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Social Media as Community

When I see the way my students communicate with one another through social networking, I wonder how I ever survived college without a smart phone (or knowing what that was!) For them, social networking has not created a new need which students before them didn’t have; it fills an old need in a new way. fb friends In particular, I have noticed that the large, modern university is no match for the small liberal arts college when it comes to building community. Large class sizes, highly competitive fields, and increasing numbers of commuters and distance students creates an environment where it is difficult to find a place to belong and people to belong to. Often, students “do community” via social networking using the same content but different methods as they did when I was in school: they share ideas, plan projects, and exchange movies or recipes. They create insiders and outsiders (as every community does).

Yet social networking as community has its limits. There are the usual critiques: it tends to be consumer-driven and highly individualistic (just think of the newly-coined term, “selfie”). The deeper problem which prevents social media from becoming a fuller form of community, however, is its lack of rootedness. As (primarily) postmoderns, students are longing to be connected to a story bigger than themselves. They tend to move regularly, change jobs often, and be generally disconnected from the traditions of their heritage, finding that meaning and belonging continually escape them as circumstances change (in sociological terms, they lack a metanarrative).

Fortunately, the Church has been in the business of creating story, rootedness, and belonging for nearly two millennia. We know exactly what people are looking for in social networking and should therefore be able to see its many strengths- as well as its weaknesses. Our churches can be the places where these students come to ask the bigger questions of meaning and belonging they aren’t getting answered on their twitter feeds. What do you think it would look like to receive an entire generation coming from this context? As I’ve mentioned before, they don’t tend to share their parents’ personal hang-ups with the Church, but they have no time for anything they perceive as “fake.” What they’re looking for is an experience of meaning that can show them where they’ve come from and where they’re going. And that is exactly the story of our faith!

Allison Chubb

About Allison Chubb

Allison Chubb is a chaplain at St. John’s College at the University of Manitoba and a youth coordinator for new Canadians in downtown Winnipeg. She is particularly interested in how youth engage what Robert Webber called “ancient-future worship,” those rituals of old practiced in a postmodern context where a new generation finds itself searching for rootedness. She describes herself as “paid to hang out with God and hang out with people.” On the side she loves to create by cooking, gardening, crafting, and balloon-sculpting.

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3 Responses to Social Media as Community

  1. Writing on the internet can never truly replace face to face, in person conversation. #personalrelationships

  2. Allison Chubb

    Jason, I would tend to agree- what do you think it is that makes face-to-face conversations irreplaceable?

  3. Kyle Norman

    I think it is a fallacy to say that social media and on-line relationships replace face to face. They are a different thing all-together. Studies have shown that most people getting married today find themselves meeting on-line before in person.

    On line relationships, and socmed conversations are just part of the reality of today’s world. I think the question is not, should we or shouldn’t we, but how do we navigate these relationships. How do we make our Christian online presence one that will foster and support face-to face community and relationships. Good post Allison!

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