the Faith today Interview:
leonard sweet (LS) is a scholar and Christian social media guru, who
teaches at drew university in new Jersey and George Fox university in
oregon. He spoke with Faith Today associate editor Stephen Bedard (FT).
FT: Leonard, on the one hand, social media enables you
to contact others who may be thousands of miles away.
But since the other person cannot see your facial expressions and hear the tone of your voice, it can be easy to
misinterpret the words you type. Do you believe social-media actually enhances or handicaps communication?
LS: In some ways every technology is equidistant from eternity. Clearly, certain technologies bring certain blessings
and bring certain curses. You could
make the same critique with print
technology. Think about writing letters. A person reads a letter from a
friend without any of the advantages
of face-to-face communication.
I think a lot of the critique of social media is about crankiness and
people who don’t want to change.
But there are some real dangers
FT: How can we use social media to enhance
with social media. Yet, if we are in
missional mode, we have no choice
but to use social media to engage the culture. In God’s
sovereignty, in the providence of God, God has raised us
to serve in the moment God has given us. That’s
the challenge of Christian response to technology.
We will have to give an account of our charge as
we serve this TGIF culture – the Twitter, Google,
iPhone, Facebook culture.
our interpersonal relationships without re-
LS: What I think social media is doing, and I say
more about this in [Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival (WaterBrook Press,
2012)], is creating a huge hunger for personal relationships. There is a movement from Facebook
to face-to-face relationships. The more we move
to social media, there is an increase in desire for
community. There is no more antisocial media
than print media. We take a book and go off by ourselves,
and silently listen to an unseen author or authority.
Social media promises connections, promises relationships, but can't fulfil them. The appetite for relationships
is being tickled by social media. People are ravenous for
In Viral, sweet
argues that social
media is creating
a huge hunger for
the real thing. There is a great possibility for the Church.
It is a great day for the Church to offer community and
FT: I’m wondering if and how social media affects one’s
LS: Yes, I do think social media affects attention spans.
That is some of the danger of social media, and we need
to develop certain disciplines. I think social media enables
people to do many things at once.
We are called to use our whole
bodies to serve God. Jesus taught us
to “Love the Lord your God with all
your heart and with all your soul
and with all your strength and with
all your mind” (Luke 10: 27). We
were created to do many things. We
were created to multitask.
Print culture forced us to do one
thing and one thing only. Social
media allows us to go off and do all
sorts of things at the same time. So I don’t have a problem
with that sort of blessing. The curse, though, is that we
lose the ability to sustain one thought over a period of
time. This encourages a culture of grazers, always grazing
and never settling down. So, there are some challenges,
but it is a little more complex than how people critique
it. The more you use the accelerator, the more you need
to know how to apply the brakes.
It’s the same with blogging. I have a whole chapter in
Viral on blogging and the loss of poetic sensibility. There
are many good things about blogs, but great writing is
not one of them. Most people think that blogging is great
writing, but it is really just amateur journalism.
And that’s the problem with social media. The blessing
is that everybody is an author and the curse is everybody
is an author. I would like everybody to be an author, but
we also need to celebrate those who appreciate how a
sentence is structured. What is a beautiful sentence? What
is a beautiful paragraph? This is often missing in blogs.
I call it bloggerea. Complex thoughts sometimes re-
quire complex sentences. So that is one of the curses. But
it is the same with books. People are expecting books to
be short and accessible. Frank Viola and I wrote a book
“Print culture forced us to do one thing
and one thing only.
Social media allows us
to go off and do
all sorts of things
at the same time.”