According to a study by the University of Virginia Center for Politics, a large percentage of the American population no longer thinks that despite our ideological differences we should stick together as a country. Whether because of faith, the pandemic, social issues, political candidates, or cultural trends, people are expressing the feeling that they are living in different worlds, and their worldview is unquestionably superior. Most of us have had many a frustrating dialogue in the last few years, both with anonymous internet people and with loved ones. Someone else (not ourselves) always seems to be wrong, and while there may be times when it is appropriate and just to shake the dust off our feet and each go our own ways, more often than not, the Lord is still calling us to build bridges instead. Sadly, social media can be our biggest stumbling block in understanding each other and sticking together.
Anticipating problems of our digital age, the Catholic media scholar Marshall McLuhan said in 1977, “The global village is a place of very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations.” He continued, “Ordinary people feel the need for violence as they lose their identities.” How then do we navigate divisions and differences, fractured selves and a broken society, for the sake of Christ, his kingdom, and the peace and well-being of our families and communities? As I try to figure out a way forward in my own relationships, as well as in my evangelistic work, McLuhan’s prophetic analysis has been helpful.
McLuhan reminds us that in radio, television, and most other forms of communication, “we don’t have any physical body. When you don’t have a physical body, you’re a discarnate being. You have a very different relation to the world around you.” He distinguishes types of media into “cool” and “hot,” demonstrating how a disembodied presence works differently depending on the particular medium. Radio, McLuhan claims, is a particularly “hot” medium, exploited by demagogues, geared to the stoking of tribal fires, and preying on people’s fears and insecurities. He believed that “Hitler was a radio man” and thought the German dictator would have been a disaster on the much cooler medium of television, which diffuses tension more easily as the viewer faces the speaker more fully in his humanity.