Get to know me, and you’ll quickly learn I have a fairly short attention span. Not ADD/what’s-wrong-with-him short, but short enough that over the years, despite very noble intentions, I’ve found it virtually impossible to, say, sustain blogging with any regularity. I also have little tolerance for those books that take one thought and basically stretch it out for 200 pages.
So when Twitter came along a few years ago, I perked up. A social networking thingy that’s on my phone and limited to 140-character updates is something that fits me as good as Husky pants did back in fourth grade. If I have an occasional pithy thought or funny picture that might interest some people, I can say it with brevity, rather than having to fill a blog. I can also keep tabs on people who interest me, whether it be friends, political figures, athletes or even faith leaders. The national figures who actually “tweet” themselves (rather than using it for promotion) can be fascinating.
I’m noticing, however, the more prevalent Twitter gets, the more its dynamics are changing. Mind you, I’m not one of those early adopters who likes something when it’s new and then looks down his nose at it once it gets popular (at least I don’t think I am). But little by little, Twitter is starting to resemble a high school popularity contest, where people campaign for votes and can tangibly see how liked they are by how many people follow them or respond to what they say.
As more celebrities and important people have come to the party (fashionably late, of course), they see their peers already have tons of followers, so they feel they should too. There is open campaigning to “RT this” or straight-up asking for people to help them get more followers. Left and right, even normal users are signing up for Twitter sites that guarantee to get you “400 new followers a day.” (Just so you know, you can’t do this without people knowing—it sends out a tweet in your name to everyone saying you’ve signed up.) I’ve even seen pastors sign up for those.
Which begs the obvious question—why? This Twitter shift is adding fuel to the MySpace/Facebook culture that places value (and for some, a means of self-worth) in the number of followers you can accumulate, even if 90 percent of them are incognito spambots.
I actually read a website recently that lauded how innovative certain faith leaders are, and ranked their impact based on how many Twitter followers they have. The article then bemoaned as archaic those leaders who choose not to use Twitter as a communication channel. The site questioned whether the latter’s national influence is eroding because they don’t have as many online followers.
Is this really the road we’re going down?
To wrestle with these questions, there’s a section in this issue we’ve dubbed Technology & Your Soul. Yes, we get the irony of a media company raising questions about possible negative ramifications technology and this culture of hype might be having on our generation’s spiritual condition, but it’s a look in the mirror we all need to have.
At the recommendation of an author I greatly respect, I recently read Shane Hipps’ book, Flickering Pixels. In it, Hipps unpacks how media affects our communication, lives and spiritual condition more than we realize. He’s not a technophobe, but he very convincingly sounds an alarm about the technology-riddled me-first world that’s emerging.
We are creating a culture of superficial self-worth, where hype is valued over reality. All we’re really doing is spreading ourselves thinner and thinner, getting more distracted, and creating more life noise that keeps us, ultimately, from hearing the still, small voice of God.
It’s a sad and hollow road, and I want off. So, over the last nine months, I’ve started putting intentional margins into my life. I’ve set boundaries on how much I’ll work. I have designated times when I unplug the gadgets, no matter how useful they may be. I intentionally turn the TV off when before I might’ve kept it on as background noise while I did something else. I fight the urge to check my phone any time I’m sitting around.
What’s happened is that the noose technology had on me is loosening. Sure, I’m still a gadget freak who podcasts and twitters. But I have a newfound appreciation that real life is found in the space where those things are turned off, when I actually can be silent, connect meaningfully with people and know God is God.
We were created for connection and relationship, but rather than looking for it in artificial, fleeting ways, let’s choose to chart a different course. After all, it’s not about how many online followers you have—real influence and connection happens in more than 140 characters.
Let’s be aware of how technology can affect us. Let’s choose to set aside narcissistic ego-fueling things, and choose a life of Christ-centered humility. If we’re being drawn to hype and popularity—it’s human nature, after all—let’s challenge ourselves to walk the other way.
You know, do the opposite of everyone else.
Cameron Strang is the founder of RELEVANT Media Group.