Eric Qualman puts it this way, often and early, in his new book Socialnomics, “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.”
When I was in high school, I knew of two people who had cell phones. This was in 1998, mind you. Not exactly eons ago. Coincidentally, they were the default social chairs for their groups of friends. Why? Because they had the resources to gather people together.
Similarly, when I asked a local high schooler how he and his friends communicate, without hesitation he said, “Facebook.” I prodded further, “What happens with the people who don’t have Facebook pages?” He started at me blankly. His response punctuated the vacant stare, “Having a Facebook page is like having a phone number. You just have one.”
Add this anecdote to the fact that, according to Qualman and his research, younger generations find e-mail antiquated and passe, and you have a full-blown, fundamental, communications shift on your hands.
In Socialnomics, Qualman dives deep into the statistical realm of social media. He gives hard usage data for social mediums like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs and then unpacks what that means for the various societal social institutions in our everyday lives.
Take politics, for instance. Did you know that during the 2008 election, 500 million blogs mentioned Barack Obama as compared to the 150 million that mentioned John McCain. Simply put, more people were talking about Obama–for better or worse–and many believe that helped get him elected.
Take Qualman’s chapter entitled “The Death of Social Schizophrenia” for example. Qualman maintains that because of the dependence that Generations Y and Z have on the social web, the line is further blurring between “work” life and “home” life. Because of the ubiquity of social media, people are “on” (for lack of a better term) 24/7. We get a fuller picture of someone’s personality because we see them at work, we read their tweets when they’re at home, and we see the pictures they post to Facebook after a night on the town. No more “split” personalities. No more “social schizophrenia.”
Can you imagine any benefits to this elimination of bifurcated social roles for Christians? I can. It “pulls back the covers” on all areas of our lives. Granted, most social mediums are “opt-in” (at least for now), so there is some censoring going on. But what better way to live one’s life out in full-view of the public, unafraid of someone from your congregation knowing that you had a bad day, you like to listen to Rage Against the Machine, or sometimes a video from FailBlog.org really brightened your day (even though the video featured a poor, hapless soul getting hit in the crotch with a whiffle ball bat). Freedom!
What does this have to do with the way we communicate in the church? Hopefully everything. Because the same high schoolers who navigate social relationships with mediums like Facebook and text messaging will be the same people who will be filling our pews in the next 10-15 years. If we have any hopes in communicating the message of the gospel to them, we need to learn their language (and pick up an accent if necessary!). We must learn how to navigate the pitfalls of social media with wisdom and humility. We must learn how to leverage these powerful tools for the sake of furthering God’s work here on Earth.
All of that in 140 characters or less. Are you up for the challenge?