December 2, 2010
From the Zoot Suits of the 1930's, the goldfish swallowing of the 1940's, to the 1950’s with the Hula Hoop, America has witnessed the rise and fall of many a fad, including bellbottoms, platform shoes, spandex shorts and the dance revolution of the last decade. Fads come and go. They are dramatically popular for a period. Then they fade away as just a happy memory. Today, Twitter and Facebook have all the makings of a fad for our times.
Twitter, a social networking and micro-blogging service created in 2006, has skyrocketed in popularity worldwide. It currently has more than 175 million users. There are now about 750 tweets (posts or status updates on Twitter) sent each second with at least 65 million tweets posted each day. New users are signing up at the rate of 300,000 per day. And, 37 percent of those who tweet use their cell phones.
Facebook, a social network service launched in February, 2004, boasts of more than 500 million active users in a single day. People are now spending over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. The near 200 million people using Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active on Facebook than non-mobile users. If Facebook were a nation, its citizens would number more than the population of the United States and would be less only to China and India.
Predictably, young people are the most avid users of social media. However, the rate of increase in their use hardly compares to that of their seniors. Social networking use among young people ages 18-29 grew by 13% from 76% to 86% in May 2010. But, during the same period, those 65 or older increased their use from 13% to 26%. That is a growth of 100%! Despite its quick gain in popularity, the new social networking in communication is not a fad. It is here to stay.
As a result of the new technology, we are experiencing a fundamental societal shift not only in communication, but also in behavior. Fundraising is changing. The American Red Cross raised more than $5 million dollars through text messages. Social relations are changing. One out of eight married couples in the United States met through social media. The world is changing. Our capacity to communicate with each other is almost limitless. We can reach so many people so quickly and so easily.
Faster than the downfall of the Berlin Wall, national borders are now collapsing under the pressure of the social communications network. The Internet, email, Facebook, Twitter, Ipods and cell phones have made us a digital continent. We are all new immigrants to a new land (cf. Bishop Ronald Herzog, Address to United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Baltimore, November 16, 2010). However, we have yet to learn the landscape. We have yet to refine the way that we now relate to one another in our new home.
The new means of digital communication are a good not only with practical values, but also with a great theological import. All of us across national boundaries and religious differences long for a world where truth is spoken, where blessings are shared, where differences no longer divide, but charity unites. We have yet to understand how our new home on the digital continent already, even with its imperfections, can move us in this direction and can actually anticipate our true home with God.
To be continued…..