Can You Still Be Social in This Social-Media Era?


Since the 1990s, relationships have become a lot more at arm's length, provided you're actually in the room to reach out and test that distance, Hugenot writes. (Image courtesy of ponsuwan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The 1990s are having a "culture resurgence," according to a recent interview in the New York Times.

A young actress named Sarah Goldberg was featured in a brief interview about a TV show she is starring in on VH1. Goldberg is a character in the series "Hindsight" set back in the long ago era of the 1990s.

Some readers will join me in groaning slightly at the thought of Gen X now being the subject of nostalgia.

I grew up understanding the Korean War via the insanity (on many levels) of MASH in the 1970s and 1980s.

My generation had "Roots," "The Day After" and other major dramatizations to shape our understandings of world issues and history.

We are also dazed and confused by our youngsters looking at us oddly when we tell them we didn't grow up with Elmo on "Sesame Street."

Goldberg was born in the mid-1980s, but she played along like she knew what coming into young adulthood during the mid-1990s felt like. Her reply to a question about this '90s resurgence was insightful.

"I feel like it's easy to romanticize this time, pre-technology and pre-mobile phones, essentially. People had to really commit. If you made a plan to meet [someone] ... there was no texting five minutes before saying, 'I'm not showing up,'" she said.

"There's something - to me, in hindsight - so sort of sexy and free about [the '90s] because you had to make a bolder gesture. You had to vote with your feet. You couldn't just vote with your thumbs."

In the middle of Lent, these words strike a particular chord. Since the 1990s, relationships have become a lot more at arm's length, provided you're actually in the room to reach out and test that distance.

Goldberg sees a bit of a "lost world" growing up with the saturation of technology that can tell you where you're going via Google maps, which allows you to preview a meeting location, choose whether or not to make or break that appointment and then send an impersonal text.

This season for intentional reflection and self-examination might get lost in the shuffle of our iPod playing a tailored playlist as we work, work out, drive to work or relax at day's end.

We like noise, including the streaming of old episodes of TV shows we've already seen a few times over.

Spending time with ourselves and attentively looking at our lives doesn't seem the priority most days, and I include myself in this observation.

Add in the implications of interacting with our families, neighborhoods, faith communities and other social relationships, and you begin to see why we might be predisposed to be sociable only when we feel like we have the energy or interest.

Living in a 24/7 communication world, we are able to connect with people on an unprecedented level, yet these same means of connection can also be used as a deterrent or deferral. We have choices to make about our ways of connecting.

Meant to enfranchise communication and make it more efficient, some technologies have become conduits for taking the misanthropic approach to the point that we prefer still to be "islands unto ourselves" or "ships passing in the night."

Congregations in times of anxiety tend to turn inward just like the humans comprising the membership of these churches.

I am an advocate for churches learning to use social media, for pastors to consider using texts, tweets and Facebook messages to keep in touch with congregants.

Yet I would be remiss if I did not hope that all of the technology is in service to what furthers our depth of relationship and our sense of being together in Christ.

As much as I love my iPhone to keep in touch, I am much happier speaking one to another in real face-to-face interaction.

Am I a "Luddite"? No, I love technology. Am I a relic from the 1990s? I guess so.

Yet, those who grew up in the pre-social media era can offer a needed reminder that these new means of communication, if not used wisely, can increase the flow of information while decreasing physical connection and community.

Jerrod H. Hugenot is the associate executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of New York State. He blogs at Preaching and Pondering, where a longer version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission.

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Tags: Communication, Jerrod Hugenot, Lent, Social Media


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