Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cultivating INLINE Behaviour in an Online World

One of the things that is needful in our interconnected world is the wisdom on how to use social media. There are tonnes of books that talk about the steps to get onto social media, techniques on gaining followers, advertisement snippets, and all kinds of methods to up one's profile in world gone online. As I ponder on the new world, I cannot but help think about what Jesus will do and say if Internet and social media had been available back then in the first century. Remember John 17:15 where Jesus says: "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one"? Chances are, the online world will be included with the "world" used by Jesus. How then do we practice being in the world but not of the world? Being online is one of the most recognizable marks of our current era. Think about this. According to Toni Birdsong and Tami Heim (incidentally, they met on Twitter), people spend 110 billion minutes a month on social media. Some have even used the Internet platform as a way to evangelize. One popular website talks about 4 principles for 21st Century evangelism.

  1. Think Digital
  2. Think Social
  3. Think Mobile
  4. Think Storytelling.

I have no beef against any of these Internet evangelists. They all stem from a deep love to share the love of God in Jesus. My main concern is whether the drive can be sustained. I am wary of the race to try to keep up all the time, telling ourselves we need to connect constantly with newer technologies at greater speed using many different kinds of devices. I admit. After the initial novelty and fanfare, I get bored. I become more exhausted than excited, more skeptical than hopeful. Don't get me wrong. Birdsong and Heim are right on so many counts. They are correct in identifying the potency of the new social media platform. They are spot on with regards to the need to understand the new world of Twitter, Facebook, and all things social media. They are to be commended to bring a sense of Jesus awareness in a media that is secular and dangerously filled with all kinds of worldliness. Many other things they have written deserve our attention.

  • We may be fixated on social media updates but only Jesus sticks to our hearts, if we allow Him to
  • Social media may be filled with glittering images, but there is only one true light
  • The world constantly changes, but the love of God never changes.
  • Jesus came not to inform but to transform us
  • Being holy is better than being awesome
  • God has given us a mission to share the gospel, including using online means
Readers can find more updates about their book and resources at 

My Thoughts

It is one thing to be fascinated by the online world, but we need to recognize the motivation that leads us, not the fascination that drives us. The online world is mostly glittered with images and visual stimulation that is temporal and fleeting. All it takes is a click of a LOGOUT icon, or an Internet disconnect, or a power trip, and our entire online world gets darkened and blacked out. For anyone who spends hundreds and thousands of hours online, there is a risk of substituting visual images for real images, digital replacement for an analog life, and an electronic version instead of a real version. 

For me, I believe we need to take on an "inline" mentality when working or thinking about online/offline circumstances. Being inline means we are constantly aware of two things. Our audience as well as ourselves. We know the limits of social media, what it can and cannot do. Being inline requires us to have an astute knowledge of expectations placed on our online and offline relationships. Being inline means we speak in a manner that is understood, and we listen in a manner that is respectful. It is one thing to open a social media account and start typing away our own life. It is yet another to observe an "inline" attitude, to share according to what the Spirit is prompting us to.

Being inline means we notice our own online patterns, and constantly seek to ask ourselves how that glorifies God, and how they lead to loving our neighbours more. How then do we grow our inline behaviour in an online world? Let me suggest 5 ways. I will use the acronym SPACE as a way to incorporate an inline mentality in an online world.

1) S = Sabbath

Make a point to rest ourselves from the online world. Being connected all the time is not healthy emotionally. Learn to work six days and rest one day. We will not only do our own minds a favour, we enable our family members to look forward at least to one day a week where our eyes will be on anything other than the computer, the tablet, or the smartphone screen.

2) P = Prayer

The online world is largely a visual stimulant. We are easily attracted by moving Youtube clips or sound bites that try to garner our attention. Learn to shut our eyes on a periodic basis and to utter a short prayer. Think of God. Read Scripture. Remember the things of God as written in the Word of God. Intercede for one another.

3) A = Addiction-Awareness

The online world tempts us with the addiction to do more rather than to be more of ourselves. We are tempted only to share positive sides of our lives. We keep most of our negative parts to ourselves. We can easily become addicts to popular videos that have gone viral, or are constantly on a search for articles that give us an adrenaline rush. One quick tip with regards to checking our addiction is to record how many times per day we are checking or giving updates on our social media account. A few times a day is good and healthy. Many times each hour may be way too much.

4) C = Community

Ask not what the Internet can do for you, but what you can do for the community THROUGH the Internet. This is perhaps one of the least practised in an Internet world of I-Me-Myself. Social media is an insidious platform for self-promotion.  From personal updates on our blogs to self-publishing of books, almost everything revolves around ourselves. Learn to use our social media resources to share about the needs of the world around you, or the communities you are in.

5) E = Exercise

Last but not least, one of the biggest problems for an online world is that we have a lopsided use of our body parts. Our fingers do most of the typing while our feet becomes more or less stationary. Our eyes are constantly bombarded by visual images and digital pixels while our ears receive silence. Our bodies are often in a seated position more than any other positions.

Take a walk. Smell the roses. Listen to the birds. Breathe in fresh air from the park.

Let us learn to incorporate an inline behaviour by giving ourselves the SPACE we need.

Conrade Yap, (Dr), D.Min.

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