these companies are protected by a section of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that keeps them from being exposed to potentially crippling liability for something posted on their platform. Some politicians have called for changing that legal protection, but Congress seems unlikely to do anything like that in the near future.

Many conservatives are wary of having the government get involved in patrolling social media platforms. They remind us of the 1949 FCC Fairness Doctrine. This regulation was supposed to provide an opportunity for media outlets to provide content that was fair, honest, and balanced. Talk radio and other forms of media exploded once the Fairness Doctrine was removed. In most cases, government regulation of the media hurt conservative voices more than helped them.

Even if government were to regulate content on social media platforms, it is worth mentioning that the major tech companies would probably have lots of influence. Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg would have a place at the table as government drafted various media regulations. It is likely that company and many others might even help craft regulations that would protect them from future competitors. We have seen this picture before in other instances when government intervened.

Some have even suggested that we close our social media accounts. If you don’t like the way the New York Times or the Washington Post reports stories or provides commentary from people on your side, you don’t have to subscribe to those newspapers. If you don’t like how MSNBC or Fox News covers stories, you don’t have to tune to that TV network. Media outlets are already choosing what to print or broadcast. Social media platforms are no different.

Sam Sweeney has this advice: “Delete your Facebook, yesterday. Don’t get your news from Twitter. The issues of free speech on social media will no longer matter to you. They don’t matter to me. I’ve made a decision not to subjugate myself to the whims of our new overloads.”

I think most of us want to keep our social media accounts because of the benefit we receive. But I also realize that in light of what we have discussed in this article, many will decide to follow his advice and drop one or more of these social media accounts. We leave that decision to you.

Additional Resources

Kerby Anderson, Arts, Media, and Culture (Cambridge, OH: Christian House Publishing, 2016).

Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Atlantic, July/August 2008.

David French, “Social-Media Censorship is the Product of Culture and Commerce,” National Review, 6 June 2019.

Stephen Kotler, “How Twitter Makes Your Stupid,” Psychology Today, 15 May 2009.

Jessica Melugin, “Conservative who want Facebook, other social media regulated should think twice,” Foxnews.com, 11 June 2019.

Sam Sweeney, “Close Your Social-Media Accounts,” National Review, 10 June 2019.

©2019 Kerby Anderson


Social Media, You and Your Family

Arts, Media and Culture bookProbe Ministries hosted a presentation by Kerby Anderson on “Social Media, You and Your Family” on October 16, 2018 at the Hope Center in Plano, Texas. All attendees received a free copy of the new book Arts, Media, and Culture: A Biblical Point of View. (You can order it from our online store here.)

You can download a recording of Kerby’s message here.

We are all the beneficiaries of the information on the Internet. But scientists have also been able to document that our digital devices and social media are altering the way we think and altering our ability to concentrate.

As one psychologist at Tufts University explains, “We are not only what we read. We are how we read.” The style of reading on the Internet is different and profoundly changing the way we read and acquire information. Our brains are able to reprogram themselves on the fly through a process called “neuroplasticity.”

There is a crucial need for Christians to evaluate the impact of media in their lives. We need to develop discernment and pass those biblical principles to our children and grandchildren.

The new media represents an even greater threat to our discernment processes and can easily conform us to the world (Romans 12:2). Media is powerful tool to conform us to group think and thus to a secular worldview taking us captive to the false philosophies of the world (Colossians 2:8).

Let’s look at how we can harness social media to use for good while, at the same time, protecting ourselves and our children from potentially harmful effects.


Out of the Abundance of the Heart…Flows Road Rage. And Other Stuff.

In this morning’s traffic, my husband apparently violated one of the most important unwritten rules of the road: he changed lanes into the very spot that another driver intended to move into. Suddenly this large pickup truck zoomed up alongside us just so he could dangerously cut us off, then slammed on his brakes. To teach us a lesson, I suppose: Don’t you dare get in my way! I’m the most important person on the road! A few minutes later—from a safe distance—we watched him tailgate the person in front of him. He was clearly an angry and aggressively hostile driver.

We did not have to wonder what was in his heart. Lots of anger, lots of entitlement, lots of pride.

One of the most insightful observations Jesus ever made was when He said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) Whatever fills the heart is what is going to spill out of the mouth. But it goes far beyond that.

It’s our reactions, more than our actions, that demonstrate what’s really in our hearts. When people fire off emails or Facebook comments or Twitter blasts without thinking, it reveals what’s in their hearts. When people leave scathing comments on a blog they disagreed with, dumping their thoughts and hitting “submit” without further thought, they are broadcasting what’s in their hearts. When upset people send hurtful, insulting texts because they’re “just being honest,” they are showing that they are people who honestly don’t have good hearts.

Have you ever been in a public place where “F bombs” fill the air like heavy pollution? The hearts generating such vulgarity and complete disregard for the sensibilities of those within earshot are full of vulgarity and thoughtlessness. That’s why it flows so easily out of their mouths.

When I was in Africa, my beautiful and wise Rwandan interpreter told me, “We have an African saying—always believe a drunk man.” I laughed at the sheer wisdom of that; after all, alcohol removes not only inhibitions but also filters. When a well-known celebrity’s racist rant was recorded during his arrest for drunk driving, his public apology included that he had “said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable.” Well, according to his Creator, what came out of his mouth was a painfully accurate display of what he actually does believe, despicable as it may be.

So what do we do with this connection between the heart and what flows out of it?

I think it’s wise to see the ugliness of road rage, F bombs, angry and unkind comments and texts, and unloving rants like red lights on the dash board of our car. It means something is wrong under the hood. It means we need to invite the Lord to shine His light of truth on what’s in our heart and show us where we need to submit to His right to be Lord of every square inch of it. It means we need to confess as sin anything that is not honoring to Christ and to other people, and ask Him to change that in us so we look like Him.

Because the abundance of a heart filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control is going to flow out with words and actions others will actually want to be around.

And they’re much better to share the roads with!


The Church and the Social Media Revolution

Dr. Lawrence Terlizzese examines social media’s massive communication shift, with insights for the church. 

What is Social Media?

Any media that uses two-way communication as opposed to one-way communication is social media rather than mass media, such as TV, radio, and print which deliver a message to a mass audience. Mass media is not personal like the telephone, or letter writing; it is directed to the crowd or to a particular niche in the crowd that does not allow for the audience to talk back, with some exceptions. Mass media is not social because it does not permit a conversation with its audience. Social media, such as social websites like Facebook, Twitter, and the new Youtoo Social TV website, allows for dialogue and two-way communication between speaker and audience. It is dialogue rather than monologue. Social media use is not limited to just the popular websites. Any form of electronic communication involving computers and cell phones is part of the social media revolution because these technologies offer the individual the ability to respond.

Download the PodcastIt is estimated that one-third of the world is now connected to the internet. If you have an email address you are involved in social media. This sizeable amount constitutes a revolution in communication because it changes the way we communicate and it changes what we communicate. In calling social media a revolution we simply mean this is a new way of communicating. It does not mean mass media will be abolished. Media, along with most technological progress, operates in a layering system where a new layer or technology builds on the old one rather than abolishing it. Mass media begins with the printing press. The telephone, radio, and TV come later. Television remains the most prominent mass medium; while the printed word has not disappeared, it is certainly not as central as it was in the nineteenth century. The computer adds another layer to our media and brings them all together. It will overshadow them all, but not abolish them.

