First Person Singular

Reed JolleyCommunity News

It finally happened. Thirty-five years after I first started reading Time magazine, they finally named me Person of the Year. And they extended the favor to you as well. In fact, seven million copies of this once-serious weekly news digest announced to the buyer, You Are the Person of the Year! It wasn’t Borat, Rumsfeld, or Gore. It wasn’t those really rich YouTube guys or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran. It wasn’t even the dictator of North Korea who moved his country into the club of nuclear nations in ‘06. Instead, Time’s Person of the Year was you. You! And Me. And Everyone. Like the kids on the AYSO soccer team who never win a game but still get a trophy, we’re all the Person of the Year! Nineteenth-century Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote that the history of the world is but the biography of great men. And now, finally, we learn that every single one of us is great.

Time’s cover story addresses the Internet in general and blogging in particular. Sometime in 2007 there will be over 100 million bloggers posting their thoughts, feelings, and opinions on the World Wide Web for others to ponder. Timesees this as the creation of millions of Benjamin Franklins and Thomas Paines. MySpace = Poor Richard’s Almanack. Facebook = Common Sense, a pamphlet by Paine that galvanized a nation out of separate colonies. Something like that anyway.

But if everyone is talking at once, is anyone listening? And what about the content of all those blogs? The Pew Internet and American Life Project tells us that the vast majority of bloggers claim that their purpose is to share their personal experiences with others. In other words, blogging, by and large, makes us feel good about ourselves by assuring us that our experiences, feelings, and opinions are important enough to publish. Somebody out there will care. I’ll put my party on YouTube or tell my intimate secrets on MySpace. These secrets, once hidden in my journal, are now public domain. As George Will comments, The most capacious modern entitlement is not to Social Security but to self-esteem.

Essayist Jeremy Lott called Time’s choice for Person of the Year uniquely demented. He’s right. The problem Time missed is that the kind of blogging they herald is really narcissism unrestrained. Narcissus, if I remember correctly, stumbled onto his reflection in a pond and fell deeply in love with himself. But we’ve invented a whole technology that promotes a narcissistic gazing at our own image. Let one example from Time’s cover story suffice:

Megan Gill is a 22-year-old senior at the University of Portland who just broke up with her boyfriend and changed her status from ‘dating’ to ‘single’ on her Facebook page. She has 708 registered ‘friends’ who check back for regular updates on her site, such as ‘Megan is so over first semester,’ ‘Megan is bummed about the election results,’ ‘Megan is tired of letting people down.’

What should we think about all this from a Christian perspective? Should we write a theology of blogging? I think so. First, though, let’s acknowledge that there are hundreds or thousands of legitimate, even sanctified, blogs on the Internet. There are, to be sure, appropriate uses of this technology. Enough said.

Second, let’s recognize that the medium of Internet technology is itself at least part of the message. The Internet flattens reality into the shape of a computer screen, and the screen keeps getting smaller and more portable. When the airplane lands, everyone seems to be checking e-mail. We can now blog on our Blackberry while we’re camping in the wilderness. The proliferation of data, the vast numbers of chattering keyboards, and countless textmessaging teenagers numb our social consciousness. There is an immediacy about everything that makes everything else less immediate. If every blogger is today’s Thomas Paine, then something is lost. As NBC’s Brian Williams writes,

The danger just might be that we miss the next great book or the next great idea, or that we will fail to meet the next great challenge . . . because we are too busy celebrating ourselves and listening to the same tune we already know by heart.

Third, let’s beware of the idol of Me. If it’s truly MySpace, then it is not God’s space. Let those of us who follow Christ beware of those applications of the Internet that inflate our lust for self-importance. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the essence of sin–and of our own personal sinfulness–is to be bent in on ourselves. Sin is to be preoccupied with me. Sin says I am at the center and God, if he exists at all, is on the periphery. But the great reality proclaimed in the Scriptures flips all of this on its head. The universe, indeed all reality, exists to glorify God. God even stooped down to save us in order to further his own glory! As the apostle Paul put it, Christ became a servant . . .in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy (Romans 15:8-9), and we were chosen to be his sons to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:4-6).

Again, there are many good and significant blogs on the Internet. But we would do well to examine our participation in this global conversation. Is the dialogue beneficial? Does the exchange promote salaciousness or holiness? Is blogging an appropriate use of my time? In the end, we must submit our use of the Internet to Paul’s discipline of taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). When we do so, God will be glorified— and we just might find ourselves doing something genuinely important with our time.