Gervase Markham challenges our Internet behaviour
Sharing – who could be against that?
Or, in today’s online world, who could even avoid it? Anyone using the web will have noticed that every article sports multiple ways of letting your contacts know what a great read it was. Twitter uses ‘retweeting’; on Facebook it’s ‘liking’; on Pinterest it’s ‘pinning’. We wander through the virtual world, scattering reproductions of what we encounter to left and right. These sharing mechanisms are a big part of why they call it social media.
But it’s very possible to share from bad motives, or to share with bad effects. Beware in particular of the following five evils:.…(to read more click here)
Gervase Markham lives in Darnall, Sheffield with his wife and three small boys, and is a member of The Crowded House church. You can reach him at email@example.com
This article may be reproduced and modified under the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0 International licence . Contact the author for an electronic copy.
Sixty Guilders – Improving our Bible Studies
9 Marks – A short audio on Particular Redemption with John Piper & Bruce Ware
A Faith to Live By – Is Richard Dawkins leading people to Jesus?
Albert Mohler – God, the Gospel and the Gay Challenge (and a free eBook by Albert Mohler in response to Matthew Vines)
Girltalk Conversations – Carolyn Mahaney takes a look at how mums can deal with the distractions of social media
Good Book Company – God’s mistakes?
Justin Taylor – Top 5 commentaries on every book of the Bible
BeThinking.org – ‘God: new evidence’ a a series of 6 videos exploring how cosmic fine-tuning points towards the reality of a creator God
Thom Rainer – Seven reasons your church needs a Social Media Director
Together for the Gospel (T4G) – The conference in Louisville, KY is now over – but take a look at some of what was shared this past week!
After much cajoling, whining and emotional manipulation, my parents finally bought me a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K. Despite the many assurances that such a purchase would help me fulfil my homework responsibilities, my prevailing memory is of hours spent on games such as Jet Set Willy and Manic Minor.
The bleeps and bloops, sound effects and two-colour graphics were nothing like I’d ever seen before. Back then, games came on audiotapes and you daren’t stay in the room at the same time as it was ‘loading’, lest you breathed in the wrong way and caused the whole thing to crash.
Things are different in 2013. Games don’t come on tapes now, but on disks or, increasingly, as DLC (Down Loadable Content). The big gaming brands of yesteryear — Sega and Atari — have both withdrawn from the industry as behemoths Microsoft and Sony muscled them out with the Xbox and Play Station brands respectively.
Bigger budgets and wider appeal
Games look and feel like Hollywood blockbuster titles now and have the production budgets to match. The controversial Grand Theft Auto 5 took $800 million on its release day and 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 generated more revenue than James Cameron’s film Avatar.
The demographics of who plays games have also shifted significantly in the past 15 years. Adults like me, who grew up with video games in the 80s, make up a significant portion of those who play them today. Quoting a report commissioned by Pixwoo, a social gaming network, wired.co.uk says: ‘Rather than being a 12-year-old male, the average gamer is actually 35 years old with a job and a family’. Games aren’t just for the male demographic either. The Washington Post recently reported that almost half of the gaming population is now female. And, with the advent of family-friendly consoles such as the Nintendo Wii, games have a far wider appeal than ever before.
All of this is to say that video games in 2013 can’t just be written off as a fad, something kids grow out of, or just for nerdy teenage boys who have acne and are bad at sport. Like Facebook and Twitter, the new entertainment media has grown into a global and cultural phenomenon in its popularity.
Why are games so loved? Well, put simply, video games are a ton of fun. The creativity of game developers, designers and artworkers elevates the medium into a legitimate art form. Playing Halo 4 is like watching a high production interactive sci-fi movie, and games like Sim City, where you plan and run a city (infrastructure, taxes, town planning, etc.), offer real learning potential. Gaming in 2013 is more sophisticated than ever before, but is not without its issues.
Violence in games
Advances in technology mean that the next generation of video games can feature photo-realistic graphics and, in some cases, violent content or adult themes. Expect more tabloid headlines like, ‘Grand Theft Auto 5 torture row: teachers slam scenes of extreme violence in most expensive game ever made’.
The main difference between the Hollywood blockbuster film and gaming in 2013 is that now you can interact with the virtual worlds of Xbox One and PS4 game consoles. Fancy winning the Champions League as Barcelona football club in FIFA 13? Go for it! Perhaps overseeing an expansive military operation is more your thing? Then Battlefield 4 is for you. Want to go on a city-wide murderous rampage? You’re in luck! Grand Theft Auto 5 just came out.
In the Old Testament there is always an evaluation of violence: it is either God’s right judgment on sin or the violence itself is clearly demonstrated to be evil. However, violence in video games either happens in an amoral context or no moral context at all.
There are some challenges ahead and some titles are clearly not appropriate for all people. Just as with the film industry, video games are regulated and suitability advice is given to parents via the PEGI (Pan European Game Information) mark on the cover of each game.
