Posts Tagged ‘social media’

May I have your attention, please?

I’ve been reading The Attention Merchants for fun between classes, & as everyone is posting “New Years’ Thoughts/Resolutions”, I thought this was an important time to share the surprising insight from the author…

“If we think of attention as a resource or even a kind of currency, we must allow that it is always, necessarily, being ‘spent’. There is no saving it for later.” (pg.20)wesley.apple

“(speaking of developments in political advertising) With its combination of moral injunctions as well as daily and weekly rituals, organized religion had long taken human attention as its essential substrate.  This is especially true of monotheisms, whose demands for a strict adherence to the one true God naturally promote an ideal of undivided attention.  Among early Christians, for example, total attention to God implied ceaseless prayer.  The early Church father Clement of Alexandria wrote of the “Perfect Christian” as one who “prays throughout his entire life, endeavoring by prayer to have fellowship with God.” Likewise the desert monastics of the fourth century took as their aim “to maintain there as near as possible a ceaseless vigil of prayer, punctuated only by the minimal interruption for food and sleep.”

“Such an aspiration to monopolize the attention of believers was hardly abandoned after Christianity’s early days.  Some 1700 years later, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, prescribed various means for keeping the mind attuned to God, such as the practice of thinking of him immediately upon waking, right before falling asleep, for at least an hour during the day, and before taking any important action.  (This discipline shares some similarity with the Jewish practice of offering brachot, or blessings, at various routine moments, such as before eating or drinking, or more exceptional ones, as when thunder is heard, among other practices codified in the Mishnah in the third century CE.)”

“To be sure, it isn’t as if before the twentieth century everyone was walking around thinking of God all the time.  Nevertheless, the Church was the one institution whose mission depended on galvanizing attention; and through its daily and weekly offices, as well as its sometimes central role in education, that is exactly what it managed to do.  At the dawn of the attention industries, then, religion was still, in a very real sense, the incumbent operation, the only large-scale human endeavor designed to capture attention and use it.  But over the twentieth century, organized religion, which had weathered the doubts raised by the Enlightenment, would prove vulnerable to other claims on and uses for attention.  Despite the promise of eternal life, faith in the West declined and has continued to do so, never faster than in the twenty-first century.  Offering new consolations and strange gods of their own, the commercial rivals for human attention must surely figure into this decline.  Attention, after all, is ultimately a zero-sum game.” (Pgs.26-27, The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu)

Translation?  The things we purchase, and technology/apps we use may be affordable or even free, but there is always a cost involved.  When that cost involves our attention during moments previously available to contemplation, quiet, prayer, & offering ourselves to discover the needs/desires/joys/pains of God & others – we may benefit from asking if we can/should really afford the price.

Question for conversation: Is it more redemptive to abstain from creating/posting content – helping spread subversive critique on consumption of social media, or to sparingly & creatively post content that points those who consume toward the Love and Truths of God?   How have you seen either – done well?

In any case – may we be people who invite our children & young people to think about these things.  May this be a year where we realize there are always prices unlisted.  May we seek redemptive ways to interact, create, and live together.  May we not be defined purely as amused consumers, or anxious responders, but discover new ways to offer Faith, Hope & Love creatively as New Creations ourselves…

 

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another confession.

There’s something I need to confess.  Both personally, and professionally.  It’s happened more than once.  I’m not proud of it.  In fact, one of the reasons I’m putting it into words is to remind myself and others that it’s happened.  It may be happening even now.  I’ll give you a quick story to illustrate:

Once a week, the pastors & staff of our church gather to pray for the needs of our church.  These are “requests” submitted on the “Friendship Folders” found in every pew of our sanctuary.  On Sunday morning, our members do much more than simply let us know they’re sitting in the pew that morning.  Many of them take a moment to ask for specific prayers, and we respond by reading those, and praying.  It’s a really neat thing to be a part of, and I’m usually in awe of the faithfulness of some prayers, and the candid “specificness” of others.  This is usually the longest portion of our Wednesday staff meetings.

After this, we go through an “absentee” report.  This report looks at the attendence records of all our regular attenders, and compiles a list of anyone who has missed 3 times in a row.  That’s usually a sign that something might be happening, and we want to make sure we’re making contact with those we’ve not seen in a while.  Not because “you gotta get in church!!!”  But because we’re a family…and if someone in your family doesn’t show up for a meal-time on a regular basis, love compels you start to ask questions.

thumbsupThat’s when it usually happens.  We’re all reading through the list of names together, and someone asks about a name aloud.  “Does anyone know how ______ is doing?”  More than once, I’ve responded in that moment.  Not out of relationship.  Not out of conversation that you and I had, during which you told me about something going on in your life.  From where, then?  Usually, something I saw posted on social media.  It’s made me realize a truth I need to confess, not only to the attenders of our church, but my own friends and family:

I make claims to “How you are doing” based on information I picked up second-hand.

This is probably not all that big of a deal.  Many of us actually post things online, so that people we’re connected to will know what’s happening in our lives.  It’s kinda the point.  The danger comes, when experiencing “relationship” by way of “information” becomes the default way we begin to relate to those we care about.  Far too many people in our lives want to be truly “known”, and not simply “known about”.  From the most important relationship I have with any human being, my wife…all the way out to someone on the edges of my relationships: we want to be known.  (see Martin Buber’s “I and Thou” to realize this is not a new need)

It’s something many of us realized about God at some point.  To know about Him is not the same thing as knowing Him.  Yet here we are, many of us settling for that same level of relationship with those we care about.  It’s understandable that it happens, really.  With the amount of data that streams into our lives on a daily basis, we are sometimes doing well to even notice the relevant information on those we care about.

Now, I’m not about to “give up” the ability I have to “know about” what’s happening in the lives of so many people….by dumping social media altogether.  But I do think it’s important to remember: information is not relation.

So that’s my challenge for myself:  To have more one-on-one conversations.  To call someone on the phone, and ask how they’re doing.  To look at my spouse across the table, letting go of the “information” I have about what’s happening in her life and genuinely ask as if I don’t know how to answer, “How are you today?”  To let go of the pictures I may have seen of my children posted/sent during the day, and curiously ask them with a smile on my face, “How was your day today??”

What does the challenge look like for you??

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