Media - Blog


Community without the hassle of other people

“We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.” So wrote the Jesuit priest and media scholar John Culkin. And one would have to say that he has a point. It is still too early to evaluate the impact that the Internet and mobile technology is having on human beings, but we can surely see enough to say that this tool is now shaping us.

I want to think about social media and community. Social media has an outward looking image (note the “social”), and yet in reality it makes real socialising difficult. For social media places the user at the very centre of their online world. On it’s loom it can spin an illusion that I have thousands of friends, and I can curate what they say. If any of them make an unflattering comment (thank God that there’s only a ‘like’ button) I can delete it. And if they make a habit of it I can delete them. I can show people only the ‘me’ I want them to see. I can take hours getting my selfie just right, and then make it look as if it was taken spontaneously. On Twitter I can contact celebrities and stars ‘directly,’ they may even respond in a 140 character-kind-of-a-way.

If even this sugary version of reality is too bitter for me then I can simply turn on the games console and become an F1 champion or a rock-star or live an alternative avatar life through Sim City or another of it’s spin-off’s. In other words, social media is only social in as much as it provides an audience to watch my show, and a cast to play the cameo walk on parts in the play of my life. Social media mediates me to whomever is willing to watch me. I don’t want to be too harsh. It can be useful. But it is worth realising that it is not a neutral platform; It tempts us to be narcissistic.

And there is no place in a community for the narcissist. Community consists of other people, and therefore has nasty habit of reminding me that life may not all be about me. Indeed, it is not just others who have a duty of care for me, but I may have the very same for them. What is more, as much as I may try to curate my community I will find times and places in life where that is not possible. The Christian finds one such community very early on in his or her life and it goes by the name of ‘Church.’

Here is a community chosen not by me, but by someone who has much more of an open door policy than I think prudent, and a much lower joining criterion than I think flattering; something called ‘faith.’ Since I cannot ‘unfriend’ people in this community (since they have every much right to be there as I do) the only way I can curate that community is by leaving it, myself. And so I try another church (and another) until I realise one of two things. Either that Church is full of people whom I would prefer not to be there, (since God is a God of utter grace), and that no doubt other people would prefer me not to be there (since I too am a sinner, saved by the God of grace). This is the way of blessing and will have me settle at a church to call my own to serve and belong to. I will recognise that this community is messy and will not allow my pride to flourish precisely because this community is real.

The alternative is rather more sinister, and is colloquially called ‘church hopping’ (more accurately ‘church shopping’) whereby I engage in a perpetual cycle of looking for ‘the right church.’ It is the hobby of shopping addict whereby the allure of the music/ preaching/ formality/ silence/ warmth/ architecture of the next church will always pull me away from the current one and the thrill of being someone who’s ‘just looking/ not settling’ is enough to numb us to the bankruptcy of any relationship we may enjoy. If we’re a church hopper it seems to me that the only place for us to settle is the online world since what we’re really after is a community with ‘me’ at the centre.


...Discover Life At Its Very Best