Developing the right tools
The big issue for parents, however, is when young people are with peers who have access to games that are age inappropriate. Parents need wisdom to help young people think through what they ought to do with the choices they’re presented with when an adult is not there to make decisions for them.
My nephew is 13 years old and my older brother has told him that he’s not, in any circumstances, to play Call of Duty (PEGI 18) at his friend’s house. Will Ashar obey his parents’ wishes? Well, that’s going to depend on a number of factors. We know that law alone will be insufficient in helping him make the right choices.
Therefore, we need to help young people develop the tools they need to make good decisions: a Christian mind and Christian worldview, in which they understand how a person is loved by God, dehumanised by violence and the consequences of ‘sewing in the flesh’. That it will make a person harsh, cold and hard-hearted towards Jesus. Paul’s words to the Philippians come to mind: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things’.
On line safety concerns
Next generation blockbuster titles such as Call of Duty: Ghosts, Destiny and Titan Fall feature a significant shift away from traditional single player games to focus on multiplayer online experiences, inviting gamers to interact with each other over the web. This can add a significant element of fun because you can play competitive matches with friends or new people online. However, the anonymity that online gaming affords players means that it isn’t always a pleasant experience. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been called a cheat, loser, noob (newbie / new inexperienced player) or usually much worse on Xbox Live because I was doing particularly well at a competitive game.
Online bullying is a real concern and we need to help young people be safe in this new environment. If we don’t understand the online world of Xbox Live, Play Station Network or PC gaming and are responsible for young people who use this media regularly, we ought to learn quickly because the internet isn’t going away and we need to help young people make safe, responsible and sensible decisions.
Good use of time?
I remember a friend telling me about the time he told his wife that he was going to have a quick go on Championship Manager (a football management simulator) before going to bed. He recounted to me of how mad she was with him when he casually rolled into bed at 5.00 am and how telling her that he’d won the league with Leicester City didn’t help make things better. Video games are not unique in presenting us with the challenge of making responsible decisions when it comes to time management. How many hours are spent on Facebook, flicking through TV channels or looking at cat videos on YouTube? It is simply another entertainment media we need to handle with care.
I was chatting to a friend (a father of two) about what it means to parent responsibly when considering these issues. He talked about restricting screen time for teenage children to one hour per day. They can choose between TV and games but all screens are used in the family social space and for no longer than the agreed time.
Thinking through the issues
For many, video games are a great source of entertainment. Some people enjoy X-Factoror The Great British Bake Off, I happen to prefer a more interactive media. However, we ought to be discerning, disciplined and apply Christian thought and a Christian mind to all the media we consume, be it Facebook, going to the movies, the music we listen to, what we choose to watch on TV. In the same way, we also ought to think about how we can enjoy, safely and responsibly, the benefits of the new interactive media and how we help those entrusted to our care.
Pod Bhogal is Head of Communications for UCCF:The Christian Unions. Follow him on Twitter @podbhogal for video game and football-related tomfoolery. He sometimes Tweets about student mission.
In spite of dangers, the internet offers tools that can be used for the gospel. In just the last few years, there have been huge technological changes.
Only ten years ago there was no YouTube, Skype or Smart phone. Facebook was nowhere on the radar, nor was Twitter, Pinterest, or Google. Along with these technologies, or perhaps because of them, there have been changes to the way that people communicate and relate to each other. Today, young people in particular post every detail of their lives online for everyone to see.
Will you be my friend?
In this environment, it is hardly surprising to find that young people may have hundreds of friends on Facebook, and followers on Twitter, seemingly able to quantify how popular they are! They are highly connected, but at the same time, tragically disconnected from the physical interactions that are so crucial to growing up, connections with parents, family and friends, in the church and in the world.
One author1 explained that, while young people may be regular in their attendance at church, ‘what lies beneath their attendance, their easy laughter and even their occasional moments of seeming to pay attention to what you say, [is that] they are experiencing a longing to be known, to be taken seriously, to be affirmed and acknowledged and to be loved’. Tragically, social media can never do this.
The psychological impact
Evidence is mounting that there are significant psychological impacts of mass internet addiction — if you think the word ‘addiction’ is too strong, try asking a young person to spend a week without the internet … better still, try it yourself!
Researchers note that, because of our more ‘connected’ society, ‘children now spend a very limited time with family and actual friends’. ‘There is weakening of family bond and limited real life social interaction resulting in distorted social skills and social cues.’2
The spiritual impact
‘No wonder social media is so addicting — it’s all about you’, or so goes the headline from one recent study3. In a typical face-to-face conversation, people spend 30-40% of the time talking about themselves. On social media, that rises to 80%. Here lies the conundrum. While young people have been called the ‘me generation’, they also crave to be noticed, cared about.
