We’re exploring how this digital age has effected our culture and what this means for discipleship. In the first post we looked at instant gratification and in the second at the need for speed. In this episode, we’ll look at an aspect of our culture that’s very much influenced by social media.
If there’s one thing our digital culture has enabled, it is the ease with which we connect with people. Online, that is.
Take a ‘like’ for example. When Facebook rolled out the ‘like’ option it meant agreeing with whatever was posted, literally liking it. But the ‘like’ has evolved into much more, or at least it had until Facebook rolled out the other emoticon options. That’s why we could like sad posts, or posts that made us angry—our like was an expression of sympathy, of showing that we had seen it. A like equaled a connection, however fleeting and superficial.
Studies show how much social media affect us all, but teens in particular. We’ve created terms like FOMO (fear of missing out) to adequately express what’s happening inside our brains because of social media. Books like American Girls show how far teens will go in optimizing a post to get a maximum amount of likes. Connection and approval, affirmation even, have become interlinked.
More than that, the diminishing face-to-face contacts have changed people as well. We know this, because people do and say things online they would never do to someone’s face. I reviewed a book a while back that stated that technology and smart phones especially have negatively impacted teens’ social skills, notably conversational skills and empathy. One startling study showed that teens’ empathy for each other grew after just one week without electronic devices.
But kids learn that behavior, they’re not born with it. Young kids long for connection. An commercial recently showed interviews with parents and their kids who were asked the question who they’d want to spend a day with, given the opportunity. The parents mostly chose famous people, but the kids all chose their parents. An Spanish Ikea Christmas commercial showed the same thing: kids were asked to write a letter to their parents with their biggest wish. They all asked for true connection, for their parents to spend more time with them, to play with them, read stories and play soccer.
In short: our sense of true connection has become warped. God has created us with a deep inner longing for connection, but technology seems to hinder us more than help in truly connecting on a soul-to-soul level.
We know personal connections have become harder, consider it a cliché even, but have we pondered what this means for discipleship?
Discipleship and Connecting
Jesus’ disciples spent three years with Him—as far as we can tell every single day. That’s what it took to get them more or less ready to stand on their own two feet. They did not learn through mere letters, or instructions, or purely through sermons or talks. At the core of Jesus’ discipleship was availability: He spent an incredible amount of time with them, took them everywhere He went, allowed them to ask (stupid) questions, and above all modeled a relationship with the Father to them.
Without a real-life connection, discipleship is not possible. Granted, we could use methods like Skype or Facetime or Hangouts but it can never fully replace the dynamics and power of face-to-face contact. This is one area where all the technology in the world cannot replace a process.
That’s also because discipleship is more than merely teaching Christ. It’s teaching the whole person, restoring skills we may not even have realized we lost along the way. It’s satisfying that inner need for soul connection and for a connection with our Father. And this counter-culture practice of true connections may draw people more deeply to Christ than any outreach ‘strategy’ ever could.
Discipleship also modeling a healthy relationship with technology. Adults may complain their teens have the phones glued to their hands, but where did they pick up that behavior? Discipleship and parenting are alike in the sense that what we model speaks way louder than what we say. If we want to teach a balanced relationship with technology, or a critical approach to certain aspects of the digital culture, we must model this first in our own lives. Unplugging, showing restraint on social media, fully connecting with others when they’re present—these are all healthy tech habits we can teach others.
How are you connecting with others on a deep level?
How much is connecting part of your process of discipleship, both for yourself and for disciplining others?
[Photo via Pexel, cc]