Fetishation of Social Media

An article on the HuffingtonPost, by Arianne Huffington, entitled, “Virality Uber Alles: What the Fetishization of Social Media Is Costing Us All.”  Below are some paragraphs that I thought summarized the gist of the article…

Going viral has gone viral. Social media have become the obsession of
the media. It’s all about social now: What are the latest social tools?
How can a company increase its social reach? Are reporters devoting
enough time to social? Less discussed — or not at all — is the value
of the thing going viral. Doesn’t matter — as long as it’s social. And

The media world’s fetishization of social media has reached
idol-worshipping proportions. Media conference agendas are filled with
panels devoted to social media and how to use social tools to amplify
coverage, but you rarely see one discussing what that coverage should
actually be about. As Wadah Khanfar, former Director General of Al
Jazeera, told our editors when he visited our newsroom last week, “The
lack of contextualization and prioritization in the U.S. media makes it
harder to know what the most important story is at any given time.”

Our media culture is locked in the Perpetual Now, constantly chasing
ephemeral scoops that last only seconds and that most often don’t matter
in the first place, even for the brief moment that they’re “exclusive…”

Michael Calderone about the effect that social media have had on 2012
campaign coverage. “In a media landscape replete with Twitter, Facebook,
personal blogs and myriad other digital, broadcast and print sources,”
he wrote, “nothing is too inconsequential to be made consequential…

“We are in great haste,” wrote
Thoreau in 1854, “to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to
Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to
communicate.” And today, we are in great haste to celebrate something
going viral, but seem completely unconcerned whether the thing that went
viral added one iota of anything good — including even just simple
amusement — to our lives…. We’re treating virality as a good in and of itself, moving forward for
the sake of moving.
“Hey,” someone might ask, “where are you going?” “I
don’t know — but as long as I’m moving it doesn’t matter!” Not a very
effective way to end up in a better place…

“But as Twitter’s Rachael Horwitz wrote to me in an email, “Twitter’s algorithm favors novelty over popularity.”

“Indeed, to further complicate the science of trending topics, a subject
can be too popular to trend: In December of 2010, just after Julian
Assange began releasing U.S. diplomatic cables, about 1 percent of all
tweets (at the time, that would have been roughly a million tweets a
day) were about WikiLeaks, and yet #wikileaks trended so rarely that
people accused
Twitter of censorship. In fact, the opposite was true: there were too
many tweets about WikiLeaks, and they were so constant that Twitter
started treating WikiLeaks as the new normal.”

So, the question remains: as we adopt new and better ways to help people
communicate, can we keep asking what is really being communicated? And
what’s the opportunity cost of what is not being communicated while
we’re all locked in the perpetual present chasing whatever is trending?…

These days every company is hungry to embrace social media and virality,
even if they’re not exactly sure what that means, and even if they’re
not prepared to really deal with it once they’ve achieved it.

Or as Sheryl Sandberg put it,
“What it means to be social is if you want to talk to me, you have to
listen to me as well.” A lot of brands want to be social, but they don’t
want to listen, because much of what they’re hearing is quite simply
not to their liking, and, just as in relationships in the offline world,
engaging with your customers or your readers in a transparent and
authentic way is not all sweetness and light. So simply issuing a
statement saying you’re committed to listening isn’t the same thing as
listening. And as in any human relationship, there is a dark side to

“The campaigns can sort of distract reporters throughout the day by helping fuel these mini-stories, mini-controversies,” said the New York Times’
Jeff Zeleny. Mini-stories. Mini-controversies. Just the sort of
Twitter-friendly morsels that many in the media think are best-suited to
the new social media landscape. But that conflates the form with the
substance, and we miss the desperate need for more than snackable,
here-now-gone-in-15-minutes scoops. So we end up with a system in which
the media are being willingly led by the campaigns away from the issues
that matter and the solutions that will actually make a difference in
people’s lives. 
[emphsis mine]

Read the whole article.

