Editorial -- By: Andreas J. Köstenberger

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 54:1 (Mar 2011)
Article: Editorial
Author: Andreas J. Köstenberger


Andreas J. Köstenberger

Social networking has come into its own. TIME Magazine chose Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, as its Man of the Year 2010. Even 83 year-old Pope Benedict weighed in on social networks in a message with the ambitious title, “Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age.” And sites such as Twitter and Facebook played a pivotal role in galvanizing the opposition to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year regime in recent weeks. However, not all is well in the Age of Facebook. An editorial in USA Today declared 2010 “The Year We Stopped Talking,” lamenting, “Americans are more connected than ever—just not in person.”

While Americans are interconnected at unprecedented levels—93% now use cell phones or other wireless forms of communication—the connectivity revolution has engendered its fair share of social angst. Social networking has changed the way we relate to others to such a significant extent that our private and professional lives stand in urgent need of reassessment. At least, this is the contention of Richard Harper, principal researcher in socio-digital systems at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England and author of Texture: Human Expression in the Age of Communications Overload.

Sherry Tuttle, Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self in Cambridge, Massachusetts, agrees. In her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, she observes, “We’ve come to confuse continual connectivity with making real connections.” While we’re always “on” for everyone, we often fail to have—or take—the time for conversations that count.

Pope Benedict, in his above-mentioned message, concurs. While the new media offers “a great opportunity,” the pontiff, as reported in a New York Times editorial “Pope Weighs in on Social Networks” (Jan. 24, 2011), warns of “the risks of depersonalization, alienation, self-indulgence, and the dangers of having more virtual friends than real ones.” “It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives,” the pontiff wrote, urging users of social networks to ask themselves the question, “Who is my ‘neighbor’ in this new world?” We must avoid the dilemma of being perennially available online while being less and “less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life.”

Appropriate cautions indeed. We’ve all seen people who were completely oblivious to their environment while being utterly engrossed in texting or handling one of the myriads of technological gadgets that seem to proliferate almost by the day....

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