“One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”
With 250 million Facebook status updates posted daily, it seems that Minnesota pastor John Piper may be a little too optimistic for our generation. Status updates cover anything from attitudes about class assignments to quoting music lyrics and movie lines to a simple statement about one’s love of food. And although they take no more than 15 seconds to update, could that 15 seconds be put to better use?
Although many do, not all of Northwestern’s students use the allotted 420-character limit this way.
On its homepage, Facebook asks its users, “What’s on your mind?” Although many Northwestern students do write exactly what’s on their mind, there have been recent status updates that have led to further discussion – maybe even discussion that’s deeper than what’s had in Kinsinger’s theology class.
Sophomore Gabe Harder posted a quote that he hoped would “get people talking about some deeper issues.” Starting with “the truth about Jesus,” Harder’s status was filled with what seemed like biblical truth. “Believe this and you will be in heaven, no matter what.”
Although Harder later stated that his status didn’t directly line up with his personal theology, he left the status open-ended. “I suppose my goal in posting [the quote] was to hear what people at school and back home thought about an issue, and to see if some cross-talk could happen between the two.” He got what he’d hoped for.
Throughout the remainder of the day, comments and other posts were added – some that agreed with Harder’s post and others that challenged it. NW students and Harder’s hometown friends dialogued about repentance, atonement, the fear of God and our need for salvation. “Some genuine thought took place,” Harder said, “and some of the participants really did take the time to verbalize and think what they thought.”
The theological discussion on the world’s largest social network was momentarily put on hold as many NW students sat silently in their classes, watching their professors yearn for dialogue as engaging as what was taking place on Facebook. When classes and homework had ceased for the day, freshman Josh Hollinger and sophomores Jesse Baldwin and Kate Wallin met up on Facebook to pick up where they’d left off.
As the discussion got heated – as far as one can tell while reading words on a screen – the posts got more frequent, nearly minute by minute. Fifteen minutes in to the second night of discussion, Wallin wrote, “I hate Facebook for becoming a means by which we have these conversations. Let’s sit in a room and really talk about this stuff. I think it’s a lot easier to love one another when we have to look at one another.”
And that’s where Wallin nailed it on the head. Talking to people face to face and looking people in the eye has become almost a foreign form of communication to many students of our generation. E-mails, texting and Facebook have no doubt made it easy to rarely handle confrontation or even basic levels of communication in a personal way.
“I think it’s easier to be more bold in talking about deep issues over the Internet (like on Facebook),” Hollinger said. “You don’t actually have to look anyone in the eyes or acknowledge their presence.”
Junior Isaac Hendricks stumbled upon the ongoing conversation late on the second day. He commented, “If you all agree with Kate, why is this conversation continuing in this venue? (This is rhetorical question and should not be answered.)”
Hendricks feels strongly about the influence Facebook is having on our communication skills, but he’s not sure which side he wants to take. “The idea of engaging in dialogue with another individual who holds differing beliefs than your own is a beautiful thing, but I think this conversation is far FAR more valuable when it happens face to face as opposed to two people hiding behind their keyboards,” Hendricks said. “The beauty of a face-to-face conversation is that this conversation lends itself to lasting legitimate growth. One cannot simply walk away from a conversation of this magnitude whereas in a comment list, or something similar, someone can make one comment, be confronted about that comment and never have to respond to the confrontation.”
Student after student—even those not originally involved with the discussion—stated their agreement with Wallin, that the conversation should not be held over Facebook. Harder, whose original intent was for conversation like this to take place, then wrote, “Why do people blame Facebook – an inanimate mode of communication – and try to call off discussion as soon as a conversation gets heated and some genuinely good thoughts have been expressed?”
Isn’t Facebook dialogue better than no dialogue at all? Hollinger would certainly say so. “Can’t we embrace the importance of face-to-face conversations without totally condemning Facebook discussions?” Hollinger asked. “I think it would be best if we took advantage of technology like Facebook, while recognizing the shortcomings of it and the importance of communicating with each other in person.”
Are those just empty words or are you intentional about continuing the conversation in a personal setting? And if not, then what’s the deal when it comes to your beloved social networks drastically altering your ability to communicate in person?
Are you more comfortable with a keypad at your fingertips than you are with a person sitting across from you? Harder, who initially posted the quote in order to facilitate discussion, said, “I was surprised when people said, ‘We shouldn’t talk about this on Facebook,’ as if the mode of communication stripped the conversation of meaning.”
The news sources and studies seem to have it right. Social media isn’t a fad. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. It’s not a question of whether or not you’ll use social media, it’s how well will you use it. Let’s prove the pastor’s quote to be true. May our use of Facebook prove that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.