I’m looking forward to Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Ready Player One — especially after reading the novel, which centers on a high school boy who battles to save a virtual world called Oasis.
I am fascinated by the growing number of stories like these that explore our relationship to technology and the tensions between virtual and real-world realities and identities.
These issues often affect us more than we think. The virtual world we plug into every day — from online gaming to social media and the cable news culture — is not only shaping our identities but also the way we think about reality.
For example, it’s well established that the affirmation-seeking emphasis integrated into social media platforms creates a pressure on us to “be more like the often idealized digital versions of ourselves and our peers,” which can lead to unrealistic expectations and feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and depression.
Then there’s the cable news culture, which has become an increasingly entertainment-based medium focused on gaining the most viewers. And bad news is often the best draw.
That can skew not only our perception of reality but also how we respond to it. A Harvard study explored how we overreact in terms of public policy to low-probability risks that are vividly and widely publicized, like terrorism. When terrible outcomes are vivid and easy to visualize (think 24-hour news franchises), we become insensitive to the reality of low statistical risks — even when the risks are dramatically lower than those associated with ordinary activities, like driving a car.
This contributes to the way many, including believers, have come to see our identities and the world around us as a place where Jesus has little if any power.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In Simply Good News, N.T. Wright says, “When Jesus and his first followers spoke about good news, they meant that something had happened (or was happening) as a result of which the world had become a different place, . . . God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven.” In this new reality, “Jesus said that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given him” (Matt. 28:18) and “he meant what he said, and we should work it out in practice.”
In other words, “The one true God has now taken charge of the world . . . to sort it out and fill it with his glory and justice. . . . Every single one of us, whoever we are, can be caught up in that transformation here and now.”
If we want to live in the real world, we need to live into that.
For me, it’s an ongoing process. Our family gave up cable television for platforms like Roku. A little more than a year ago, I stopped listening to the news when I’m commuting. I replaced it with prayer and listening.
I continue to read the news daily, but I seek out multiple sources. I try to manage my social media use more thoughtfully and prioritize time to nurture relationships with other believers who both challenge and encourage me.
In a culture that constantly influences how we perceive ourselves and reality, we need to practice intentionally grounding ourselves in the reality that Jesus is king over all the Earth.
And we must do it together. Because living out this new reality together will be a light to the world.
As David Fitch recently paraphrased Clarence Jordan: “Every little church, in every town, village or city neighborhood is a ‘demonstration plot of the kingdom of God.’ ”
Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.