Charlotte Observer, Robert Lahser/AP
Brianne Renwick of Monroe, N.C., reads
a twitter message on her cell phone at
an Easter service.

Twittered Out: Are Tweets and Texts Destroying Society?

May 08, 2009 05:15 PM
by Shannon Firth
Rock stars, religious leaders and even bloggers warn of the consequences of gorging on social media. They say excessive tweeting, texting and calling are destroying our sense of self, our spirituality and our community.

Your Cell Phone or Your Soul

According to Reuters, in a recent interview, Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone, “It’s peculiar and unnerving in a way to see so many young people walking around with cell phones and iPods in their ears … It’s a shame to see them so tuned out to real life.” He adds that new gadgets are stripping individuals of their “self-identity.”

In a lecture from TED, Renny Gleeson goes a step further. Gleeson says the expansion of social media has created a society in which many of us feel an obligation to be available. This is compounded by a need to share and chronicle every important moment. Gleeson illustrates this point using a slide of a girl kissing a boy while looking into her camera phone: “Our reality right now is less interesting than the story we’re going to tell about it later.” He adds, “[P]eople aren’t simply projecting their identity, they’re creating it.”

Conversely, Gavin Richardson, a Methodist youth minister, is surprisingly more sanguine about the uses of social media than Gleeson, who works in advertising. Richardson suggests to his parishioners and other readers of his blog, “I might say Twitter & Facebook could be your daily trip to temple or town green to meet people, find out how they are living their lives, and entertain a teaching or question.”

According to the Catholic Church, however, social media is harmful to our spirituality. The Telegraph reported last November that Father Lombardi, the spokesperson for the Pope, told a Vatican TV program, “In the age of the cell phone and the internet it is probably more difficult than before to protect silence … There is an interior and spiritual dimension of life that must be guarded and nourished.”

At the start of Lent, the Catholic season of repentance, Catholic bishops in Italy asked parishioners to forego all texts and tweets on Fridays. 

However in January, Pope Benedict XVI began his own YouTube channel. And, according to the Telegraph, on World Youth Day in Sydney, he sent daily texts, “messages of inspiration,” to congregants, and provided a digital prayer walls for attendees to share their worries and their hopes.

While the Catholic Church’s stance seems to contradict itself, Father John Wauck of Holy Cross University explained to ABC, “The church’s message is yes, use it for the good. And, no, avoid the evil uses that it can easily be put to.”

Opinion & Analysis: “Privacy was killing us anyway”; Good uses for social media

The Internet Bard, a social media manager and blogger, explains that before the Internet, in post-war America, people had begun to isolate themselves. The Bard writes, “We stopped communicating with our neighbors in part because it was no longer absolutely essential to do so … We suddenly had all the privacy we could ever want.”

According to the Bard, we’re driven by two very different urges—between “privacy” and “intimacy.” She adds, “People crave both, but we hate tension.”

In March, Paul Smith, a.k.a. the twitchhiker, began a journey from his home in Newcastle, England, to New Zealand, funded almost entirely by donations from other Twitter users.

His aim was to show “that the connections we nurture online are capable of being equally as strong, if not stronger than those we foster in the flesh.” Proceeds from his trip were used to help support charity: water, a non-profit organization that builds wells in developing countries.

Related Topic: E-mailing the Wailing Wall; A fatwa on cell phone ringtones

Rachel Wagner, writing on the blog Religion Dispatches, says that because of a 24-hour Webcam, it’s now possible to “pray” at the Wailing Wall through your computer. You can also e-mail a message that someone can place in the wall for you. Wagner asks, “Is God ‘closer’ if you visit the physical wall than if you simply view a digital image of it?”

In April, the Islamic group Jamia Ashraf-ul-Madaris declared a fatwa on certain cell phone practices. It considered it unholy to use aayats or verses from the Koran as ring tones, because by answering the phone you interrupt the verse, British News Channel 4 reported.

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