Connecting with Culture
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That’s the contention of The Social Dilemma, the latest boat-rocking docu-drama to hit Netflix. It interviews high profile Silicon Valley defectors, and (controversially) intersperses an invented plot about a family ruled by addiction to their devices.
An old cliché states that ‘if you’re not paying for the product, it’s because you are the product’. The film argues that whenever we log on to our social media, or glance at our phone, we add to the pile of data that makes up our online profile. Over time, that profile gets more accurate, more able to predict what we want to see and ‘recommend’ it to us, whether it’s posts designed to persuade us to spend more time online, or adverts urging us to spend more money.
The problem with all this, aside from wasted time and money, is that the algorithms don’t just suck us in. They slowly begin to influence us – we become like what we worship. Higher social media use correlates with declines in mental and physical health. Internal Facebook research shows that 64% of those who join extremist groups do so because they’re driven there by algorithms. Conspiracy theories abound, because in the online world false stories spread, on average, six times faster than the truth.
But we all know excessive time online isn’t good for us – what can we do about it? To ensure that social media remains a tool to serve our purposes, rather than the other way round, we need to think about why we give it our attention in the first place.
We’re drawn into this world because we crave interpersonal connection. And social media can, to an extent, meet that need. But the idea that it does so fully is a lie. It’s just a lie we keep believing.
Is there another way? As Paul wrote in Galatians 4:9, now we know God – ‘or rather are known by’ him – how can we turn back to forces that enslave us? Until we grasp just how completely we’re known, and fulfil our desire and need for relationship supremely through God, we’ll always be vulnerable to searching for connection in the wrong places.
So, let me ask again … who knows you best?
Centre for Culture & Discipleship | Research and Development