What might this say for the Church and its obsessive, and at times pathological, preoccupation with social media?  Are the same observations written in this article true for us?  I hear from so many sources of younger people that older leadership in charge simply do not and will not listen (see the bold paragraph, above).

The enduring aspects of the Church in her liturgies, her patterns-of-life, and her foci mitigates against such trendy irrelevancies, yet many of us seem to think that everything must change now, often, and quickly, for its own sake, or we will be become irrelevant. Too often we think that which has endured must be sacrificed for the sake of trendy popularity. We willingly sell our patrimony for a bowl of desperately sought affirmation.

If you pay attention to what younger people are actually saying (in the aggregate), even if it isn’t what we want to hear, we might learn something that actually helps our situation. What I hear and see in the arrogate, and tell me otherwise form sources other than your own opinion, is that younger people are seeking after time-tested substance that is proven by its ability to endure and survive over time (and over time doesn’t mean over the last 30 years). We are tired of the chaos of constant change devoid of substance.  What is sought are examples of real lives that demonstrate a sense of proven surety built on consequential relationships focused on something other than self.

Virality doesn’t give such things – the type of things that give meaning to one’s life and a sense of true accomplishment and worth.

The Next Step…

As we continue along the societal path leading us further into the “Post-Constantinian-Era” of the Church and society in the West – and I’m thinking primarily of those in the U.S., in more urban areas, and substantially those under 30-years of age – the way we go about doing church, the way we go about influencing society for the good and the beautiful, the way we go about the doing of Jesus’ two Great Commands, and particularly the way we go about evangelism/witness – by necessity will and must adapt and change.  This isn’t change for the sake of change, change to attempt to be all hipster-like, change to be on the presumed cutting-edge, or change to accomplish personal or group agendas, but rather change that should naturally come from careful observation, study, participation, and discernment with regard to the dynamic morphing of generational, cultural, perceptual, and/or ambition-al sensibilities and understandings we have of ourselves, our cohorts, and our world. After all, while we are called not to be of the world, we are certainly not called to be other than or out of the world!

So, what does this all mean?  Since we have entered into the cultural milieu where a Judeo-Christian understanding of humanity, our world, and our place in it is no longer the foundation upon which our society revolves with regard to so many things – ethics, morals, sense of purpose, how we relate to other people(s), concepts of freedom and integrity, material things, and our inner-selves – let along God – we must understand and re-engage the central purposes of the Church – the institutions that embody the Mystical Body of Christ in the world.  What are the purposes of the Church to be re-engaged?

I posit this: to begin, that which has endured through the centuries of testing – there is gravity here.  What purposes have been tested and shown to endure? The primary purpose of the Church is to worship God and be present with God in His desire for the good of the created order.  Secondly, the Church is to be the primary conduit through which people come into a salvific relationship with God through Jesus Christ, period.  Thirdly, the Church is to be the place where people are formed and re-formed into the Life-in-Christ by way of the transformative working of the Holy Spirit in our individual and collective lives. This happens as we give ourselves individually to the
practice of the enduring Christians Spiritual Disciplines and as we collectively provide place for the learning of, the habitation of, and the practice of such disciplines. The Church provides for the practice of these disciplines. Once these three enduring proposes of the Church are engaged heartily, even if imperfectly (which is inevitable), then we become the image of God and go about being a witness for Christ’s desire among the people we engage every day.  The way we are a witness – doing evangelism – changes, naturally.  The way we care for the poor and needy will change, organically.  The way we campaign against injustice changes, fundamentally.

The authentic Christian response to the profound needs of the outcasts and marginalized and the way to come against injustice can only happen after we come to love God with all of our being – then we are able to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The central purposes of the Church are not social work and political activism – sorry.  Those things are born authentically for the Christian out of worship, formation, and self-denial. Frankly, the world does not need the Church to care for the needy or to champion justice.  There are plenty of NGO’s and non-profits (religious or secular) that are very good at this. The world does need the Church to know God and to be transformed for living “life to the full.”