With about a third of the actual world online or engaged in social media, it is necessary that the church, which is in the business of communication, makes sure its message is accurately represented there. But the task is not as easy as starting a new profile page since there are certain problems that must be addressed as we communicate.

The Medium Is the Message

Close to 2,247,000,000 people use social media worldwide. This is a remarkable change in just a few years and easily qualifies as a new way of communicating, unprecedented in the history of the world. It is a revolution because it changes the way we communicate from face-to-face individual contact to an electronic mediation with certain advantages and disadvantages.

We have all heard the saying, “the medium is the message.”{1} This means the way we say something is as important as what we say, or that the medium affects the content of what is said. Preaching is not unaffected by this principle. Simply because someone preaches the word of God does not mean immunity to the potential negative aspects of his chosen medium just as with radio, TV, and the internet. For example, radio and TV are effective in reaching a mass audience, but this usually must come at the expense of the quality of the message; it must be toned down to fit these media. Any subject with many ideas and complex logic may work in a book format but not on TV. Telephones put you in touch with a disembodied voice, superior to not talking or letter writing, but still not as good as actually talking to someone in person. Anyone involved with persuasion in business deals where you absolutely must communicate a convincing point knows the importance of body language, tone of voice, eye contact, appearance, and attitude—all conveyed by personal presence but lost over the phone. The phone itself shapes what you say by how it is said. It reduces communication from all five senses to one: hearing. The results are predictable: the phone reduces communication compared to actually being there.

A basic law of media says the wider the audience the less substantive a message simply because it must appeal to the common denominator in the general audience. The more people you want to reach, the less of a message you will have, which means keep it simple when it comes to a general audience so the majority of people can understand it. This is the drawback of instant and mass communication. We sacrifice quality of thought and depth of analysis for instant access to a mass audience and for immediate applicability of a general principle. In other words, we are telling people what to do without reflection, which is time consuming, slow, and simply awkward. Analysis is meant for the personal level, and mass communication is not personal. The reductionist trend in media can be circumvented to some extent through niche audiences which many social media sites actually represent. This is a fair reflection of actual communities. What is society but the collection of smaller groups put into a whole?

Disembodiment

Social media represents a disembodied form of community. This of course is the nature of long distance relationships and communication. The reduction of knowledge to its simplest forms brings with it the sense that knowledge or community is simply information. The gospel can be communicated as information but it is more than that. The same is true with traditional forms of preaching, books, or even TV. We know after all has been said there still remains a side of the gospel that must be experienced or encountered in real people. The gospel must be embodied and not simply read about or talked about. This was the gist of Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians: “you are a letter of Christ . . . written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:3-4). We might as well say written not electronically on the transient screen with flickering pixels, but in flesh and blood and in one-to-one encounters with friends, family, and neighbors. Media, as good as it is, cannot substitute for personal experience of God and fellowship with others. This brings the idea of an online community, church or school into question. There is no doubt that people communicate effectively this way, even on Facebook, and they can learn through this medium just like any traditional means, but there is a doubt as to how qualitative one’s learning or one’s community will be if there is no personal encounter. Can long lasting bonds and relationships form strictly through electronic means?

Social media is excellent at giving you a wide audience just like TV and radio and even meeting new people, but it is not a replacement for face-to-face contact. Media technology may best be seen as an excellent supplement to relationships and community, but not a replacement. It can be used to stay in touch and keep people connected, but in cannot ultimately replace our community and social network of actual people. I think the goal of an online church should be to get people out from behind a computer and into contact and fellowship with others. Social media can facilitate friendship, but it cannot replace it. We are warm-blooded creatures and need other warm-blooded people to have community, something a computer screen cannot provide. Social media serves as a supplement to community, not a substitute!

Social Media and Privacy

What happens in Vegas stays on Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. Privacy is dead. The computer killed it, and no one cares. Every step forward in technological progress has a price to pay. We have moved forward in creating social media which enables us to communicate with a wider audience, but society has paid a terrible price with the loss of privacy. The computer remembers everything. This reality should cause some pause and reflection on what we say simply because it can be potentially recalled and even used against us. Employers routinely check Facebook pages of potential employees. Creditors use Facebook to collect debts. The police use Facebook to find people and build cases against them. We think of social media as fun and games, much like a video game, when in fact it is much more serious. All social media communication such as email or texting exists in a nether world between an illusion of privacy and the potential public access by everyone. The user falsely assumes his message is private without realizing it may be available to anyone. Future generations will archive and access all that we say today.

Even more seriously, the NSA is currently building a supercomputer called the Utah Data Center scheduled to go online in 2013 that will monitor all your digital actions including email, cell phone calls, even Google searches.{2} It will be able to track all your purchases electronically. Whatever you do digitally will be available for scrutiny by the government. I know you wanted to hear how great social media is for communicating, evangelism, and so forth, and it is great, but there are pitfalls and dangers that we must also confront. Let’s not get so swept up with our enthusiasm for social media that we stick our head in the sand when it comes to the dangers. This is the greatest problem I see Christians make when they analyze technology. They see only the advantages and positive sides of their technological involvement and refuse to consider what may go wrong. It will not create a damper to analyze the potential problems of our technology use, rather it will make us sober-minded as we are commanded to be (1 Peter 1:13, 4:7 and 5:8).

Dialogue vs. Monologue

Social media does offer a great advantage over the traditional means of mass communication that the church has used in print, TV, and radio. Social media represents a democratization of media including TV. Mass media is traditionally one-sided communication or monologue where one powerful voice does all the speaking, especially on TV. Social media allows for multiple voices to be heard at once and in contrast with each other, allowing for a dialogue and conversation as opposed to the pedagogy of monologue. This is significant because, as we are told by media experts like Marshall McLuhan and Jacques Ellul, propaganda is usually the result of only one voice being permitted in a discussion or the absence of dialogue, much like in a commercial where only one view point is promoted. McLuhan notes the importance of dialogue with media: “The environment as a processor of information is propaganda. Propaganda ends where dialogue begins. You must talk to the media, not to the programmer. To talk to the programmer is like complaining to a hot dog vendor at a ballpark about how badly your favorite team is playing.”{3}

Really, for the first time in history does the general public have a chance to talk back to knowledge brokers and those creating information and to those creating faith. A few tell the many what to think through mass media; through social media an individual tells the mass what he thinks. Social media offers a multitude of voices on all topics. It may appear chaotic and directionless at times, and at other times there appears incisive wisdom. Social media reflects the turmoil and sanity of its users. Social media is many things, but unlike its big brother mass media, social media is not propaganda. The church needs to soberly join this conversation.

Notes

1. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw Hill, 1964).

2. James Bamford, “The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (watch what you say)” in Wired March 17, 2012.

3. Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects (New York: Bantam, 1967, 142); Jaques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (New York: Vintage, 1965).

© 2013 Probe Ministries


The Millennial Generation – The Future of Christianity in America

Millennials are the largest generation in American history and also the least religious generation. Kerby Anderson examines what they believe, how media and technology has affected them, and how pastors and Christian leaders can reach this generation.

The Millennial generation is a group of young people whose birth years range from 1980 to 2000. This generation is actually just slightly larger than the Baby Boom generation (born from 1946 to 1964). Nearly 78 million Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000.

