by Rebecca Koerselman
In Romans 2:12, Paul writes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Some interpret this passage as “be in the world, but not of the world.” I frequently wrestle with what it means to conform or not conform to the pattern of this world. Does this mean I shouldn’t participate in popular culture? Or should I transform popular culture in some way, or just transform myself and not worry about popular culture?
I just finished reading Dave Eggers’ book, The Circle, which read a bit like a 21st century social media version of Orwell’s 1984. In the book, Eggers tells the story of Mae Holland, who gets her dream job at a company called The Circle, a not so subtle take on Facebook or Google. The Circle is a cutting edge tech company that has transformed the internet, has an amazing campus community, and encourages transparency in everything. According to The Circle and its founders, the solution to the world’s problems is transparency. If everyone knows what you are thinking or sees who you are meeting with or is constantly watching you, you will behave better. In fact, Mae even goes so far to say that privacy is theft and secrets are lies.
I spent most of the book shuddering and silently yelling at Mae to fight the system, walk away, and reject the transparency. I like privacy. I don’t want people to know what I am thinking at all moments. I don’t want people to know where I am or what I’m doing, most of the time. I don’t want to be available at all times to all people. I don’t need to receive ‘likes’ about what I’m doing or what I said to feel validated. I am not on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. I have resisted attempts to join SnapChat, to the chagrin of many friends and students. It isn’t because I’m a technophobe. Despite being a certified nerd as a professional historian, I am not intimidated or threatened by technology.
The reasons I resist social media are threefold. First, I fight the perfectionist inside me. If I am going to do something, I want to do it well. If I cannot do it well, then I don’t really want to try. Second, I like my privacy. I like reading other people’s tweets or seeing the pictures and posts of family and friends on Facebook, I just don’t want to make my life on display. A double standard, I realize. Third, as a historian, I struggle with how much evidence of my life I want to be public and salvageable. I spend most of my time sifting through what has been left behind by others in the past. Some evidence is left deliberately, but most evidence is not left deliberately. If someone looked at my tweets or Facebook posts in 100 years, what would they discern of my life? If I’m honest, I’d rather leave too little evidence to be noticed than to be so carefully examined and evaluated by someone in the future.
Then again, I do write for this blog regularly. Many people use social media platforms to conform to the world, but some use social media platforms to transform themselves and maybe others too. Is that what Paul means in Roman’s 2:12?
One of the reasons I joined The Twelve is because I believe in intelligent and thoughtful conversation, and I like the multiplicity of voices and perspectives in The Twelve, as Reformed and ever reforming voices. Are we conformed to the pattern of this world? I don’t think so. But are we transforming our own minds as well as some of our readers’ minds? I certainly hope so. Or at least starting the conversation.
Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.