So “selfie” is the word of the year for 2013 according the Oxford Dictionary’s release this week. To many this is not a big deal. To many more it speaks volumes about our culture, about technology, and about young people. I myself find it almost as interesting that “selfie” is even a word much less the fact that it was the word of the year. I also wonder how the Oxford Dictionary determines what the word of the year is. I mean is there a vote? Is it based on how many times it appears on Facebook and Instagram in a said year? Is there a panel of experts that select the word of the year? I also wonder if they have a ceremony much like the Emmy’s or Oscar’s or Grammy’s where book and word lovers around the globe gather and wait in anticipation to see who will take home the coveted prize “Word of the Year” (and if so, I wonder what the other nominees were?). Anyway, I digress. As I have thought (obviously, entirely too much) about this, I do have a few observations I thought I would share:
1. This is a reminder and a result of the fact that this generation is image driven. Len Sweet has been writing/talking for years that in order to connect with this generation in worship one of the characteristics of that worship is that it must be image driven. Images have ALWAYS been powerful – “A picture is worth a thousand words” – but now images are easily captured on smart phones and instantly shared with others via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Instagram is the “flavor of the month” when it comes to social media right now, and that is due partly at least to the fact that our culture is so image driven.
2. Although it seems that this generation is more self-absorbed than previous generations, I believe it just has more tools to prove it. One of the marks of the adolescent years of human development is the importance of answering the question of identity. Erikson was the first to bring this to our attention years ago, but we have seen evidence of this struggle throughout history. Teens are in an identity crisis and the answers they discover in their teen years are often lifelong answers about who they are as an individual. How can we expect young people to answer that critical question of development without being at least somewhat self-absorbed? That would be like asking someone to figure out what really was in the McRib sandwich and that person NEVER looking at an actual McRib sandwich. Even as adults we still enjoy seeing ourselves in pictures, our names in the paper, or on TV. This generation just has the opportunity to “broadcast” their image quickly and effortlessly because of the technology they possess. I dare say that if we had smart phones in the 80’s, there would have been lots more pictures of big hair, parachute pants, and Air Jordans.
3. The final thought is a question…How can we help this “selfie” generation realize that their BEST SELF is the self that reflects Jesus? That is the critical role of pastors, youth workers, parents, mentors, and adults in general when it comes to connecting young people to faith. We were made in God’s image. We are worth more than gold to Him. He loves EACH of us so much that He KNOWS us intimately and desires nothing more than for us to KNOW Him intimately in return. When we can connect young people with their identity ,not as the world sees them, but rather connect them with their identity in Christ, then this self-absorbed generation becomes less like our generation and more like the God that created them. Suddenly, a shift happens and they become focused on how their “self” can impact others FOR the kingdom. Maybe when that happens enough, we can make a new word of the year. Maybe the word of the year for 2014 can be “othersie”. I’m starting the campaign now! Any other words for next year? Would love to hear your thoughts!