News and information is all around us, all of the time, everywhere we go, incessant, ubiquitous, demanding. Some people talk of information anywhere, anytime, but in fact, isn’t it more a case of information everywhere, all of the time?
Social media has given us the tools and facilities to become connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And this is increasingly a way of life for many people, as a recent newspaper survey discovered. The survey asked respondents a series of questions to determine how they used social media. According to the results:
- 1 in 3 smartphone owners would rather give up sex than their mobile phone
- 90% of 18 – 29 year olds say they will sleep with their phone in or beside their bed
- 23% go on Twitter more than 10 times a day,
- 51% check social network sites at dinner,
- 62% use their phones while shopping and
- 42% will stop a conversation if their phone beeps.
One person was quoted:
“Sometimes I wake up in the night and reach for my phone so I can do a Tweet”.
And another “I take pictures of my food, my feet….pretty much anything and post it online”.
But let’s pause for a minute before condemning these excesses as the norm for today’s social media users. These are extreme behaviours, and hence why they were deemed newsworthy. Social media has brought enormous benefits and triggered some massive changes to society. It’s no longer the case of injustice prevailing where there is a lone voice pleading to be heard. That lone voice can become many thousands, or even millions, when it is heard via the power of online social networks such as Twitter or Facebook.
The catalyst for what has become known as the “Arab Spring” was the self-immolation of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi. Unable to find work and selling fruit at a roadside stand, a municipal inspector confiscated his wares. An hour later he doused himself with gasoline and set himself afire. His death on 4 January 2011 was widely reported on social media, which brought together various groups dissatisfied with the existing political system, including many unemployed, political and human rights activists, ultimately triggering the Tunisian revolution in search of equal rights and a more democratic government. As we now know, this ultimately spread to other autocratic Arab states, including Syria. This story is still unfolding, and quite where it will lead we do not know. But the significance of mass communication via social media, where just about anyone can have a voice – and be heard – cannot be underestimated as a catalyst for change.
Nick Baines, the Bishop of Bradford, recently admitted that the church had to find a better way of communicating with young people. RichardChartres, the Bishop of London, wants to recruit 100,000 Christians by 2020 to help communities and spread the gospel. In his Easter message he was reported as saying
“…the church needed to understand social media better if it is to connect with young people”. He went on to say: “Facebook has been the most successful missionary movement of the past few years and the capacity of new media to challenge and sometime dissolve corporations and long-established institutions is huge”.
It’s only taken 6 years, but it’s encouraging to know that, at last, the Church of England is taking social media seriously!
But let’s not think of social media purely as a tool for young people. It has as much benefit – if not more – for those of mature years (I neatly fit into this demographic!). More and more older people are finding that Facebook is a way – maybe the only way – of connecting with friends and family. Social networks can provide opportunities for learning a new skill, or joining a club or just participating in online conversations. According to a report on social media demographics, 27% of users of social networks are aged 45 and over.
And as if to prove that age is not a barrier to engaging with social media, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI took to Twitter at the age of 85, quickly building up more than 1.6 million followers before signing off the social network on Feb 28th following his almost unprecedented resignation, sending a final thankful tweet:
@Pontifex “May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”
Or this from the Dalai Lama:
@Dalailama “Anger, hatred and jealousy never solve problems, only affection, concern and respect can do that.”
So, coming back to the title of this piece, “would Jesus have had a Twitter account?”. An admittedly irreverent title, but with a serious intent. Jesus was only able to deliver his message to a relatively small number of people; his disciples, followers and those who heard his sermons or witnessed his miracles, and over a relatively short time span. We have to rely on the accuracy of historical records, where his words have been transcribed, translated, interpreted, published and preached over the centuries. Would he have wanted to spread his message more widely, more quickly and in his own words if he’d had the opportunity? Or did he know that his message would achieve greater impact and persistence (but less accuracy) when told and re-told through his disciples and followers? Answers on a postcard – or better still – here on the St Michael’s Discussion Forum!
The key point is that we now live in a highly connected world, a world where we no longer have to be passive consumers of news and information. Social media has given us the tools to become active participants in this global knowledge and information society. We’ve always had a voice, now we can make it heard. It’s never been easier to find, connect and engage with people – so it’s encouraging that the Church is now starting to take it seriously as part of its outreach strategy.
If you would like to know more about St Michael’s use of social media, or have an opinion on this article please contact me via the comments, or email Steve Dale: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NB: See also - Is Jesus Social Media savvy?