I honestly thought, recently, that by navigating to Instagram and getting my first iPhone this past week, I was catching up with developments in social media. I'm a textual kind of guy, after all. I blog, preach sermons, write books. My favorite method of communication in the social media era is the status update.
So setting myself the challenge of communicating via images is kind of like asking a poet to paint their poem.
Not surprisingly, most of the first Instagram images I posted were of books (admittedly highly stylized with the Instagram patinas). This is a snapshot of my current profile on Instagram, for example.
But this week I started capturing short video interviews of youth in our congregation, hopefully for use at our strategic planning event tomorrow and perhaps for confirmation and worship in upcoming weeks. Today, while shooting some of these videos at our confirmation retreat, the kids asked (almost in unison), Are you making a Vine?
If you haven't yet heard of Vine, you're not alone, even if you soon will be. I hadn't heard of it. Well, I think I had scrolled past it recently while looking at possible apps to download for my iPhone. When I saw the description, "Vine is the best way to see and share life in motion. Create short, beautiful, looping videos in a simple and fun way for your friends and family to see," I immediately thought, Hmmmm.... looping videos, video creation. No, not so much.
But all of the twelve year olds had heard of Vine, and when they saw me making videos for worship, it's what immediately came into their minds.
This was when I realized that by migrating to Instagram, I had only caught up in the sense that being four steps behind counts as "catching up."
High schoolers, perhaps Millenials, are all migrating to Instagram and away from Facebook, and for various reason. For a great interview on some of these reasons, see Mark Zuckerberg's recent conversation with Wired magazine. In fact, for many many many reasons, read this interview. His insights into the shift to smaller groups on-line, and much more, is essential insight into how the web is changing (and responding to) community in the 21st century.
So, that generational cohort is "visual," but normal visual. Apparently the next cohort is hyper- or super-visual. It's not enough that images be images. Images have to loop and move and twist and adapt.
Why does this matter for Christian faith?
Well, from an educational perspective it matters quite a lot. Adults still think a great way to teach children bible stories is to give them crayons and have them draw pictures of what they hear described. But in this era, I am beginning to wonder if Christian education by necessity needs to include handing the whole class iPhones, and saying, "Go, make a Vine of this bible story. Post it and share it with your friends. Let's find out what they think about it."
Then send them off and see what they come back with.
And in fact, in this new media era, this exercise can be done without even gathering for class. Just text the challenge out to them, and get them working. New media requires our attention. We are invited to consider how to layer into our existing faith formation and worship practices.
For example, once kids have created some Vine looping videos, why not share them during worship, at the offering. Who says you can only share special music at the offering? Who made that rule up? Why not memes, or Vine videos, or a slideshow of Instagram photos from the past week?
And who will do this? Is Adapt social media creations for worship an item on our Time & Talent Survey? If not, why not?
In fact, new media is inviting us into a wholesale re-appraisal of how to conduct faith formation. None of us have even scratched the surface. Take any new development--iPad apps, social media, venues for creativity in all kinds of places--and ask yourself, What does it mean for us to explore Christian faith here, in this place, with these tools?
Old and new media layer like tells
And these new media don't replace existing media. Instead, they layer old upon new and mix them together in creative fashion. Like tells archaeologists excavate in Israel, you can find ancient media compressed right next to or even inside new media. For example, if the confirmation youth need to look up the Bible verse you are hoping they'll "Vine," they can of course simply navigate to that great Bible app for the iPhone published by Lifechurch.tv. This is another app I downloaded today. With it, you can stream all kinds of translations to your phone. You can also download translations, and audio recordings of some of the most popular translations. On the drive home from the confirmation retreat, I listened to four chapters of the gospel of John read from the NIV translation.
In this sense, my intuition to post photos of books to Instagram wasn't as out-of-touch as all that. A good book, posted as an Instagram-edited photo (or even better, scanned in some kind of looping video on Vine) might illustrate as much as anything the interconnections of all these media. A conversation expanding underneath in the comments, and a series of likes--well, that starts to look like a community around books.
Know any other community that gathers regularly around a book?