On March 17, 2020, I left the office at close of business not knowing when I would return. My employers were taking steps to limit the spread of COVID by requiring employees to work from home. I would not return to the office until May 11.
I enjoyed working from home at first. As the weeks dragged on, however, the enjoyment dissipated. I became increasingly irritable, which isn’t a good thing when your wife and kids don’t get a break from you. And to be honest, my productivity lagged.
Jay Y. Kim had a similar experience in the early months of the pandemic. He describes it as “a significant deficit in key three key areas of my life”: contentment, resilience, and wisdom. Home confinement played a role in this deficit. A large role was played by social media, too, however.
During the pandemic, social media allowed us to communicate with family, friends, and coworkers who weren’t quarantined with us. That was a good thing, of course. But social media is not an unalloyed good. “The apps we use are actually using us,” Kim writes. “We are not so much the customers as the products.”
Here’s Kim’s description of how social media work and how they foster discontentment:
Each search and click provides valuable data to companies constantly searching for ways to effectively commodify our attention and, more slyly, our addiction. The bottom line is to keep us scrolling and swiping at any cost. And one of the most effective ways of lulling us in is to situate us in a never-ending loop of comparison, which eventually breeds contempt, before dimly devolving into unprecedented levels of self-centric despair. This often leads to a nagging and incessant impatience, as we desperately seek morsels of satisfaction that always leave us wanting. Fearful of perpetual discontent, we grow increasingly hostile, taking our fears and frustrations on others. Left unchecked, hostility turns to outrage, and we begin to see and treat people as caricatures and enemies, forgetting that we and they are all collectively made in the image of God. As the vicious cycle continues on and on, we seek relief by recklessly indulging in cheap comforts, always available and accessible at the click of a button.
I’ve quoted Kim at length because his words encapsulate a penetrating critique of social media. Social media constitute a major reason why Americans have become increasingly hostile to one another. Those media didn’t cause divisions, but they certainly exacerbated them.
If we’re being honest, Christians aren’t immune from the negative emotions and behaviors Kim describes. I am astounded at the level of shallow thinking, caricature, and vitriol I see in the social media posts of Christians I follow. And I am ashamed when those vices show up on my own posts.
What is so often lacking in Christian social media is the fruit of the Spirit. Analog Christian outlines how those nine virtues should shape the way Christians, individually or in community, interact with others, whether in real life or online.
Kim argues that the fruit of the Spirit requires us to make a choice between:
- love or self-centric despair,
- joy or comparison,
- peace or contempt,
- patience or impatience,
- kindness and goodness or hostility,
- faithfulness or forgetfulness,
- gentleness or outrate, and
- self-control or reckless indulgence.
Notice that the choice isn’t between using social media or not using them. Some people may choose to forego social media entirely, and that’s okay. Most of us are going to continue using social media, however, because it adds value to our lives.
At least, they can add value if they’re controlled by the fruit of the Spirit in the context of community. Kim wrote about community in Analog Church, which came out in March 2020, just as pastors everywhere were scrambling to take their congregational ministries online. The book may have been ill-timed, but it was prescient. Being face-to-face is superior to Facebook and FaceTime.
I recommend Analog Christian to a general audience. In includes a section called “Questions for Reflection and Discussion” at the end of the book. This makes it perfect for use by Sunday school classes, small groups, and book clubs. And enterprising pastors will find ways to use its content in their sermons and Bible studies.
Jay Y. Kim, Analog Christian: Cultivating Contentment, Resilience, and Wisdom in the Digital Age (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2022).
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P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com by permission.