As someone on the older end of the Millenial generation, I have taken to the Internet culture fairly well, although not as well as some. Certainly more, of course, than my wife, whose more utilitarian approach to the internet typically involves either googling medical symptoms (a practice we have since forbidden) and online shopping (because who needs to put on pants just to buy things?). At any rate, she respects my more intimate knowledge of the net (as we in the know called it . . . in 1999!). Yes, my familiarity with the interweb’s time-wasting technology is truly impressive. I am a part of the generation that remembers life before the internet and helped to form the internet’s culture as it is today.
As with all things, while the internet and other forms of technology have brought us some truly great things — proliferation of information, availability of some truly great music — there are some negatives as well. Among them is that the Internet can bring out the absolute worst in people. Don’t believe me? I dare you to read the comment section of Youtube, Huffington Post, or pretty much anywhere and feel good about the future of civilization. The Internet allows people to post their opinions despite their knowledge of the subject matter, spelling ability, or capacity to form cogent sentences. Most importantly, it allows them to speak in near-utter anonymity. To a large degree, the fact that anyone can post their opinions on nearly any subject has been one of the great gifts of the Internet. Yet, I cannot help but think of how it encourages us to treat one another.
There is a crippling lack of authenticity in the internet, as well as in 21st century America in general. We grow to fear putting ourselves on the line, opening ourselves up, because there is someone ready at all times with a snarky comment handy. We are a culture that is far better at deconstructing others than we are at being vulnerable to one another. Of course, opening ourselves to one another means opening ourselves up to ridicule and a well-chosen meme. Yet, we are all still looking for something real.
I wonder if this is why vinyl records have made such a return. Is it that in our world of auto-tune, we still want to hear something where we can hear all of the scratches, all of the imperfections? Give me a paperback. Give me pages that feel rough between my fingers and a cover that bends and cracks and wears every time I read it and carry it in my backpack as a badge of honor. Give me a sunset, not just a picture of a sunset. We want something that we can touch and hold. We all look for a glimpse of that last gleaming light of authenticity.
It is no secret that authenticity has become a sort of buzzword in the church leadership field. The word has worked itself into a kind of cliche, to the point that I somewhat cringe whenever I use it. Perhaps, then, that being authentic means no longer worrying about sounding cliche, or simple, or too naive. I may never achieve the kind of aloof disconnect of the hipster bobbing his head disinterested to the beat of the music. I’ve always preferred dancing, myself. In this case, maybe we keep pushing authenticity because, in this case, it is more than just a cliche. It is more like a vitamin deficiency. We keep talking about our need for authenticity because it keeps getting harder to come by.
When I look back at my tweets for the past few months, the very few that were not about something inane, such as Manti Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend and the Super Bowl, were typically snarky assessments of Pop Christianity. As a consequence of my own snarkiness, I grew too afraid to put my own thoughts out there. After all, in all likelihood there was someone else out there as snarky as me, ready to tear someone down. And earnestness? No, it far easier to be ironic. After all, I had associated earnestness with the kitschy Christianity of people that own Thomas Kincaide paintings and listen to CCM. I, of course, am not that glib. I am too sophisticated for such unbridled enthusiasm. I did not want anyone to think I was like those uncool, over-eager simpletons.
This problem spilled over into other areas of my life. I find snark much easier than praise. I find it easier to bag on others’ ideas than to say anything original. When I read books, blogs, or hear sermons, I compile lists of what is wrong with their position but keep silent when it is time to voice my own thoughts. It is easier to hold the world at arm’s length than to feel exposed to it. When everyone else stands by, nonchalantly bobbing their head to the music, I’m too afraid to dance. I’ll look like a fool. Then the choice is clear: you can stand by and feign, or perhaps even attain, cool disinterest in the music you hear, but then you will never get to dance.