Millennials are already having an impact on business, the workplace, churches, and other organizations. They certainly are having an impact on politics. The 18- to 29-year-old Millennials voted for Barack Obama in 2008 by an significant margin. Because of their impact in business, politics, and the church, they are simply too large and too influential to ignore.

For this article I will be using much of the data from an excellent book by Thom and Jess Rainer, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation.{1} Their survey of 1,200 older Millennials (born between 1980 and 1991) provides a detailed look at this generation.

We should begin by noting that not only are Millennials the largest generation, they are also one of the most diverse. That means that for every trend we identify in this generation, there are also lots of exceptions. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn some key facets of the Millennials. Here are just a few characteristics.

First, they are on track to become America’s most educated generation. “In 2007, the first year the twenty-five- to twenty-nine-year-old age group was entirely comprised of Millennials, 30 percent had attained a college degree. That is the highest rate ever recorded for that age group.”{2}

Second, Millennials view marriage differently than previous generations. They are marrying later, if at all. The average age for first marriage has increased approximately five years since 1970 for both men and women. “About 65 percent of young adults cohabit at least once prior to marriage, compared to just 10 percent in the 1960s.”{3}

Finally, Millennials are the least religious generation in American history. They may say that they are spiritual, but only a small fraction of them say that is important in their lives. The sad reality is that most Millennials don’t think about religion at all.

Perhaps the most amazing response from the survey of Millennials was that they are hopeful. Consider their response to the simple statement: “I believe I can do something great.” About 60 percent agreed strongly with this statement, and another 36 percent agreed somewhat. That was almost every respondent, 96 percent in total.{4}

Marriage and Family

How does the Millennial generation view marriage and family? One way to answer that question is to look at the characteristics of their parents.

Baby Boomers wanted the best for themselves. They had a level of self-centeredness that eventually shifted toward meeting the needs of their children. They wanted everything to be perfect for the Millennial children.

There was a high level of parental involvement. Hence, the parents of Millennials are often called “helicopter parents.” When Millennials were asked about parental involvement, 89 percent responded that they received guidance and advice from their parents.{5} It turns out that the Boomers are helping Millennials make decisions about work and life. Sometimes the parents sit in on job interviews and even try to negotiate salaries. While previous generations might have rejected such advice, 87 percent of Millennials view their parents as a positive source of influence.{6}

This positive view Millennials have of parents extends to the older generation as a whole. While Baby Boomers tended to be antiauthoritarian, Millennials have a very positive attitude towards those who are older. Of the Millennials interviewed, 94 percent said they have great respect for older generations.{7}

When it comes to marriage, Millennials are still optimistic about it even though they grew up in a world where divorce was common. They were asked to respond to the following statement: “It is likely that I will marry more than one time in my life.” For those who responded, 86 percent disagreed that they will marry more than once.{8} Apparently most Millennials plan to marry once or not at all. It is also worth noting that Millennials are marrying much later than any generation that had preceded them.

Millennials also view marriage differently in part because of the political battles concerning same-sex marriage and the definition of marriage. In the survey of Millennials, they were asked to respond to this statement: “I see nothing wrong with two people of the same gender getting married.” Six in ten agree with the statement (40 percent strongly agreed, 21 percent agreed somewhat).{9} Put simply, a significant majority of Millennials see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage.

The impact of technology on marriage and family is significant. The Millennial generation has grown up with the Internet, cell phones, and social media. It is easier than ever to call on a cell phone or send a text to other members of one’s extended family. Posting pictures on Facebook allows family members to immediately see what is happening to their children and grandchildren. Millennials are introducing their families to a variety of ways to stay connected.

Motivating the Millennials

How can we motivate the Millennial generation? The answer to that question is easy: build relationships. Thom and Jess Rainer put it this way. “The best motivators in the workplace for this generation are relationships. The best connectors in religious institutions are relationships. The best way to get a Millennial involved in a service, activity, or ministry is through relationships.”{10}

Relationships are important because of their connection to their family. Millennials also see the world as a much smaller place since they can visit anywhere in the world (either in person or on the Internet). And they are connected to people through the new media in ways that no other generation was able to do.

Education is a high priority for Millennials. This generation is on pace to have significantly more college degrees than the rest of the nation as a whole. About a quarter of the current U.S. population over 25 years old has a college degree, but nearly four in ten of Millennials will probably receive a degree.{11}

Millennials do want to make money, but they are not driven by money. Their motivation for education and career are motivated more by family and friends. One word that often surfaces is the word “flexibility.” They see money as a means to do what they want to do. At the same time, they reject the “keeping up with the Jones’ mentality” that often drives their parents.

Religion is not much of a motivating factor for Millennials. Spiritual matters are not important to them. Only 13 percent of them viewed religion and spirituality as important. And even among those who described themselves as Christian, only 18 percent said their religion was important to them.{12}

Only one group in the study said their faith was important to them. This was the subgroup identified as “Evangelicals” because of their orthodox biblical beliefs. Nearly two thirds (65 percent) said their faith was important to them.{13}

The political orientation of Millennials will no doubt influence elections. Millennials voted for Barack Obama over John McCain in the 2008 election by a two-to-one margin (66 percent to 32 percent). It is also worth noting that only half of the Millennials were eligible to vote that year. A greater percentage of that generation will become eligible to vote in each new election cycle.

Various polls, including exit polls, showed that this generation wanted more centralized power in government. And by more than a two-to-one margin (71 percent to 29 percent) they thought the federal government should guarantee health-care coverage for all Americans. More than six out of ten felt that government should be responsible for providing for their retirement.{14}

Millennials and Media

The Millennial generation has been influenced by media and technology like no other generation. Social commentators made much of the influence of television on the Baby Boomers but the proliferation of Internet, smart phones, and social media has had an even greater impact on Millennials.

When technology first comes on the scene, there are early adopters, then a significant majority, and finally laggards. Millennials fit into the category of early adopters. In the survey they were asked if they agree with the following statement: “I am usually among the first people to acquire products featuring new technology.” About half agreed with the statement, and half disagreed with the statement.{15} And even for those who disagreed, it is safe to say they did not fit into the category of laggards. Millennials are quick to embrace new technology.

There is one technology that Millennials always have in their hands: video games. “Video-game consoles are part of the industry that pulled in more than twenty billion dollars in revenue in 2008.”{16} If there was one form of technology that is easily identifiable with Millennials it is video games.

When asked how they most frequently communicate when not actually with the other person, they rated phone first (39 percent), then texting (37 percent), and then e-mail (16 percent). At the bottom was by letter (1 percent). The survey also noticed a difference between older and younger Millennials. Put simply, the younger you are, the more likely you are to communicate by texting.

Social media is also a significant part of the lifestyle of a Millennial. Not surprisingly, the most popular social media site was Facebook (73 percent), followed by MySpace (49 percent) as a distant second. They also like to read blogs (30 percent) and write blogs (13 percent). But since blogs require more time and energy than other social media, they do not draw in the large numbers like Facebook and MySpace.

Although social media can be accessed in many ways, still the most pervasive is through the computer. Millennials use computers both for work and for personal use. Most Millennials (83 percent) use a computer for work and spend about 17 hours on it each week. One out of five Millennials use their computer for work for 40 or more hours per week.{17} And Millennials spend time on computers for personal use. The responses ranged from 5 hours per week to 30 hours per week. The average was 17 hours per week.

