Note: This post is by my fellow Happy Ranter, Ted Kluck. I always appreciate Ted’s insight, so take time and read this one slowly.
I teach at a Christian university in the Midwest that is a lot like most Christian universities in that it is small, friendly almost all of the time, and has the usual cast of characters – the environmental science major who looks like Jesus, the gamers, the North Face Jackets, and the jocks who keep the enrollment numbers above sea level and probably (truth be told) keep the doors open year after year.
I love teaching at said university, and had the honor of speaking in chapel the other day where I heard – via another Christian college stock character (The Discipline Guy) that there had been a rash of inappropriate behavior via the new(ish) social networking platform Yik Yak. In true old man fashion, I had to ask my students what Yik Yak is. They graciously explained that, apparently, at any given time and in any given class or chapel, there is a flurry of snark-infested Yik Yak activity happening all the time. As an author with a decade’s worth of time in the business, the idea of being savaged on the Internet (and also the idea of being completely ignored) is no longer novel or scary to me, but the discussion still gave me pause.
And while most were arguing about the propriety of what was posted during the chapel (on sexuality) a week prior, I thought more about the Millienial’s inability to ever, truly, be a part of an audience and not be The Show. To the Millenial , there may in fact be no venue, performance, talk, concert, meal, date, car ride, trip to the bathroom, sporting event or classroom that wouldn’t be way better without my clever commentary. Which is another way of saying that the Millenial always has to be onstage, but usually without the risk that goes along with actually being on an actual stage. Yik Yak, for example, offers an even greater level of anonymity than Twitter or Facebook.
At my chapel, The Discipline Guy (which, btw, is without a doubt the HARDEST job on any Christian college campus) got up front and challenged the entire group, admittedly for the actions of just a few. He was gracious and his intentions were good. What resulted was what you might imagine – a room that had had the wind sucked out of it. It was like spending the night at your buddy’s house and having to see him get chewed out by his dad and then feeling mildly guilty about it even though you had nothing to do with what happened.
Not surprisingly, there were people Yik Yakking about The Discipline Guy’s Yik Yak rebuke.
The questions are as follows: Is constant, often anonymous, commentary our defense mechanism against ever having to actually listen and, therefore, our defense mechanism against ever having to be held accountable? Because if so, I kind of get that. Being held accountable is uncomfortable. So is listening to things that aren’t entertaining. I admitted to my students that when I was in college there was a constant stream of mean-spirited idiocy running through my head, and often out my mouth, but fortunately it could usually only be heard by my buddy Kirk who sat next to me and thought I was funny. I’m glad we didn’t have Yik Yak.
Or, more troublingly, can we just not fathom a world in which we’re not The Show?
It’s not, ultimately, the Christian College’s job to police all of this, nor could they. It’s not our job to create utopia. If we get into that business then we become Bob Jones University and are soon allegedly tapping dorm phones and pouring concrete for extra sidewalks so that men and women can walk everywhere separately. That’s a loser’s game.
But how does faith, working through love, look on Yik Yak? Is it even possible there? And how can my gaze be directed Godward, when it is always directed at me?