Today, churches all over the globe may be talking about the people of God collecting manna in the wilderness. God was providing for their hunger, but also beginning to shape them in their dependence on Him. He was setting them free from all other identities. For generations, they’d received identity as “brick-makers” in Egypt. Their value and purpose came from productivity, and God knew even as He gave them the blessing of food, they’d spend 7 days a week becoming “food collectors”. So he invited them to remember the Sabbath day, and to spend an entire day each week proclaiming by their existence – they were a people set free from being identified/valued by their levels of production. They struggled to exist in this new identity – people “set free” to simply “be”.
As a Free Methodist, especially, this “being set free” that God accomplishes is great. We proclaim that freedom regularly, and work to support efforts like the “Set Free Movement” locally and globally. The freedom from our identities being seen as anything other than children of God is precious and transformative. Our alarm bells go off whenever a person or group of people is talked about or treated in ways that reduce their humanity or commodify their existence. People should never be treated as “things”.
Yet often we are treated this way, and most of the time we’re actually okay with it. I’ve even done it personally. I worked in radio advertising for several months, many years ago. Officially I sold “air time”, but that air time was worthless without listeners. I sold the promise of listeners, and the potential for advertising to impact the behavior of those listeners. I understood, and still understand today, that is how advertising works. I’ve read books like “The Attention Merchants“, and I understand that billions of dollars are spent each day to influence the behavior and capture the attention of people – especially younger people with higher levels of neurological plasticity, who are shaping lifelong consumption habits.
But recently, just how far these things have taken us as humanity is revealed in new ways through the popular documentary “The Social Dilemma“. Technologies that may have initially been created for good, and are even still accomplishing some good things, are accomplishing some incredibly dangerous things as we’ve valued profit-making above all other ends. In our honest moments, we realize that the amount of profits connected to advertising (on technologies we use “for free”) reveal the actual product is you and I – and we are being bought and sold on a daily basis.
But the documentary takes it one step further. “To say ‘You are the product’ is too simplistic, ‘It’s the gradual change in your behavior and perception that is the product.” The ways these technologies are purposefully deceptive in their presentation of the world around us in order to do just this – is alarming.
When Jesus lived among us, he proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven was near. He also emphasized a particular word over and over again, as preparation for that Kingdom. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” The word for “repent” there is “μετανοεῖτε” from the Greek word for “having a changed mind”. One of the primary ways God wants to bring transformation is through the changing and renewal of our minds in Jesus Christ who is the living revelation of the Love of God.
You can (& should) watch the documentary for yourself. There are depths I’m not equipped to explore here. But at the foundation, it should wake us to the fact that technology is succeeding in doing something toward greed/profit, that scripture tells us God desires to do toward Love. They don’t have to be incredibly deceptive, either. Just small amounts of distorting our vision, guides us to see through the lens that will alter or reinforce our behavior in ways to earn just a bit more ad revenue. The repentance of these tech moguls themselves should be enough to get our attention.
It may not be enough to make you delete all social media (though it might, at least for a season). I’ve taken most of these apps off my phone for now. But I do suggest & invite at least one practice – which was the beginning for God’s people in the wilderness. That is – I invite you to Sabbath. Unplug from the steady flow of information and updates AT LEAST one day a week. Reclaim your “downtime” each day by purposefully not filling it with social media consumption. Proclaim by doing so, that your value and identity is not contingent on participating in the transaction of buying/selling attention.
This will hurt a little. Personally, I confess that I have misplaced fears of “What if ____ thinks I don’t care about them because I’m not liking their statuses, commenting on their posts, etc. What if the general public thinks I don’t care about _____ because I’m not posting about it actively?” We will all struggle through this together. But we will together be reclaiming a freedom we’ve inadvertently given up in the recent decade, and our future generations will thank us for it.
Today, see & hear the living embodiment of God’s Love that happens in Jesus. This is a foundational Love for you, for all humanity & all creation. In response, “Have a changed mind, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near…”