If you put these numbers together, you find something shocking. The average Millennial spends 17 hours per week on a computer for work, and spends the same amount of time on a computer for personal use. That totals 34 hours per week on a computer. “That means that roughly one-third of Millennials’ waking lives are spent on a computer.”{18}

Millennials and Religion

The Millennial generation is the least religious generation in American history. The survey found that they are likely to have a syncretistic belief system. In other words, he or she will take portions of belief from various faiths and non-faiths and blend them together in to a unique spiritual system.

Thom and Jess Rainer found that this generation is less likely to care about religion or spiritual matters than previous generations. When they were asked in an open-ended question what was important to them, spiritual matters were sixth on the list. Preceding them in importance were family, friends, education, career, and spouse/partner.

When asked to describe themselves, two-thirds (65 percent) used the term Christian. Interestingly, nearly three in ten (28 percent) picked either atheism, agnosticism, or no preference. In other words, they have moved completely away from certain belief in God.

When asked if they were “born-again Christians”, using a precise definition provided by the interviewers, only 20 percent affirmed this definition of belief and experience. And when presented with seven statements about orthodox Christian belief, the researchers found that only 6 percent of Millennials could affirm them and thus could be properly defined as Evangelical.{19}

A third (34 percent) of Millennials said that no one can know what will happen when they die. But more than one-fourth (26 percent) said they believe they will go to heaven when they die because they have accepted Christ as their Savior.{20}

Church attendance has been decreasing with each generation. The Millennial generation illustrates that trend. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) rarely or never attend religious services.{21} About one-fourth (24 percent) are active in church (meaning they attend at least once a week). This might suggest that a number of Millennials who attend church do so as seekers. In other words, they are at least spiritually interested enough to visit a church even though they may not be saved.

The Millennial generation presents a significant challenge for us as Christians. The largest and least religious generation in American history is here and making an impact. If the church and Christian organizations are to be vibrant and effective in the twenty-first century, pastors and Christian leaders need to know how to connect to the Millennials. The first step is understanding them and their beliefs. That is why I recommend the book by Thom and Jess Rainer and encourage you to visit our Web site (www.probe.org) for other information on this generation.

Notes

1. Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation (Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2011).
2. Ibid., 3.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., 16.
5. Ibid., 55.
6. Ibid., 56.
7. Ibid., 59.
8. Ibid., 63.
9. Ibid., 66.
10. Ibid., 105.
11. Ibid., 108.
12. Ibid., 111.
13. Ibid., 112.
14. Ibid., 115.
15. Ibid., 188.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid., 197.
18. Ibid., 198.
19. Ibid., 232.
20. Ibid., 233.
21. Ibid., 236.

© 2011 Probe Ministries


Millennials and Media

How has the Millennial generation been influenced by media and technology? Thom and Jess Rainer attempt to answer that question in their book, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation. Their survey of 1,200 older Millennials provides a detailed look at this generation.

When technology first comes on the scene, there are early adopters then a significant majority and finally laggards. Millennials fit into the category of early adopters. In the survey they were asked if they agree with the following statement: “I am usually among the first people to acquire products featuring new technology.” About half agreed with the statement, and half disagreed with the statement. And even for those who disagreed, it is safe to say they did not fit into the category of laggards. Millennials are quick to embrace new technology.

When asked how they most frequently communicate when not actually with the other person, they rated phone first (39 percent), then texting (37 percent), and then e-mail (16 percent). At the bottom was by letter (1 percent). The survey also noticed a difference between older and younger Millennials. Put simply, the younger you are, the more likely you are to communicate by texting.

Social media is also a significant part of the lifestyle of a Millennial. Not surprisingly, the most popular social media site was Facebook (73 percent), followed by MySpace (49 percent).

Although social media can be accessed in many ways, still the most pervasive is through the computer. Millennials use computers both for work and for personal use. Most Millennials (83 percent) use a computer for work and spend about 17 hours on it each week. And Millennials spend 17 hours per week on computers for personal use.

If you put these numbers together, you find something shocking. The average Millennial spends 17 hours per week on a computer for work, and spends the same amount of time on a computer for personal use. That totals 34 hours per week on a computer. “That means that roughly one-third of Millennials’ waking lives are spent on a computer.”

If Christians are to reach the Millennial generation, it is important to know how they use media and technology. I’m Kerby Anderson, and that’s my point of view.

January 25, 2011


A Media Filter for the Glory of God

I’ve spent the last several days preparing a Powerpoint with extensive video and image illustrations for high school students. The hope is to get them to install an internal media filter that will stay in place whether they are watching TV or YouTube, Twittering or uploading photos to their Facebooks, playing video games, or texting on their phones. We are called to glorify God in everything we do (1 Cor. 10:31), and that certainly extends to processing media messages.

It was most enlightening me for to find illustrations for this presentation. The naturalistic worldview that characterizes our society runs from the merely godless (most of the Harry Potter books, up to the shock of the Christian elements at the end of the last book) to the openly hostile (House, M.D.’s contempt for all things and people of faith). When I read the lyrics of the top iTunes songs, I couldn’t help but wince at the potty-mouth sexism of “Boom Boom Pow,” the glorification of “Waking Up in Vegas” (hungover and married???), and the total insipidity of the “No Boundaries” song our brother Kris Allen was forced to sing on American Idol.

Finding illustrations for the way the media desensitize us wasn’t hard. Consider that most high school students have a “ho-hum, yawn” apathy about same-sex marriage; they’ve been desensitized to the whole issue. And there is more blood and gore in the opening credits of CSI: than most people would have seen in a lifetime a generation ago, but we munch on chips through it all while not blinking an eye.

Nor was it hard to think of ways in which the media present an unreal view of our world. Girls are still in love with Edward, the vampire hero of the Twilight series. And back to CSI: the last time I was called to jury duty, during the voir dire process we were told of the “CSI Effect” that now leads juries to have unrealistic expectations about how crime evidence is harvested. Solving real-life crimes is harder than it appears to be in a 60-minute show. (I mean, c’mon, don’t we all just know that every partial print is going to show up in CODIS?)

We will be calling students to glorify God in their media consumption by engaging a filter comprised of questions through which they view and experience images and messages:

* What is their view of life? Where do they say life is found?
* Can you discern the philosophy of those pumping out images, information, or music?
* Are they telling the truth in what they’re saying?
* Is there hostility to certain values and beliefs, especially Christianity?
* How does this compare to what God tells us to keep in mind? (What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy)

Come to think of it, maybe that’s not such a bad thing for all of us to do!

Note: I zipped up the Powerpoint and all the videos (plus an audio clip) in a folder which can be downloaded here: http://www.box.net/shared/muz26dhvch

Ray and I are providing the curriculum for Super Summer Arkansas, a youth ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention of Arkansas, and several other people will be teaching the messages we compiled. So each slide has information in the Notes view for other people to teach the material.

We just ask that if anyone ever uses this presentation, that Probe Ministries receives credit. 🙂

Warning: it’s 72 MB! Hope you have broadband!

Addendum: here’s a link to just the Powerpoint: http://www.box.net/shared/lc1nbc4m1j

This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/engage/sue_bohlin/a_media_filter_for_the_glory_of_god
on May 26, 2009.


New Media and Society

Introduction

How is the new media affecting the way we think and the way we interact with others in society? I want to look at the impact the Internet, social networks, and portable media devices are having on our world.

