I recently walked into the room to find my housemates ‘Snapchatting’. Not owning an iPhone – which seems to be the root of all my technological problems – it took me quite a while to fathom this strange new way of seemingly pointless communication.
For those of you who are not fellow Snapchatters, it’s an app that allows people to take pictures, add words and send them to their friends. Straightforward so far. Except that, to my confusion, the picture then disappears from the receiver’s phone after several seconds. Why? I suddenly had an alarming glimpse into the world of my mum, who remains in a perpetual state of confusion as she tries to navigate her way through a sea of cyber perplexion.
As a lover of literature, libraries and letter-writing, I’ve been tempted to sit back disapprovingly as the Twitterers and happy snappers turn their backs on grammatically-correct, punctuated sentences and book-reading in favour of instant pictures and hashtags. What impact, I’ve wondered, will this have on our ability to skilfully write and tell a good tale?
But slowly, I’ve started to accept that perhaps the art of storytelling has not been lost, but recaptured. At the heart of a story is the desire to communicate something which moves or shocks or inspires us. In a visual culture that bombards our eyes with images, our way of narrating is diversifying. Our hunger and capacity for wonderful stories hasn’t disappeared. Just look at the film industry, the ultimate storytelling vehicle in visual form. Likewise, taking and uploading photos has become one of the most popular ways of not only catching memories but also of sharing our desires and dreams.
Thousands of stories are being uploaded and published daily, frame by frame, tweet by tweet, onto the pages of the worldwide web. Blogging, Facebook updates, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ – social media has become a multi-functional space to entertain, create, communicate, buy and sell, educate, for better or for worse. The internet is a place where anyone can be the narrator, and everyone can share their story.
Technology has changed the way we spin out a yarn, giving us new self-editing tools to embellish the truth and hide the boring bits. Just go on to somebody’s Facebook timeline and you can follow a sequence of places they’ve been, pictures, updates and links that make up their own tailored story. Questionable perhaps, but oral storytellers used the very same technique!
There’s a lot that can be said in criticism of the way we use social media. And yet here is a tool where we can share our lives and make His presence known. Paul said: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:2). Many Christians already use and embrace their social media citizenship, whilst others from the older generation still struggle to right-click. But whether we need to learn to use this tool more intentionally for Jesus, or else just learn to use it full stop, we have the greatest and most beautiful story to tell, the one that God Himself has written down through human hands.
Our challenge is to communicate it through our own lives, so that people will carry on listening to hear what happens next…