Worship/Prayer, Formation/Discipleship, Selflessness/Self-Denial,
Witness/Evangelism are the watchwords, and IMHO the more helpful progression
for action.

I am convinced that once we re-engage the core practices of the Faith, we will realize again the Church’s positive influence for the shaping of the world by God’s design, which is good, beautiful, and peaceful. Although, for the time being as we rebuild trust and authentic alternatives to the prevailing world systems to which we have become beholden, growth will be small and under the radar (because we need to regain our sense of purpose, value, and worth not born out of the seeking of societal approval and affirmation).  For those of us who are after such things, we will need to stay under the radar to a degree because such challenges to the status-quo always gather together those who oppose and resist.  So be it. We work with and along-side all
who wish God’s purposes to be realized, but the next step in the reshaping and reforming of the Church will take place with or without us – I want to be part of the reshaping!

I think here, in this messiness, is where I want to find situated the Imago Dei Initiative!

Ash Wednesday… to go

A colleague of mine, Fr. Robert Hendrickson, writes in his blog, The Curate’s Desk, about the recent phenomena of “Ashes-to-Go” that seems to have caught on in our Church. I think he is correct in asserting that this type of quick and temporary experience does not actually allow people to experience the power behind the form, or the act of having ashes placed on one’s forehead. The power comes from the fullness of the RIte, from the intentional, persistent, and slow working within us by the Holy Spirit as we give ourselves to the effort.  Without such intention and effort, having ashes placed on one’s forehead can be simply an activity, like putting on blush, although for a presumably understood (but not likely so) different purpose.  Here are a few paragraphs from his blog… a full read is well worth it!

“I worry that we are sharing only the mark of our separation from God
rather than our conviction that God dwells ever with us and that this
very dust that we are may be hallowed, sanctified, blessed, and even
assumed. This reconciliation of ourselves to God brings with it the
welcome to live in the fullness of the Christian life. We are given the
hope that “being reconciled with one another,” we may “come to the
banquet of that most heavenly Food” and receive all of the benefits of
Christ’s Passion and Resurrection. Ash Wednesday is not about our sins
alone but about our life in and with the Triune God who calls us into
true life – a life free of the mark of death.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 22:  Marked with a c...


“This simply cannot be communicated in a drive-by encounter. The sign
of death is decisively stripped away in the Sacrament – it is that
encounter with the Christ made known in the Body at the Altar and in the
Church that is the point of Lent as we are brought into Communion and

“My worry about Ashes-to-Go is that it reinforces the privatized
spirituality that plagues much of the Church. “I” do not get ashes. “We”
get ashes so that we may know ourselves, as a Body, to be marked for a
moment but saved, together, forever…

“On the plus side, I think it is absolutely vital for the Church to
find ways to engage the changing world. This may be one such way – yet I
cannot quite get comfortable with it. I am increasingly leery of the
Church’s desire to find ways to make the work of the Christian life
easier or faster – especially as it pertains to this most sombre and
needful of seasons.

“My hope though is that Ashes-to-Go really can become an entry point
and that those who receive these ashes will be drawn to the Church in a
fuller and deeper way. Perhaps this brief encounter can catalyze some
movement of the Spirit that calls the recipients to newness of life. I
look forward to talking with my friends about their experience of the
day and pray that their efforts have shared something of the fullness of
the Christian life.”

To be together… or not

Abstract conversations

“Instead of telling our vulnerable stories, we seek safety in abstractions, speaking to each other about our opinions, ideas and beliefs rather than about our lives. Academic culture blesses this practice by insisting that the more abstract our speech, the more likely we are to touch the universal truths that unite us. But what happens is exactly the reverse: as our discourse becomes more abstract, the less connected we feel. There is less sense of community among  intellectuals than in the most ‘primitive’ society of storytellers.”

Parker J. Palmer
A hidden wholeness

(from EmergentVillage.com)