Rachel Marsden doesn’t think it is positive. Writing in The Wall Street Journal she says:

Spare me the stories of your “genius” tech-savvy child who can name every country on Google Earth, or how, because of your iPhone, BlackBerry and three cell phones, you juggle 20 tasks at once and never miss any business—even at 4 a.m., because you sleep with your portable devices. Does anyone care that technology is destroying social graces and turning people into rude jerks?{1}

She isn’t the first to notice that the new technology and new mobile devices are changing the way we interact with others. And, as we will discuss later, they apparently are also changing the way we think, affecting everything from creativity to concentration.

Rachel Marsden wonders, “When did it become acceptable for technological interaction to supersede in-person communication?” I have news for her. It happened long before cell phones were invented. When I was a graduate student at Yale University, I noticed something odd about my academic advisor. Whenever the phone would ring, he felt he had to answer it. He could be advising me or we could be deep in the midst of a discussion of a research project. But if the phone rang, he stopped the conversation and answered the phone, staying on the phone until that conversation was over. I began to think that the only way I could ever have a sustained conversation with him would be to call him on the phone.

Of course, mobile devices make it even easier to ignore face-to-face interaction. Now the world revolves around the person who has instant access to others using these devices. Rebecca Hagelin says that narcissism has crept into our world. In 2006, Time magazine voted “You” as the “Person of the Year.” So much of media and advertising today is about indulging your fantasies.

Rebecca Hagelin is concerned about the impact this is having on our children. “Young people spend hours every day updating their Facebook pages, post and e-mail countless pictures of themselves, and plug their ears with music to create a self-indulgent existence shut-off from everyone around them.”{2}

While some of the impact is positive, much more should concern us and cause us to change our behavior.

The Internet and the Way You Think

Can the Internet change how you think? That was a question columnist Suzanne Fields asked recently.{3} If you go to Edge.org, you will notice that the question they pose for this year is slightly different. It is, “How is the Internet changing the way you think?” They pose this provocative question because of the impact of computer chips, digitized information, and virtual reality on the way we think and how we receive information in this “collective high-tech electronic ecosystem for the delivery of information.”

I have also been wondering about the impact of the Internet and the new media on our thinking. Unlike Suzanne Fields, I wasn’t wondering if the Internet was changing our thinking but how it is already changing the way we think. There were two reasons why I have been thinking about this.

First, look at the younger generation being raised on the Internet. If you haven’t noticed, they think and communicate differently from previous generations. I have done radio programs and read articles about the millennial generation. They do think differently, and a large part of that is due to the Internet.

A second reason for my interest in this topic is an Atlantic article by Nicholas Carr entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” He says, “Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory.”{4}

It’s not that he believes his mind is going, but he notices that he isn’t thinking the way he used to think and he isn’t concentrating like he used to concentrate. “Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages.”

He believes this comes from using the Internet and searching the web with Google. And he gives not only his story, but he also gives many anecdotes and as well as some research to back up his perspective.

For example, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University explains, “We are not only what we read. We are how we read.” The style of reading on the Internet puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above other factors. Put simply, it has changed the way we read and acquire information.

Now you might say that would only be true for the younger generation. Older people are set in their ways. The Internet could not possibly change the way the brains of older people download information. Not true. The 100 billion neurons inside our skulls can break connections and form others. A neuroscientist at George Mason University says, “The brain has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”{5}

The Internet does appear to be altering the way we read and think, but more research is needed to confirm if this true. If so, parents and educators need to take note of what is happening in our cyberworld.

BlackBerries, Twitter, and Concentration

Have portable media devices altered our ability to concentrate? That certainly seems to be the case. Nearly all of us have noticed that people with a BlackBerry sometimes seem distracted. And after they answer an e-mail, they seem to spend a few minutes trying to recollect their thoughts before they had the interruption.

An article in Newsweek magazine documents what many of us have always suspected: there are two major drawbacks to these devices.{6} The first is distraction overload. A study at the University of Illinois found that if an interruption takes place at a natural breakpoint, then the mental disruption is less. If it came at a less opportune time, the user experienced the “where was I?” brain lock.

A second problem is what is called “continuous partial attention.” People who use mobile devices (like a BlackBerry or an iPhone) often use their devices while they should be paying attention to something else. Psychologists tell us that we really aren’t multitasking, but rather engage in rapid-fire switching of attention among tasks. It is inevitable they are going to miss key information if part of their focus is on their BlackBerry.

But another hidden drawback associated is less creativity. Turning on a mobile device or a cell phone when you are “doing nothing” replaces what we used to do in the days before these devices were invented. Back then, we called it “daydreaming.” That is when the brain often connects unrelated facts and thoughts. You have probably had some of your most creative ideas while shaving, putting on makeup, or driving. That is when your brain can be creative. Checking e-mail reduces daydreaming.

We also can see how new technology affects the way we process information and react to it emotionally. The headline of one article asked this question: Can Twitter make you amoral?{7} Research was done at the Brain and Creativity Institute of the University of Southern California to see the impact of social networks like Twitter.

What the researchers found was that human beings can sort information very quickly. And they can respond in fractions of seconds to signs of physical pain in others. But other emotions (like admiration and compassion) take much longer to register. In fact, they found that lasting compassion in a relationship to psychological suffering requires a level of persistent, emotional attention.

So how does that relate to a technology like Twitter? The researchers found that there was a significant emotional cost of heavy reliance on a rapid stream of news snippets obtained through television, online feeds, or social networks such as Twitter. One researcher put it this way: “If things are happening too fast, you may not even fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states and that would have implications for your morality.”

The point of these studies is that media does have an impact. A wise and discerning Christian will consider the impact and limit its negative effects.

Social Networks

Social networks such as Facebook and MySpace create an interconnected web of friends and family. People who study these networks are beginning to understand the impact they are having on us.

At a social networking site, you find someone and ask to be his or her friend. Once you are accepted, you become a member of their network, and they become a member of your network. This opens to door to finding and making additional friends. The ability to extend your circle of friends is one of the many benefits of social networking.

One concern about social networking is that it, like most of the new media, increases distraction and fragmentation of thought. The quotes, stories, jokes, and video clips come at an increased rate. A concentrated conversation with one person is difficult. Look over the shoulder of someone in a social networking site who has lots of friends. Content quickly scrolls downward, and it feels like you are at a party where lots of people are all talking at once.

Also these networks tend to shorten our time of concentration. Steven Kotler makes this case in his Psychology Today blog, “How Twitter Makes You Stupid.”{8} He once asked the author of the best-selling book why he called it the “8 Minute Meditation.” The author told him that eight minutes was the length of time of an average segment of television. He reasoned that “most of us already know exactly how to pay attention for eight minutes.”

Steven Kotler argues that Twitter is reducing the time of concentration to a few dozen words. He thinks that constantly using Twitter will tune “the brain to reading and comprehending information 140 characters at a time.” He predicts “that if you take a Twitter-addicted teen and give them a reading comprehension test, their comprehension levels will plunge once they pass the 140 [character] mark.” I am sure someone is already testing that hypothesis. Soon we should know the results.

Social networks do help us keep track of people who do not live near us, and that’s a plus. But we are kidding ourselves if we believe that social networks are the same thing as true community. Shane Hipps, writing in Flickering Pixels, says this about virtual communities: “It’s virtual—but it ain’t community.”

