I read an article in The New York Times Magazine (July 25, 2010) titled The End of Forgetting by Jeffery Rosen. The author astutely presented how personal comments/pictures sent to web based sites like Facebook, MySpace, Google, YouTube, blogs or Twitter can in theory live forever in cyberspace. This reality has ominous implications for boastful, too truthful, unmindful, malicious or scandalous posters as human resource professionals, banks, college admission counselors, and God forbid…Pastors are all going on line to see who and what they are really dealing with.
There was a time that this sort of intense scrutiny only followed celebrities; but now, thanks to technology, the cycle of fame has extended way beyond 15 minutes as predicted by Andy Warhol—now your deeds can live either victoriously or shamelessly forever. Old fashion office gossip once took place around the water cooler among nosey co-workers and even then the most itching ear could not spread salacious news but so far or fast. The water cooler has been replaced by the computer screen and scurrilous stories can just as easily make their way around a community, job, church, or around the world.
This Orwellian reality (Read 1984 by George Orwell) also has consequences for members of the faith community. There was a time when brothers and sisters confessed to the Lord their innermost issues and dark secrets (sins). Now confessions are posted online for all to see. It begs the question who is the real you; the person who shares the good, bad and ugly online, or the person who only shares their good qualities in church?
What is it about technological notoriety that will allow a person to share their foibles, miscues, spicy private photos—or at the other end of the spectrum, their boring mundane life routines with the universe? Is it really important to let people know you are sleepy? Or that your shower water was not as hot as yesterday. To be fair there is a positive role social networks play, bringing people together, sharing information and ideas. What it should not do is become a substitute for human interaction and emotional exchange especially with family and friends that live in close proximity.
Call me old school but I am amazed that couples will go out to dinner and spend most of their time between bites (bytes) communicating with someone else—perhaps that person on the other end of the text should have been invited to dinner. With that said, I reluctantly joined Facebook after hearing that some of my mentees started a page titled, People Mentored By Reverend Alfonso Wyatt. I read the comments (I am up to 56 friends) of people I was blessed to help, encourage or minister to over the last decade to the present.
I could clearly see and feel the cyber attraction that keeps track of the number of friends that visit you (what ever happened to pen pals?) and the concomitant desire to ‘hit’ someone back long into the night or most of the day. It is however disconcerting when someone who is your friend asks you to be their friend online. I exited the site happy that there was nothing posted that I would be embarrassed for my mother to see.
I recall the time a friend and co-laborer in the gospel received an unsolicited suggestive picture and message posted to his Facebook page about what she hoped the future could hold for him. I made a low tech move and called a mutual friend that had his number to warn him what was happening on his Facebook page (which he seldom checked). He was horrified, embarrassed and angered to read what was posted for the world to see and judge.
There is now software called Reputation Defender designed to police the Internet for a price to make sure that any disparaging remarks are not being transmitted without a customer’s knowledge. Reputation Defender knows how to bury unflattering statements in the depths of Google’s basement. There was a time that God was the ultimate reputation defender. He would take sinners and forgive and forget all that was past. In fact, we are told that our sins are tossed in the sea of forgetfulness there to rise no more. Facebook, MySpace or your favorite blog or an indiscriminate text, email or tweet can’t forgive nor forget. So the techno/existential question boils down to this: Which book do you really want to be in forever—Facebook or The Lamb’s Book—Tweet that question please and I pray it goes viral!
The Reverend Alfonso Wyatt is an associate minister and Elder on the staff of The Greater Allen Cathedral of New York under the leadership of Wyatt is a national role model and leader on issues that impact youth, health, and family and community development. He is an advisor and consultant to government, universities, public schools, community based organizations, faith based institutions, foundations and civic groups. Wyatt is Vice President of the Fund for the City of New York, a highly regarded operating foundation and public charity started by the Ford Foundation in 1968. The mission of the Fund for the City of New York is to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers through its strategic work with government and non-profits. He is the Chair of The 21st Century Foundation, an organization that advances philanthropy in the African American community and Chair of Black Leadership Commission on AIDS New York City affiliate. Reverend Alfonso and Evangelist Ouida Wyatt have been married for 36 years and are co-authors of Soul Be Free Poems Prose and Prayers on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.