Social Media, Controversy, and “Love Wins”

Scot McKnight has just put out a great piece reflecting on Rob Bell’s Love Wins, which created quite a controversy amongst Evangelicals a few weeks ago. He has put together ten reflections not only on the book itself, but also on the discussions that took place across the web during the weeks that followed the book’s release.

An interesting quote:

First, social media is where controversial ideas will be both explored and judged. We no longer read books patiently, type out letters to denominational offices, find common agreements and then summon the Christian leader behind closed doors to ask questions and sort out concerns. It’s all public, it’s all immediate and everyone weighs in because social media is about as radical a form of democracy as exists. To be sure, this means the uninformed heavy-handed can weigh in as easily as the patient, careful, critical and balanced reader. But social media is not going away so we should realize what we are getting into before we walk into the room.

Interesting to compare this quote with another by Quentin Schultze, from his book Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age (Baker:2004):

For all the rhetoric about cyber-community, the Internet is less a forum for shared public life than an arena for individuals to express their egos and find information in tune with their personal needs and desires. (180)

These two quotes don’t at all oppose each other, but actually go hand-in-hand. McKnight notes that social media create a “radical form of democracy,” in which anyone and everyone (including me!) can weigh in on anything and everything. The problem is, according to Schultze, that this “democracy” is less about community and more about expression of ego. This is far more true of the “uninformed heavy-handed” than the “patient, careful, critical and balanced reader,” because the former spouts off (often via Re-Tweet) before ever actually engaging in the arguments going on, or for that matter knowing, exactly, what the book is about.

I must confess that I have never read the book, and so I would like to point out that my interest in this post has very little to do with Bell or Love Wins, but has very much to do with social media, shared “community” and controversy.

Thoughts? Do social media help or hinder thoughtful conversation? Or do they simply create controversy?


On “The Shallows”

Yesterday, I bought The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, in preparation for an upcoming project (TBA). It’s fascinating, and he’s saying things I’ve been thinking for some time, especially in regard to social media.

My initial review, after forty or so pages, is this: thoughtful, provoking, and well-written. I’m excited to keep going. I’ll be occasionally posting good quotes as I go, so enjoy this:

“We’re too busy being dazzled or disturbed by the programming to notice what’s going on inside our heads. In the end, we come to pretend that the technology itself doesn’t matter. It’s how we use it that matters, we tell ourselves. The implication, comforting in its hubris, is that we’re in control. The technology is just a tool, inert until we pick it up and inert again once we set it aside.”

–Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, 3

bin Laden is Dead, and my Friend Got Some Mushrooms

I just found out that Osama bin Laden is dead. On Facebook.

Facebook, of course, is not the most reliable news source. So I went to my Twitter account and looked at a national news service’s page to cross-reference the info. It told me the same.

It wasn’t until my third step that I logged on to that particular news service’s website to really get the information I was seeking, but I believed what I was reading. I really only went through the motions of checking “the real” webpage because I felt like it was the responsible and credible thing to do.

And because I didn’t want to ever admit that it happened, that I heard about a major news story through my Facebook. I didn’t want to discover, from a status update, that the enemy we’d all been looking for, the Kingpin, had fallen.

Why? Because statistics say that 48% of young Americans find out about news through Facebook, [1] and I really don’t want to be responsible for making it 49%. Or, God forbid, 50%.

I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I once wrote for my local newspaper, the Tribune Chronicle of Warren, Ohio, and I would hear my editor talk with other newspapermen from around the state, their brows furrowed, talking about the end of printed news. Or maybe it’s because I’m a little bothered that I just discovered one of the top ten news stories of this year in a status update, sandwiched between one guy talking about online gaming and another talking about mushroom hunting.

I just found out that America’s top priority, the number one man on our most wanted list is dead, on Facebook. The site where I also find out that a guy I went to high school with is now in a relationship just told me that bin Laden is dead.

This is the kind of stuff that used to be declared by town criers, and later, newsboys on the corners of American cities. I’m sure that some would say that the advent of social media is a return to such times, but their wrong. When a newsboy declared that someone was dead, even an enemy, there must have been some kind of acknowledgement that this was a grave moment. I’m sure that when Hitler’s death was yelled, people cheered, but it was also grave, because the world had changed. If I could hear a newsboy yelling from my window now, I’m sure I’d feel like that.

But now, surrounded by triviality, it’s just another piece of information to be overtaken by another status update ten minutes from now. Now, there are no cheers, only silent “Likes.” There is the occasional comment, each more trivial than that which proceeded it. An era has ended, a journey completed, and we can only offer a few of our spare characters in ode to the men who have died and the resources we’ve exhausted to come to this point.

48% of young Americans find out about news through Facebook. Make that 49%.