Social networks also have a great deal of power to influence us. Sociologists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler document this in their new book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. They believe that happiness is contagious and so is obesity and quitting smoking. We are not only influenced by our friends, but are even influenced by our friend’s friends. They say the world is governed by what they call “three degrees of separation.”

Addiction is another concern. Years ago, counselors discovered Internet addiction. Now they are starting to talk about Facebook addiction. Lots of youth and adults spend too much time in front of a computer. Social networks are wonderful tools, but wisdom and discernment are necessary in order to use them correctly.

Media Addiction

The Barna Group does lots of surveys, and that has led George Barna to conclude that “media exposure has become America’s most widespread and serious addiction.”{9} I have always been hesitant to label our high levels of media exposure an addiction. We seem to have an addiction label for every behavior. But George Barna makes a convincing case.

Addiction changes our brains by altering the chemical balance and flow within the brain and by even altering the structure of the brain. According to the American Psychiatry Association, we can legitimately call something an addiction when certain symptoms manifest themselves.

For example addictions change our brain structure, altering emotions, motivations, and memory capacity. Addictions cause withdrawal symptoms when exposure to the addictive item is eliminated. Addictions cause the people to abandon or reduce their involvement in normal and healthy activities.

Certainly media can be positive in terms of education and relaxation. But most media content, Barna argues, “winds up serving the lowest common denominator because that’s where the largest audience” is to be found.

There is a generational trend. The builder generation did not grow up with media and never became accustomed to it. The boomer generation embraced media, and the following generations expanded it use in ways unthinkable a few decades ago.

If we were truly serious about controlling the media input in our lives and our children’s lives, we would see examples of parents putting boundaries on media exposure. We see nothing of the sort. Expenditures on personal media, in-home media, and mobile media continue to increase.

It is not that parents don’t understand the dangers. Barna reports that three-quarters of parents say that exposure of their children to inappropriate media content are one of their top concerns. But they continue to buy their kids the media tools and continue to allow them to be exposed to inappropriate content.

By the time a young person reaches age 21, he or she will have been exposed to more than 250,000 acts of violence through TV, movies, and video games. He or she will have listened to thousands of hours of music with questionable lyrical content. Most parents know that much of what their children see or hear isn’t wholesome

This may be one of the biggest challenges for society in general and even the church in particular. Most parents recognize the danger of the media storm in which they and their children live. But that are unwilling to take the necessary steps to set boundaries or end their media addiction.

Some Concluding Biblical Principles

In a previous article on Media and Discernment, I talked about the need for Christians to evaluate the impact of media in their lives. We need to develop discernment and pass those biblical principles to our children and grandchildren.

The new media represents an even greater threat and can easily conform us to the world (Rom. 12:2). Media is a powerful tool to conform us to a secular worldview and thus take us captive (Col. 2:8) to the false philosophies of the world.

Christians should strive to apply the following two passages to their lives as they seek discernment concerning the media. The first is Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

The second is Colossians 3:2–5. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

Notes

1. Rachel Marsden, “Technology and the New Me Generation,” The Wall Street Journal, 30 December 2009.
2. Rebecca Hagelin, “Narcissism and Your Family,” 15 February 2010, www.townhall.com/hagelin.
3. Suzanne Fields, “Can the Internet Change How You Think?” 15 January 2010, www.townhall.com/fields.
4. Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Atlantic, July/August 2008.
5. Ibid.
6. Sharon Begley, “Will the BlackBerry Sink the Presidency?” Newsweek, 16 February 2009.
7. “Can Twitter Make You Amoral? Rapid-fire Media May Confuse Your Moral Compass,” 14 April 2010, www.in.com.
8. Steven Kotler, “How Twitter Makes You Stupid,” Psychology Today, 15 May, 2009, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-playing-field/200905/how-twitter-makes-you-stupid.
9. George Barna, “Media Addiction,” 25 January 2010, www.barna.org.

© 2010 Probe Ministries


Facing Facebook: Social Networking and Worldview

Byron Barlowe digs beneath the surface of the various social networking phenomena like Facebook and Twitter.

It seems like everybody is on Facebook! At 350 million members worldwide and growing exponentially, this social networking community would be the third largest country in the world! One hundred million Americans,{1} including 86 percent of American women, now have a profile on at least one social networking site, nearly double from a year earlier.{2}

“…Twitter has radically changed the face of online communication. This year alone [2009], usage has grown by 900 percent….”{3} But kids prefer the ever-popular YouTube video-sharing site. Two-thirds of Internet users around the world visit blogs and social networks, making it more popular than email. And older users are flocking to social sites. So this is about you and your friends, too, mom and dad!

So what is social networking? At a social site like Facebook.com, when you find another member, you click a button that says “Add as Friend.” Now, you and that person have a connection on the Web site that others can see. They are a member of your network, and you are a member of theirs. Also, you can see who your friends know, and who your friends’ friends know. You’re no longer a stranger, so you can contact them more easily. As the website Common Craft explains, “This solves a real-world problem because your network has hidden opportunities. Social networking sites make these connections between people visible.”{4}

“These applications have given users an entirely new dimension of interactivity on the Web, as people are able to share videos, photos, links, ideas, and information at a heretofore unseen speed and with uncanny ease that enhances the Web experience of every Internet user.”{5}

But some push back. “It’s just trivia, a waste of time,” they say. Silly games and self-centered platforms where folks can parade their lives. There is some truth in that charge. But it’s important to understand such a powerful, widespread medium and seek to redeem it.

One commentator said, “Time bends when I open Facebook: it’s as if I’m simultaneously a journalist/wife/mother in Berkeley and the goofy girl I left behind in Minneapolis.”{6} But the accessibility and immediacy is not always good or profound. Be ready to have your life history, long-lost friends and personal ghosts pop up in unexpected ways through social networking. In the same way, the future could be at stake with each post and link you put up: Whatever goes online, stays online. One’s reputation will be marked for years to come by her online life for good or ill.

However, the meteoric rise of social networking has occurred for good reason. In Facebook, Xanga or MySpace, research shows that we extend current relationships online. It can all be very trivial or fairly meaningful, depending on how it’s used. In this way, social networking is not unlike meeting up at a coffee shop or at the back fence. Younger generations are known to be more conversational than older ones. In my middle-aged circles, many seem to have written it off prematurely.

We’ll explore some worldview implications of social networking through the insightful book Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith.{7} Using a grid introduced by media professor and technology prophet Marshall McLuhan that traces media’s culture-shaping influence, we’ll briefly assess how this technology enhances our capabilities, retrieves lost ones, makes obsolete other things, and reverses into unintended consequences. In other words, we’ll ask and partially answer basic questions like: What will this blossoming media change? What am I giving up if I use it? How can I control it for myself and my kids? Will it end up controlling me—or has it already?

“Hanging out” online, for all its similarities to in-person conversation is fundamentally different. And those differences are sure to change not only our socializing, but our worldviews—maybe even our faith.

“The Medium is the Message”

McLuhan famously stated that “the medium is the message,” meaning that the content of media is overshadowed in its influence by the influence of the very medium (technology) through which it is communicated. Hipps believes media has been a fundamental change agent of culture, even faith. We’ll explain and explore a bit McLuhan’s grid of change and how it applies to social networking.

