Have You Seen My Face?

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I recently wrote an article for Bryan College’s chapel blog about my journey into the internet and social media. I will be speaking on the subject of relationships and social media later this semester at Bryan and I wanted to give a bit of my back story to lay a foundation for that presentation. That article is pasted below. I have also included a though provoking video by Charlene deGuzman about living in an culture saturated with IPhone activity. Don’t be surprised if you want to break your IPhone after you watch it.

Your Mom’s on Facebook

There are a lot of ways that I considered introducing this topic of technology and life that we will be addressing in a chapel series this year at Bryan College. I thought about pouring all my research and data into this post and dropping names of sociologists and psychologists. I thought about theorizing about the positive and negative consequences of incorporating technology into all of our relationships. But at the end of the day the most convincing evidence of the power and relevance of technology in our lives that I can offer is a look at my own story with technology.

When I was a freshman at Texas A&M in 1994, I was introduced to email. My mother was aware of it because of my older brother, who attended prior to me, and she wanted me to communicate with her through it on a weekly basis because it was faster than conventional mail and free. I was never around to answer my phone in the dorm and I rarely called her back so email was a way to stay in touch with her “baby.” I had to carve out some time to go to a computer lounge a few buildings over in order to sit down a send a few messages. I hated it. It took forever and it was literally like staring at that green screen full of 1’s and 0’s made famous by the movie The Matrix, except for the fact that the green background didn’t move! That’s the way it continued for a couple of years until I started seeing other guys on my floor with computers that allowed them to email faster and even participate in “instant messaging.” I was a poor student so I had to use my buddy’s computers to send messages to my mom and talk with friends, but it didn’t take long for me to become addicted to staring at the screen. I think I actually had a Hotmail account before it was owned by MSN.

Along with the good came the bad. The viewing of porn was a common occurrence among guys at college and when I found out that I didn’t need to look at a magazine or a movie to view it in my own dorm, I was guiltily pleased. What used to be an embarrassing process of viewing and buying porn at a bookstore or borrowing it from a friend became an inconspicuous, anonymous, and highly accessible affair. Such is the nature with most forms of technology, especially the Internet. They can be such great tools to further good aspects of life, but they can also make it easier to indulge our demons. By the time I left Texas A&M in May of 1998, I had participated in far more virtual experiences than I ever thought possible. My brother introduced me to Ultima Online, a multiplayer online role-playing game, in which you could create a fantasy character to compete for power within a virtual world. I wasn’t a fantasy genre fan for the most part, but the concept of making a character and expressing my skill and power against “real” people on the other side of the country was extremely satisfying. I was all about expressing my power back then, and the Internet became another way to do it.

When I went through an intense time of repentance in the Spring of 1998, I was drawn to the internet again for new reasons. I could go to these Christian and religious chat rooms and discuss really meaningful matters for hours at a time. On top of that I could use a username that expressed how important I felt in my endeavor to seek and communicate wisdom. I think I logged-on to my first chat room as something like “Polycarp.” It was invigorating! I’d argue for hours about why my view of Christianity was right and why Calvinism or Liberal Christianity was poo poo. I started to become pretty good, in my own eyes, at destroying flawed arguments online. I learned the art of making people really mad with aggressive and passive aggressive emails. It wasn’t that nothing good ever came of my interactions on the Internet, but there was a new learning curve that I had to experience concerning how to control my voice in this new social platform. Not only did I need to control my mouth….I also now had to control my fingers and mouse clicking (Side note: I actually had a computer once that required that I continually move the mouse in order for the Internet to work).

As the years went by I made sure that my wife and I always had a computer and that I was always connected with the latest forms of social media. When beliefnet came out, I was on it. When Facebook was opened up for students at my school, I joined (I looked at profiles on MySpace but always knew it was the devil, so I never joined). I even have a Google+ account…..that I never use. I had owned a smartphone since 2008 or so, but when I was given an IPhone around 2010 things got hot and heavy in my social networking life. I watched a few people use this “Twitter” thing for about 3 or 4 years before I finally saw that it was used by more than just teenage girls and finally made an account on October 5th, 2010. I used my attendance at a Malcolm Gladwell speaking engagement at UT Chattanooga to inaugurate my Twitter-life. I haven’t looked back since. I now “tweet” almost everyday. It is a way in which to interact with an expansive world of ideas and that only grows larger and more accessible to a growing number of people. I’ve developed new personal and professional relationships using Twitter and Facebook (And have learned how to avoid old unhealthy ones. I also made that uneasy decision to relate with my Mom on Facebook). I’ve had deep relevant discussion about pressing issues facing our world and have had thoughtful communication about how a Christian should face these issues. All that to say, it has been a great experience for me…but.

You knew there had to be a but. The most telling testimony I can give is my wife’s pleas for me to “put the phone down and look her in the face.” I’m always going. It’s not that I don’t stop to look people in the face and have non-virtual conversations, it’s that I fill much of the rest of the time with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. There has been little place for rest in my brain over the last several years. I just got back from a 3 day retreat to a lake cottage that had no cell phone reception or Wi-Fi. It was a little tough at first, but WOW, I’m so glad I was forced into that situation. My mind rested and my eyes turned toward the skies more often. I listened to the quiet sounds of the lake and the laughter of my children. It was a blessing. There is something to the efficiency and capacity that technology and social media bring to our lives. It’s a good thing. However, these things can draw us into dark places, places not attached to a healthy life in Christ. We need to talk more about the consequences of this power and how we can submit it to the lordship of Christ. I look forward to engaging the Bryan community on this subject in chapel this September 16. Actually, I’m excited about the whole series of chapels on this topic, including Dr. Schut’s talk on video games on Monday, September 23 and Sansoni and Saylor’s live podcast recording in chapel on Friday, September 27. I know these guys will bring a healthy discussion that will inform our walk with Christ.

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