It is also interesting to note the way that young people receive and use information. Vast stores of knowledge are available at the touch of a button, but the way that information is explored is by going from one hyperlink to another — click, click, click every few seconds! We are so easily distracted. We might be looking through information on a particular topic, but then something pops up, maybe another link, a video or an ad, and captures our attention, then off we go along a completely different track!
YouTube reinforces the visual (concrete versus abstract) development of the brain for a generation that has been brought up with videos at any time and anywhere. Experience reigns supreme — as long as it lasts no more than 2-3 minutes!
What should we do?
Recognising where young people are, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, is the first step in reaching them. The Bible itself reinforces the need to understand ‘where people are’, and not where we wish they might be. When the apostle Paul spoke in a Jewish setting, he presented Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy (Acts 13.16-41). When in Athens, he spoke of the ‘unknown God’ to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (Acts 17). Nor is there anything new about presenting the gospel in highly visual and direct ways. We can imagine the greatest preacher who ever lived, the Lord Jesus, pointing to a field and asking his congregation to ‘consider the lilies’, or to think about how Solomon was clothed (Matthew 6.28). J.C. Ryle, the famous 19th-century bishop, writing about George Whitefield, one of the greatest preachers of all times, noted his ‘singular power of description’, quoting an Arabian proverb: ‘He is the best orator who can turn men’s ears into eyes’4.
Technology can be a vehicle for good, though we need to be aware of its danger — in particular, its addictive nature — and emphasise the need to make and sustain real (physical) friendships. Young people are still in the process of maturing skills such as self-control, so ‘technology-free zones’ might be a good idea, particularly at specific times during youth meetings such as Bible talks.
Much has been written about the negative effects of technology. But it also offers new ways to reach and help young people. While the apostle Paul went into the marketplaces to meet people, in our day the ‘marketplace’ is increasingly digital! If we want to reach young people, we will probably find them ‘attached to their device’! There are amazing examples of innovative uses of video or other technologies to reach young people5. Take a look at a video promoting a university mission6, a flash mob used to advertise a carol service7 or a montage based on asking students to write down what Jesus means to them8.
In New Testament times, the apostles used what was available to them to reach people — whether a common language (Greek) or the wide-ranging network of Roman roads. Today, the internet offers tools that we can use. This should energise our efforts and stretch our imaginations! Videos (typically no longer than two or three minutes) can be a great tool, along with Twitter, Facebook and other social media. The possibilities are endless.
Nothing new under the sun…
At the end of the day, however, the internet is just a tool. Like the printed page, it can be hijacked by the devil, or used to glorify God. History teaches us that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’.9 Interactions between people changed fundamentally as recently as the Industrial Revolution, with the effective breakdown of the extended family. Or, for those who think that young people spend too much time on the internet and not enough time reading, consider that in the Roman Empire literacy rates were probably under 10%10. Throughout history, Christianity has always been the biggest driver of positive change.
Technology may change, but the human heart does not, and our challenge is communicating in a way that can be clearly understood, using the tools at our disposal. The Roman highway may have been replaced by the Superhighway, but ‘The Way’ has not changed!
But the greatest is love…
There is a better way. Much of what we see on social media stems from the need to be noticed, understood, appreciated; above all, to be loved. This is at the very core of the Christian gospel (Matthew 24). The interconnected disconnected may choose an online medium to express their feelings, with everything out in the open, but to us, as ambassadors of Christ, this presents an amazing opportunity to show the love of Jesus. As the world changes, we still communicate the same love that brought Christ to earth so that ‘whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life’. The toys may be smarter, smaller and faster, but the heart is no different. People don’t change nor does the love of God. Because of God’s love to us, and through the power of his Holy Spirit, we also love the young people we interact with. As Jesus said: ‘By this shall all men know that we are his disciples, if we have love one for another’ (John 13.35).
David Clark is the author of You, Your Family and the Internet published by Day One (http://www.dayone.co.uk).
This article was originally printed in the USA in the YouthWorker Journal, and is used with permission.
1. Chap Clark, YouthWorker Journal, Oct. 2 2012
2. From a study by Karishma S. Ramdhonee, a child psychologist with the Mauritius government. The study is found athttp://www.gov.mu/portal/sites/cert/sid2012/Psychological%20Impact%20of%20Internet%20usage%20on%20Children.pdf
3. ‘Stress of modern life cuts attention spans to five minutes’, The Telegraph, November 26 2008.
4. A sketch of the life and labors of George Whitefield, J.C. Ryle.
5. My special thanks to my son Tim for these ideas! He has just spent a year working among students as UCCF Relay worker — http://www.uccf.org.uk/relay/
9. Ecclesiastes 1.9
Enjoy the following links!
Unashamed Workmen – ‘The purpose driven wife’ and other sermon titles
The Good Book Company – An infographic for passion week by Josh Byers
Gospel Coalition – How Facebook and Twitter affect teens
9 Marks – Is the future of church-planting bi-vocational?
Desiring God – A theatre called holy-week