In discussing social networking sites like Facebook and their effect on people, it’s helpful to look back at other media to see their culture-shaping influence. Note that I didn’t write “the content of other media,” but rather, “other media.” For example, before Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press, faith was passed down orally and through imagery like stained glass windows and church icons. The concrete stories from the synoptic Gospels ruled the day; the Apostle Paul’s deep, abstract letters were virtually ignored. Then, print technology unleashed a new way to think and even to believe—an emphasis on individual faith accessed through critical reason. This print phenomenon retrieved the abstract, doctrinally rich letters of Paul from the dusty shelves of history. This, in turn, ignited the Reformation, writes Shane Hipps. One result: the church transformed from a highly communal body into a mass of individuals and put religious mystery largely out of touch.

Hipps writes that, in its extremes, the influence of print reduced the gospel to incomplete abstract propositions and made many Christians arrogant about what we can know with certainty. [This is what some in the emerging church conversation react against, but we cannot pursue that topic here.]

Perhaps less controversially, Hipps shares the maxim that any media—social networking included—changes its users in a similar way print technology did. Marshall McLuhan famously stated that “the medium is the message.” He meant that the medium itself does more to affect people than even the content that it carries.

The adage, “We become what we behold”{8} seems to hold forth in social science and neurology, as well. Brain scientists are finding that exposure to and use of media of any kind changes the brain’s wiring, so there’s more at stake here than just bad content or how we use our time.{9}

While writing this transcript, I had to fight to get alone and maintain focus. I consciously avoided the distraction and fragmentation my mind easily undergoes while Twittering (or “tweeting”) and Facebooking (see, social networking even spawns new verbs, like “friending”!). The social networking experience is like walking around at a party filled with friends in various conversations: lots of brief comments, retorts and jokes. My need for individual, abstract thinking was at risk at the “Facebook party.” (Ironically, I was in the abstract writing mode regarding a very different sort of medium: non-abstract, simplistic, disjointed, visually based, online digital “communities.”)

New media may bring us to and keep us more “in the moment” and in touch with real people, all good things. But so-called virtual communities may create very unreal relationships. Not to mention a loss of in-depth thinking, conversation and fellowship to build current relationships. Two years ago a commentator wrote regarding American youth on social networks, “The rules of relationship are…being rewritten, and…are being shaped by a distinctly media-centered worldview rather than a Christian one.{10} However, things may be changing, at least among Australian youth, where “they want more connections with their friends that aren’t digital, that are tangible. They’re starting to question the authenticity of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. They want technology to assist rather than dominate the way they communicate.”{11}

David Watson is an entrepreneurial “pastor” exploring the legitimacy of online shepherding. He believes it’s a general relationship issue not confined to online participation: “Any time you are not fully present with whatever community you happen to be with—whether online or offline—you can hurt people…. We just notice the online stuff more because it is new and people tend to spend lots of time with new things before they figure out how everything balances out.”{12}

So what’s the big deal? Most Facebook, MySpace or Orkut members aren’t changing their entire view of reality, truth, God or mankind based on interactions with online friends. No, it’s not the obvious pitfall of cults or wild philosophies that people usually deal with day to day anyway. Under-the-radar ways of being and communicating can incrementally change who we are. It’s the subtle way that our view of life changes that concerns me most. Are moment-by-moment Tweets dumbing us down in various ways? Have we come to expect meaning in 140-character bits? Twitter shows the flow of life in tiny chunks some call a lifestream. But are those snippets, especially when seen intermittently, meaningful?

Media swirls around us and we become immune to the white noise. But McLuhan was a master at stepping back to study what is going on with media to see how to cooperate with and thus handle the vortex. Churches and ministries love to jump on new technologies to share the old, old story—but before diving in headlong, we need to remember McLuhan’s warning: we become like the media that we use.

Social Networking Redeems and Resurrects Good Things

What is the technology of social networking enhancing and bringing back from disuse? What are some redeeming characteristics of this new phenomenon? They include renewed friendships and acquaintances, helpful networking made easy, ministry possibilities and relational fun. Mainly, it enhances real-world relational communities.

McLuhan stated that new media always “enhances and retrieves” good things. For example, we long for the days of chatting with neighbors on the front porch. Social networking restores this dynamic to a surprising degree. One writer reflected, “It could be . . . that Facebook marks a return to the time when people remained embedded in their communities for life, with connections that ran deep. . . .”{13}

Reconnections frequently happen too. One former neighbor messaged me on Facebook, “Are you the Byron that lived beside us 25 years ago?” She was thrilled to know I was still walking with Christ and asked for prayer for her drug-addicted brother. She’d located me out of the blue a quarter century later and seven states away through the wonder of social networking.

Social networks have great potential for ministry. Yet Shane Hipps’ primary message for Christ-followers in Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith is that simply broadcasting the gospel message in an old style into this new medium will not be effective. The medium itself changes the way people perceive and receive the message.

Social media are not a kind of broadcast medium, but rather a conversation medium. Online social ministry pioneer Paul Watson tells incredible stories of fruit borne online. He shepherds groups who stay current on Twitter and Facebook. One online community of Christ-followers raised funds over the Internet for a non-Christian tarot-card-reader to take her premature son to a hospital half a state away for medical treatment. A blogger, a practicing witch, warned her visitors not to harass Watson after he privately initiated prayer regarding her health issue.

Campus Crusade for Christ uses Facebook for campus ministry. They recently stated that 66 million students are active Facebook users. That’s three times the population of Australia! In an outreach training video produced by Campus Crusade, the camera pans an empty library and the question “Where are the students?” flashes across the screen. Then it shows a computer lab chock-full of kids, most logged into Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or YouTube. Another banner reads, “The average college student spends three hours on Facebook each visit.” Going where the people hang out is wise! But Campus Crusade knows you can’t just post The Four Spiritual Laws tract on Facebook and be effective. Long-term engagement with a live person or social community is required to make a positive difference.

If relationships are healthy, they can be helped online. “A study published in 2007 in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication suggested that hanging onto old friends via Facebook may alleviate feelings of isolation for students whose transition to campus life had proved rocky.”{14}

A Christian apologist wrote regarding social networking and the Internet, “We should note well Thomas Morris’s ‘Double Power Principle’–‘To the extent that something has power for good, it has corresponding power for ill.’”{15}Next, we’ll discuss the downsides of social media.

Social Networking Makes Obsolete and Obscures Other Good Things

What is the technology of social networking making obsolete, obscuring or obliterating? Taken to extremes, how might it make its users regress rather than progress? What other troublesome dynamics does it create?

Studies show that people tend to continue and expand their real-life relationships online. But people can be fooled. Nothing replaces face-to-face contact. Hipps writes in Flickering Pixels about mutual friends of his who live very nearby but who had not seen each other in months. They communicate online daily, yet their relationship has deteriorated. Hipps commented on so-called virtual communities: “It’s virtual—but it ain’t community. . . . Meaningful, missional Christian community” should consist of several essential things:

1. Shared history or experiences that help establish a sense of identity and belonging

2. Permanence or relational staying power—“it’s how you get shared history.” Members of a transient community never get shared memories.

