What is social media doing to our ability to communicate with kindness, clarity and depth?
Should social media be seen as a redeemable form of communication, or is it a medium that is not meant to hold the weight of discourse?
Can heavy matters of faith even be discussed on social media, or is the platform too temporary and cheap for the eternal riches of the gospel?
In 1985, Neil Postman published Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business to show how the advent of television caused much of American public discourse to be “dangerous nonsense.”
Oh, Mr. Postman, if you only knew.
1. Social Media Deceives Us
Social media deceives us into believing we are informed when we are, in fact, misinformed. Postman writes that television created a species of information that might be properly called “disinformation.”
He writes, “Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information—misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information—information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.” Consuming an obscene amount of useless information as a means of entertainment deceives us because, over time, it can erode our ability to prioritize and address information we receive.
2. Social Media Distracts Us
Social media distracts us with an offensive amount of unimportant information disguised as matters of great importance. Social media, in its perpetual barrage of “BREAKING NEWS” alerts and other false flashes of urgency, actually end up cheapening that which is “BREAKING NEWS” and urgent.
We are deceived into thinking we are being more informed when we are, in fact, just becoming more distracted. Postman says regarding the telegraph, “Telegraphy made relevance irrelevant. The abundant flow of information had very little or nothing to do with those to whom it was addressed.” Indeed, the barrage of unimportant information on social media leads us to believe we are more informed when, in fact, we are just more distracted.
3. Social Media Drowns Us
Social media drowns us in information upon which we cannot be expected to act. A friend recently texted me to ask if I had seen a recent popular Christian hashtag in which hundreds if not thousands of people were conversing about issues within the global Church. I said I had not seen the hashtag and that I, honestly, didn’t have time to keep up with trendy Christian hashtags—it just isn’t a priority of mine.
Social media can do a lot of good in the world, and it already has to some extent. I coach and counsel Christians on how to best use social media all the time. I obviously think it’s valuable.
But to deny that there are some clear limits to social media as a communications medium is foolish.
Don’t expect social media to do more than it is able to do.
This blog post is an excerpt of a blog post I published at the ERLC blog last year Check out their site for a bunch of great resources.
Chris Martin is the Co-Creator and Chief Content Officer at LifeWay Social as well as a Content Strategist at LifeWay. He and his wife Susie live outside Nashville, TN.