“The siren song of the Internet entices us!”

Posted Jun 19, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Lerone A. Martin


What have we learned so far? With more than a year of study and reflection under our belts, the New Media Project research fellows have put together a set of recommendations for using social media. Our blog posts for June 2012 will focus on suggestions for everything from “why use social media?” to “how to know if what you’re doing is working.”

“The siren song of the Internet entices us!” declared Eytan Kobre, a spokesmen for a large Jewish gathering in New York. He told reporters that the Internet “brings out the worst in us!”

Mr. Kobre addressed reporters during a recent gathering of approximately 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. The occasion: to discuss the moral dangers and potential of the Internet. The religious event was held at Citi Field in Queens, New York, home of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets, and nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium. The holy convocation, according to the New York Times, was sponsored by Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachane, a rabbinical group linked to a nonprofit organization that provides advice and technical support for filtering content on the Internet.

Rabbis led the faithful in prayers and passionately admonished the assembly to avoid the “filth” of the Internet. In addition, advertisements for religious commodities were distributed, including a “kosher” GPS app that helps users locate synagogues as well as kosher restaurants.

In keeping with ultra-Orthodox commitments of separating the sexes, women were not allowed to purchase tickets. Rather, women were encouraged to gather at neighborhood watching parities, made possible, somewhat ironically, by streaming the event live on the Internet.

This massive assembly is no historical anomaly. The multitude that gathered at the Mets’ stadium is a part of a rich American religious tradition, also within Christianity, of demonizing new communication technologies and blaming the same for the moral and religious failings of faith communities.

Regarding Christian history, if it has taught us anything about new media, it is that focusing solely on the potential “evils” of new technologies is seldom a useful posture. Just because new digital technologies are indeed NEW does not mean that they create or entice NEW moral failings, nor do they simply “bring out the worst in us” in new ways.

Rather, new media invite us to think anew about ideas that are as old as religion itself: relationships and community. That’s one of our key reasons for thinking critically about using social media in the “Why think about using social media” section of the New Media Project website.

This section lists several reasons why the emergence of new technologies entices us to think critically about how new media may be useful for religious and moral purposes, particularly in the service of building relationships and nurturing community.

History, it seems, testifies that a critically yet balanced approach to understanding how to use social media well, is the most advantageous posture for religious communities to adopt.

Lerone A. Martin, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is Assistant Professor of American Religious History and Culture at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, MO.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Anonymous 31 Jan
    Is social media a technology, or one possible use of several technologies? The technology is the group of tools that allow us to participate in social media, correct?

    It seems to me that there's a temptation to defend as neutral tools social media platforms that are far from neutral: twitter, facebook, google, etc. These are not simple tools, the way a computer or a coaxial cable (or even that vague notion, "the internet") might be. They are designed to collect information and to sell advertising. They do this by providing a service that fills a "need," and they sell that "need" by framing it as something profoundly good (human connection). In the process, they appeal to our narcissism, voyeurism, and impatience, and obfuscate their privacy policies as well as the sacrifices we're making in privacy and intimacy.

    The "siren" metaphor seems apt.

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