Spirituality in the Selfie Age

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on February 10, 2015

in social media

Woman using tablet pcAn article in the February 9th issue of America by Jeffrey J. Maciejewski, a professor in the department of journalism, media and computing at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, entitled “Whom Do You Follow” caught my attention. The subtitle was “Christian life in the age of Facebook and Twitter.”

Mr. Maciejewski begins by comparing today’s concerns about social media to the concerns that were raised in the 1970s about how advertising was driving people to want more than they needed, covet other people’s property, and seek a lavish life style. The cautions then were basically to keep God and others before things in our life if we wanted to live a truly Christian life.

He then went on to point out that in the past 30 years our lives have changed dramatically with the introduction of the Internet, personal computers, smart phones and social media. A new set of dangers emerged–not so much wanting things, but becoming self-absorbed in online interactions. He quotes studies showing that the neurological stimulation that comes from social media and the possibility of “micro-celebrity” contribute to social media addictions and promote self-absorption. These are obstacles to living a fully Christian life

The author does not advocate abandoning social media, but rather reminds us that it is a tool for communicating and connecting that needs to be in line with our desire to love God first and our neighbor as ourselves.

The author makes his points, but I think he was a little heavy on the negative. Nearly 75% of this article was on dangers that two aspects of culture present to living the Christian life: advertising (25%) and social media (50%). The remaining 25% was on how to protect oneself from the dangers of social media which he summed up in keeping the two Great Commandments while using it.

Personally, I would like to add more detail to using social media for good. Certainly, we can use it to keep up with family, friends and associates, especially those at a distance. We can also use it to be a positive force in the world. We can use it to add our voices to causes that are important to us such as respect for life, immigration reform, an end to human trafficking, and responsible care for our planet. We can use it to encourage, console, support, and offer our prayers for those in need. We can use it to spread the Good News and stories of courage, generosity and self-sacrifice that have inspired us. We can also use it for fun—to initiate or join conversations or threads about things we enjoy: sports, entertainment, books, nature, hobbies, etc. We can use it to learn about new things and other cultures.  We can use it to be a friend/minister to people all around the world.

Yes, social media can be a danger or distraction to the Christian life, but it can also be a channel for good. It is up to each individual to determine what it will be for them.

Here is the link to the article if you would like to read it yourself. http://americamagazine.org/issue/whom-do-you-follow

I welcome your comments on my comments.


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn February 10, 2015 at 6:47 am

Sister Susan, thank you so much for this post. Having read the article myself, in the midst of preparing for a diocesan in service about technology and prayer, I found myself distressed about the negative focus. I see so much of that in my diocese already. Earlier this morning, I read – as I did yesterday – the daily mass readings, and I kept reminding myself of that nugget of Catholic optimism from Genesis… “And it was good.” Today we actually got “it was very good,” because the Genesis reading was for the 6th day! 🙂

In virtus media stat, we need to find boundaries and limits, balance and humility. And as you say, we must continue to use social media for the good. I think of so many conversations that I am privileged to have with folks I meet online, so many conversations about God, among people who would rarely discuss God.

And thanks always for all that you do!

Pat Sylvester, SND February 10, 2015 at 8:13 am

I read that article too and I felt the same way about the negativity. I think it is important to be aware of the dangers and I believe in the author’s good intentions, however while I was reading the article I was thinking how my more positive view of the internet has been influenced by your articles Susan. You have given us the tools and many ways to use the internet for spreading the Good News. When reading articles about the dangers, I pay attention but I no longer overlook this aspect. Thank you!

Caroline Cerveny, SSJ-TOSF, D. Min February 10, 2015 at 9:04 am

I love the positive spin to your blog post Sr. Susan! Of course there are negatives! However, it is when we dwell on them and spend so much time emphasizing the negative that we lose our energy and forget that we may do a lot of good through social media! If we feel the FEAR, isn’t the response – Do it anyway?

Mr. Joseph J. Komadina, O.P. February 10, 2015 at 9:33 am

Thanks for sharing your always insightful analysis of contemporary media. Your contribution to a heightened awareness of the positive aspects of electronic communication is so welcome.
As an undergraduate in the immediate post McLuhan days at SLU and the active days of Fr. Ong, I became acutely aware of the importance of the changes in our cultural environment.
Your efforts to help us educate others and effectively use these media where they seem to be little understood or valued are much appreciated.

Jeff Maciejewski February 10, 2015 at 11:42 am

Thank you for your thoughtful post, Susan, and for all these thoughtful comments. The article did focus on the negative aspects of using technology and social media; there is, of course, much good that can and does come about from using it. And we need to recognize this, without question.

At the same time, we must come to grips with how its use CAN hurt us. (Notice I emphasize the word CAN—not that it always hurts us and not that hurting us is all it’s capable of.) Why do we feel it so easy to criticize the harmful effects of advertising (e.g., sex in advertising, perpetuating stereotypes) and yet not acknowledge the good that it does (e.g., stimulating competition, making us aware of goods)?

Let’s not turn a blind eye to the “negativity” simply because it’s negative.

Thanks again,

Bob Lucas February 10, 2015 at 1:11 pm

I agree, it is proper and our responsibility to carefully screen what we are going to publish to ensure that the proper Christian message is given. However, I also think we must publish some articles that may appear to be advertising at first glance, but are intended to provide an outlet for creating a Christian environment to meet the needs of all.

The following article was published on our website. It was submitted by one of our RCIA candidates who had a problem finding a church where he and his wife could worship together when his old church closed.

I believe this type of testimony is necessary with the understanding that we need to meet the needs of all people, and we do need to address the issues of those with special needs.

Thank you for your great and insightful articles.


Sr. Susan Wolf, SND February 10, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Jeff, I think there is a difference between being negative and being critical. Negative focuses on the bad and leaves the audience with fear or resistance. Critical (as in critical thinking) looks at both the good and the bad and helps people discern how to make choices that avoid the bad and embrace the good. My experience is that many in Church ministry are afraid of technology to begin with because they did not grow up with it. A mainly negative article supports their resistance to use it at all. I think it is very important to help them understand the potential for good that technology offers in more detail than you did in this article. Thank you for responding to my post.

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