Here we are in the two-thousand-and-teens, all of us thoroughly networked, connected, and socially mediated.
Theoretically, things should be nearly perfect because, you know, we are all so desperately in need of being networked, connected, and socially mediated.
[We are also desperately in need of eye contact, sincere empathy, meaningful conversation, and maybe also unstrained opposable thumbs, but we’ll save those for later, shall we?]
In fact, we all know that things are not quite so nearly perfect as many would like to believe.
[Nor are they quite so absolutely desperate as others would like to believe because, let’s admit it, Google and Skype have, on more than one occasion, proven extraordinarily useful.]
I take issue here with neither the staunch proponents nor the strident naysayers of social media. Nothing and nobody is going to change either of their minds.
Rather, I take issue with the linguistic loss that socially mediated connectedness has wrought on our discourse. Specifically, I mourn the fact that follow has been co-opted, flattened, emptied, and sucked dry of all its inherent power, depth, and gravity.
For the first time in history, follow denotes passivity rather than activity, and follow me is a plea for shallow popularity rather than an invitation to disciplined humility.
Rather than try to minimize the linguistic damage, we instead add to it our own unique brand of self-centrist carnage: “Follow me, I follow you. Unfollow me, I unfollow you.” Mm. It simply drips with relational grace and kindness.
I do sometimes wonder how technology is reshaping our lives, how smartphones are rewiring our brains, how Facebook is redefining our relationships, and how Twitter is re-energizing our addictive tendencies.
But of more import than my periodic wonderings are my increasingly persistent concerns:
- that an obsession with gaining more followers will divert attention from the only One worth following ;
- that carefully counted likes will obscure infinitely expansive Love;
- that the demands of social media will clamor more loudly than the grace of a personal Mediator;
- that the need to constantly refresh will weigh more heavily than the need to be continually refreshed;
- that a vast web of virtual friends will crowd out a small circle of close community;
- and ultimately, that follow me will no longer be heard as the radical invitation of a loving Savior but merely as the needy plea of a lonely (but fully networked) soul.
I know that we will never wrest follow me away from its two-thousand-and-teens context. To try would be decidedly futile.
But please, let’s never allow its newly mutated form to replace – or even minimally influence – its two-thousand-year-old meaning. To do so would be desperately fatal.