Always On

This post is in response to reading Angela Williams Gorrell’s book, Always On: Practicing Faith in a New Media Landscape, published in 2019 by Baker Academic.

 

Summary

            Early in her well-researched and well-written book, Gorrell starts using the term “new media” which, she says, “encompasses many forms and devices, including blogs, the internet, podcasts, social networks, streaming services, e-books, computers, cell phones, e-readers, and so on.”[1] It is unquestionable that these media and devices have changed the way that we receive and share information over the last fifteen years. Gorrell’s chief assertion is that “new media has both glorious possibilities and profound brokenness.”[2] She then goes on to prove both of these truths to provide an awareness of the pitfalls and hope for how the internet could be used to further the cause of Christ.

 

New media is addictive

            Gorrell rightly asserts that new media does not just want to get your attention but wants to hold it as well. The idea is to fuel one’s need for affirmation so that they will keep checking back. Constant updates from “friends” feeds a fear of missing out. Of course, this is not just for the sake of keeping people looking at their friends’ posts. The idea is to continue to advertise to people, because that is where the social networks make their money. The need to find more likes and to make sure that nobody is saying negative things about them fuels increased stress among users.

 

New media can diminish humanness

            It hardly needs to be said in this time, but Gorrell correctly notes that social media makes it easy to dehumanize people. She clarifies that “Diminished humanness is the result of not seeing yourself or other people as full beings with minds, hearts, emotions, hopes, friends, families, reputations, struggles. With respect to yourself, you can believe that what you do and say online or through a device is not the “real” you.”[3] While it is not actually possible to distance ourselves from our words and actions, an online presence can often give the feeling that we can. When we see other people as not real, it becomes very easy to treat them as less than human.

 

New media requires discernment

            This is the key to Gorrell’s hope for the good in the new media landscape. She assets that online spaces must be treated as real spaces. As the Holy Spirit would accompany wherever we physically go, the Holy Spirit must accompany where we go online. We must discern what sites and platforms to use (and which to not use). We must discern the Lord’s will in where and how to set up our online spaces, the same way that we would seek His will when setting up a physical location. And, above all, our interactions must be Christlike.

 

Key Insights for Ministry

            The new media is the new town square. Our people are there, and we must be, too. Whatever platforms that we use, we should use for the glory of God. We should, and do, use new media to spread the gospel. Believers can use new media to comfort and encourage each other. We will use new media to tell the stories of our faith and encourage people to godly living. In short, just as we are to live our lives as a public testimony to Christ, our online lives should also be a public testimony to Christ.

[1] Angela Williams Gorrell. Always On: Practicing Faith in a New Media Landscape. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019). 2.

[2] Gorrell, 4.

[3] Gorrell, 20.