MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube: The Power of Social Networking

IN MY LIFETIME, I’VE SEEN huge changes. As a kid, I remember the dealership in my hometown selling new Chevys for $1795. As a young man, I paid 17.9 cents for a gallon of gas. In college, I laboriously typed my term papers using an old Smith-Corona typewriter, carbon paper, and white-out (some of these terms will be total mysteries to current younger generations).

But the pace of change has accelerated exponentially. Computers showed up as a consumer item in the early- to mid-80s, rendering typewriters obsolete. A decade or so later, the Internet arrived. And yet another decade brought the truly amazing current phenomenon of digital and Internet social networking.

From earlier avenues of social communication such as chat rooms and email, networking today has evolved into an amazing variety of channels: blogs, wikis, instant messaging, text messaging, file-sharing sites (YouTube, Flickr, Napster and then Kazaa and others), and now such lively social networks as Myspace, Facebook, Xanga, Bebo, Classmates.com, Orkut, Friendster, and others.

As a Christian, I can never really see my world without looking at it through Christian lenses. And as I’ve witnessed the runaway success of these vehicles of social networking, I’ve wondered about their implications for people of faith. In no particular order, some thoughts:

  • If people can become so interconnected socially through these various channels (this very blog is an example of one person communicating and inviting communication in return), what are the possibilities for spiritual networking? Of course, that’s ostensibly one purpose of the Church. Christians call it fellowship. I wonder if Church leaders and Christians in general have given much thought to the demonstrated success of Internet social networking—if they’ve brainstormed the potential this implies for social-spiritual networking? To some degree, of course, this is already happening. But does the phenomenal success of current social networking have anything to suggest to Christians for achieving greater fellowship and unity than ever before?
  • What does the stunning growth of social networking say to Christians in terms of outreach? In terms of winning others to the God we love? Clearly, this global spiderweb of communication is meeting very real human needs. What are those? Are there opportunities here for sharing? For linking people not just with each other but with Jesus?
  • Are we quite certain as Christians that the Church is adapting to societal, cultural, and social changes quickly enough? While the good news of the gospel is unchanging, does it serve us well if we are slow to change our methods? What may have worked well in the 1940s, 1960s, 1980s, or even at the turn of the millennium may not be as effective in 2007. Is the Christian Church keeping pace with the times—taking advantage of promising new opportunities made possible in this digital age?
  • Much of the content of the current wave of social networking is quite superficial….little more than idle chatter and public diary writing. Some of it is more thoughtful, of course—blogs in particular seem to be a more reflective form of sharing. But can we find ways to present the Christian message through these new electronic avenues in ways that will captivate and attract people to something higher than trivial, largely self-focused concerns?

I’m probably a little old for a MySpace page, though I do find some video gems on YouTube, play Pandora music while I’m pounding the keyboard—and have recently enjoyed venturing forth into blogging. But as I see the explosion of communication and connecting taking place through cell phones and computers—text, voice, images, video, and music—I can only wonder what the possibilities are for improved spiritual fellowship and outreach.

 

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