My mother-in-law caught me off guard the other day as we gathered together for a family photo. She announced very casually: “I’ll just get my selfie stick”. Everyone looked at each other in disbelief: “You have a selfie stick?!” Apparently, everyone has one!
So, perhaps unlike me, it won’t surprise you to know that in 2013 the word of the year was ‘selfie’ and the next generation of young people have been coined the ‘Selfie Generation’.
I guess from this it would be easy to think that the selfie is just another step on the narcissistic ladder of the social media world. And maybe that is partly true, but it isn’t the whole picture; there is also a shift happening in social media that is changing the way people are choosing to communicate.
In 2015, Vodafone announced that Snapchat accounts for 75 per cent of all mobile instant messaging data in the United Kingdom. The shift appears to be a move from using public broadcasting platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where you can broadcast ideas and pictures to the world inviting others to interact with it, to apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp that allows privacy and more opportunities to start a conversation.
This Selfie Generation “value privacy, flocking to Snapchat and Whisper over the millennial-favored Facebook.” That’s what a 2014 article on Forbes website claimed.
Why is this interesting? Because it’s starting to show a desire for changing the way we communicate and do community online. People are starting to opt out of simply broadcasting themselves to the world, instead there appears to be a yearning for more conversation and more connection on a personal, private level that Snapchat and WhatsApp provide.
We shouldn’t actually be surprised at this shift of online community. It’s an indication and echo of Genesis 2: “It’s not good for the man to be alone.” We need each other. We are designed and created to be in close community with one another, to have meaningful conversations and to go beyond just simply broadcasting ourselves to the world.
But, what does this mean for the church?
The good news of Jesus Christ has remained the same since the beginning of time. But the method of sharing it has changed and should continue to change as we create new ways to communicate and share stories.
We have traditionally used these broadcasting platforms to announce this good news and to invite friends to events. But as people start to use other platforms, it would be good for the church to notice. Instead of just simply broadcasting Christian ideas, we have a chance to invite and be part of closer online communities that encourage more conversation.
What’s more, these apps could potentially allow opportunities for ideas to be investigated, questions to be asked and friendships to form. It goes beyond just liking a profile picture, it allows people to create and maintain meaningful relationships online which will hopefully continue offline.
Even though there will be, at present, a place for our broadcasting platforms, we can encourage each other to not just take a selfie and broadcast it to the world but instead look at the desire for a deeper community and cultivate it.
However, this will take time and it’s easy to just broadcast an event and hope people will attend. But to actually spend time personally inviting people, encouraging conversation and questions both online and offline, means relationships won’t be instant but hopefully it will deepen them and enrich the church as we build community together.