Social Media has taken the world by storm - with billions of users spanning across all of the world's continents. Everyone is using it, with that "everyone" growing exceedingly larger every year. After years of this type of technology, the effects of social media have become readily apparent: it's addictive and changes people.
Social media isn't the only kind of media that affects us. Truly, any type of media we use affects us - sometimes without us even realizing it. Often, we are so clueless about media that we don't even consider that what we're using is media. For example, did you know books are media? Even the ancient practice of smoke signals was a form of media. Really anything we use as a stand-in to face-to-face communication is media. This media, like tinted glass, affects the message we're sending out, adding subliminal messages to what we're seeking to communicate.
For example, when sharing the gospel over social media, we're actually conveying two sorts of messages: (1) the gospel, and (2) that social media usage is a good thing that is worth spending time on. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Included in it may be other messages such as "shorter content is better" and "it's not necessary to be in a physical community to grow spiritually". That's not to say that these subliminal messages are at the forefront of everyone's mind when they receive your message, but they're there, nonetheless. Thus, media itself has the potential to do more good than we expected or backfire unexpectedly.
This reality presents the church with an interesting dilemma: how do we reach the world through media while avoiding its dangers? To help answer this question, I interviewed Brandon Curriston, the Operations Director at my local church, to gain some insight into some practical ways the Christian community can use media in a God-glorifying way. From this interview, I believe there are three basic truths we as Christians must remember as we interact with media.
1. MEDIA SHOULD BE A BRIDGE One thing Brandon said that stuck out to me was his description of the pros and cons of media. He said, "[Media] at its best helps us live out our God-given design more. At its best, these tools can be a bridge to actual relationships."
As Christians, God has called us to live in community. We are never called to live lives isolated from the body of Christ. Media that helps us to interact with each other more effectively ought to be embraced wholeheartedly.
2. MEDIA SHOULDN'T BE AN ISOLATOR The other end of this is also true. When media acts as a closed door, rather than a bridge, it becomes problematic. Following his last comment I quoted, Brandon said, "At its worst, it gives people an illusion of relationship." Media can sometimes serve as a counterfeit to genuine community. Social media is a perfect example. At its best, it's a way we can communicate with our friends and family. At worst it becomes a substitute for face-to-face interaction. We must be careful not to let things like texting replace verbal communication. We must be careful to avoid letting podcasts stand in the place of bible study fellowship over a meal. We must be careful to avoid letting livestreams replace community worship.
On that last point, Brandon said of our church, "We were emphasizing that corporate worship was just content to be consumed - and that's definitely not what it is. It wasn't anything we ever said, it was just how we were delivering the content. That actually cut the legs out from underneath the church because now people were just saying 'I can get this content if I'm not there'. That's never been the design of the church". He then went on to explain that this was the reason the church leadership decided to end the livestream - because of the unintended subtle message that came inherently by using the livestream form of media.
3. MEDIA SHOULD BE INTENTIONAL Finally, we must be intentional with the media we use and produce - and even the amount of each form of media we use and produce. Spending time on YouTube isn't a bad thing. Spending twelve hours a day on YouTube is a bad thing. Spending time on Tiktok isn't a bad thing. Spending so much time on TikTok that your attention span has been reduced to 90 seconds is a very bad thing. Regarding media, Brandon wisely said, "Often technology promises us an easier life - but it always comes at a cost. Things aren't always the way we seem. Things that we immediately think are great and will make our lives better ... oftentimes come with a price tag on them".
CONCLUSION As we can see, media has a profound impact on us and others. Given this, we ought to pause before consuming and producing it thoughtlessly. Instead, we must be intentional and think of it as a means to the end of godly community.
I would encourage you, to think about the media you're producing and consuming. Think through how it will affect yourself and others - and then interact with that media accordingly. If you do, you will better fulfill the commend of scripture, when it says, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil" (EPH 5:15-16 ESV).