3. Proximity—“you have to be with one another in order to create the kind of meaningful connections to have community.”

4. Shared imagination of the future —a sense of “We’re all going in the same direction.” Hipps says this is the one thing you get automatically with online social networking—people flock together who already share a future vision. But it’s not community just because of that. If online “friends” are not able to meet together over time and share life experiences as they work toward a common vision, then it’s just an online affinity group.

“Electronic culture disembodies and separates [yet]. . . . most of us. . . believe our technology is bringing us closer.”{16} The Bible exhorts believers not to forsake group gatherings.{17} Why? Because corporate worship and teaching, personal shepherding, mutual encouragement, even non-verbal signals are irreplaceable. We can take our cues on being physically present from the incarnation: God’s most powerful gospel medium was the Man, Christ Jesus.

Technology always makes something obsolete. It seems probable that too much online use compromises our ability to concentrate and think abstractly and form a coherent argument. Given a steady diet of fragmented imagery and spontaneous status updates, a new generation is losing the ability to think through issues from a coherent framework. “Through YouTubing, Facebooking, MySpacing . . . people take in vast amounts of visual information. But do they always comprehend the meaning of what they see. . . ? They are easily manipulated as students, consumers and citizens.”{18}

Another endangered characteristic is deep conversation. Within the space of 140 character status updates and Tweets, all hope of profound, meaningful dialogue seems lost. Instead, images rule. “. . . Image culture is eroding and undermining imaginative creativity” which is “extremely important to our functioning as healthy, creative people.”{19}

Social networking can steal your time. A friend recently told me that his wife’s use of Facebook is hindering their family time and communications. This is likely a widespread problem. “2.6 billion minutes are used daily by the global population on Facebook.”{20} If you already struggle with addictive tendencies or wasting time, think twice about launching into this absorbing lifestyle change. Get help for your online habit if it’s destructive as you would for any addiction.

Balancing Social Networking, Keeping a Christian Worldview in Mind

What are some more guiding principles for using social networking (and the Internet)? How do users balance their lives and retain a Christian worldview in a social networking age?

Remember Narcissus, the mythological character who was so enamored by his own image in the pool of water that it eventually became his undoing? Most people focus on his self-absorption. But the point Hipps makes isn’t how stuck on himself Narcissus was, but rather his inability to perceive and control the low-tech medium of a reflective pool. He seemed oblivious to what was going on, as people tend to be regarding the media maelstrom that surrounds us. “When we fail to perceive that the things we create are extensions of ourselves, the created things take on god-like characteristics and we become their servants.”{21} Media intake stealthily becomes idolatry.

The legendary Perseus, on the other hand, realized the power of a medium that if put under his control, could destroy the deadly effects of staring into the eyes of Medusa. Using a shield as a mirror, he deflected her deadly gaze and turned it into a chance to kill her. Even ancient Greek pagans understood the difference between these two fictional characters: Narcissus became enamored and then ensnared by a medium; Perseus, on the other hand, stepped back, realized the mirror was just an extension of his eyes, and so was able to master that medium. This echoes biblical commands to guard our heart and mind and not be conformed to the world.{22}

Remember, we’re not really talking about what content goes on your Facebook page. Rather, it’s the hidden power of the Internet and social networking that concerns us. Count the cost each time you use it.

One good use of the immediacy of Twitter is intercession. I got stuck in Delhi, India on a mission trip and tweeted a prayer request through my cell phone that in turn updated my Facebook page. Instant access and 140-character-long brevity can be good.

More advice from this worldview watcher trying to redeem social networking: read widely. Read deeply. Keep those parts of your mind and soul in shape while navigating the quick communications of social networking.

Guard your time like a night watchman. Guard your heart and mind like a jealous lover. Set “no unclean thing” before your eyes{23} and if others try to, take down that post or don’t follow them. Also, guard against not only physical but “psychological nudity.”{24}

Mix into everyday wall posts some meaningful thoughts, worthy articles and video clips that cause people to think. Become a fan at the Facebook or MySpace pages of organizations like Probe. Link to articles at Probe.org, Bible.org, or some good cause to help fund.

Balance is key: not everything is worthy of immediate broadcast or attention. “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”{25} Trivia can be genuine but tiresome.

Reach out: post a Scripture, share your faith.

As Shane Hipps said, “The most important medium, the most powerful medium is you, you are God’s chosen medium to incarnate the hands and feet of God in an aching world. . . . The more we understand [the hidden power of media], the more we can understand how to use our media rather than be used by them.”{26}

Notes

1. Facebook Reaches 100 Million Monthly Active Users in the United States,” InsideFacebook.com, accessed December 14, 2009, posted December 7, 2009. http://bit.ly/bQXlRV
2. Aliza Freud, “SheSpeaks Second Annual Media Study,” http://bit.ly/dD7xsG
3. “Teens Use Sites to Expand Offline Relationships, Avoid Twitter,” The Future of Children Blog, posted Aug. 4, 2009, accessed Feb. 4, 2010, http://bit.ly/9X3J9C
4. Social Networking in Plain English, Common Craft, www.commoncraft.com/transcript-social-networking-plain-english.
5. “Equip,” Christian Research Institute, Vol. 22, Issue 5, Sept/Oct 2009, p. 1.
6. “The Way We Live Now: Growing Up on Facebook,” The New York Times Magazine, Peggy Orenstein, March 10, 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/magazine/15wwln-lede-t.html.
7. Shane Hipps, Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, Kindle Reader version.
8. Hipps quotes McLuhan on this adage often. See this video clip: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnXoPQHPnlw&feature=related
9. Doidge, Norman, M.D., The Brain That Changes Itself (Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2007)
10. Stephanie Bennett, quoted by Byron Barlowe, “MySpace: Parents and Kids Wisely Navigating Online Social Networking,” https://www.probe.org/myspace-parents-and-kids-wisely-navigating-online-social-networking/#text20
11. “Everything old is new again for Internet-weary young adults,” News.com.au, posted July 14, 2009, accessed September 23, 09, http://bit.ly/bNQNBY.
12. David Watson, Reaching the Online Generation blog, posted July 16, 2009, http://bit.ly/96N04E.
13. Orenstein, The New York Times Magazine.
14. Ibid.
15. Hank Hannegraf, Equip, CRI, p. 3.
16. Hipps, Locations 981-987, 2015.
17. Hebrews 4:12
18. Weeks, Linton, “The Eye Generation Prefers Not to Read All About It: Students in Film Class a Microcosm of a Visually Oriented Culture,” Washington Post, posted 7-6-07, accessed 9-27-09, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/05/AR2007070502055.html
19. Hipps, Locations 718-725, 2015.
20. Hank Hannegraf, Equip, CRI, p. 2.
21. Shane Hipps, Flickering Pixels, Kindle Version, Locations 269-75, 2015.
22. Proverbs 4:23, Acts 20:31, Romans 12: 1-2.
23. Psalm 101:3.
24. Byron Barlowe, “MySpace: Parents and Kids Wisely Navigating Online Social Networking,” https://www.probe.org/myspace-parents-and-kids-wisely-navigating-online-social-networking/#hanging.htm
25. Proverbs 29:20, NIV.
26. YouTube video of interview by Rob Bell at pastor’s conference posted and accessed at www.internetevangelismday.com/christian-communication-blogs.php on 9-27-09. YouTube text: Rob Bell interviews Shane Hipps about his new book Flickering Pixels during the 2009 National Pastors Convention in San Diego, CA. March 09, 2009.

© 2010 Probe Ministries