Format: Trade Paperback
Religion - Christian Life
Leonard Sweet is a theologian and historian by training, and a futurist by calling and passion. A prolific writer and lover of poetry, he was a way of describing the future he sees. I just finished his latest book, in which he attempts to show that social networking is a tool by which twenty-first century Christians might bring spiritual revival similar to the Reformation and the Great Awakening. While Sweet offers some interesting insights, I believe the book fails to prove its point.
Viral is yet another book describing the culture/generational clash using the Pre-modern/Modern/Post-modern dialectic of human history. The author focuses on the technology used to communicate knowledge. In the pre-Modern era (the one in which Jesus lived) communication was mostly verbal, since the production of printed material was costly and time consuming. The Modern era is best illustrated by the Gutenberg press, which made printed material accessible and affordable to all, and allowed almost anyone to publish. The Post-Modern era is best illustrated by the search engine Google, the most widely used source to find and share digital information, and also the digitizer of everything printed in paper books during the Gutenberg era. The culture of the Googlers is labeled as TGIF (assembling the four great means of social networking: Twitter, Google, iPhone, and Facebook.
Sweet's critical comparison of Modernity and Post-modernity is unoriginal. He criticizes modernity (the Gutenbergers) for its extreme individualism, its tendency to dissect/analyze, its view of truth as rational propositions, its preference for homogeneity, and its resulting compartmentalization of life. He predictably adores Post-modernity (the Googlers) for its emphasis on community, its tendency to create/synthesize, its view of truth as living narrative, is preference for diversity, and its resulting holistic view of life. Unfortunately, there is nothing new in all of this- it is the common fodder in books of this subject matter. What is valuable, though, are the examples, statistics and stories from the realm of technology. For example, he shared research that showed a decline of violent crime among those who played violent video games, something no one expected to see.
To his credit, Sweet does not blindly and naively embrace the Googler generation. He shares the pitfalls he sees that might keep the generation from sparking revival., especially the narcissism that social media allows, and the tendency to waste time, words and influence on meaningless details of our lives.
In the end, I have to wonder to whom exactly Sweet was writing. Throughout the book he acknowledges his own preference for and comfort within the Gutenberger culture, while at the same time describing his deep appreciation and his attempts to use the technology of the Googler culture. The appendix is entitled, "How Gutenbergers can learn from Googlers." If I were to guess, the book was intended for Gutenbergers who are trying to understand, appreciate, minister to, and also live in the Googler culture. If this indeed was the intent, I believe Sweet failed on one major point. And that is the question of, can real relationships exist, grow and/or thrive outside of face-to-face contact? Googlers are criticized for their constant texting, Instant Messaging, Facebooking, etc., which takes away from face-to-face interactions. Sweet suggests that these "virtual" meetings and virtual relationships are just as deep, meaningful and real as are relationships that interact exclusively live and in person. Sweet goes so far as to claim that because of their desire for community, aided by technology, Googlers have better relationships than their book-reading parents. Sweet suggests this time and again, but he never really proves it. The research he cites is scant!
If, as is suggested in the book, Gutenbergers rely on argument, reason, and logic to convince them of the truth, and if, as it seems, the book was written to help Gutenberbers, then he ought to have devoted a large section of the book to a linear, logical, well-cited argument for his position on this point. After all- that is how Gutenbergers think! If he wants Gutenbergers to connect to Googlers by telling more stories, then he ought to have connected with the Gutenbergers at least on this one point with reason and argument!
While I have indeed learned more about the Googler culture, and I can use his suggestions, and have received his correction that I need be more of a story-teller than an argument creator, I am left unconvinced that Googlers have better relationships through social networking, and I am left unconvinced that they will bring revival.
Required Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
Juvenile Fiction - Religious - Christian - Fantasy
Fiction - Christian - General