I don’t claim to be an expert on socioeconomic issues but there are several general topics that are dominating my conversations as of late. From these discussions, I’ve come up with seven trends that are reshaping society today and are likely to have a significant impact on our lives in the years ahead.
1) Real-time news is redefined. I see more and more people using their online networks of friends, followers and people they follow for breaking news and important developments. It won’t be long before Twitter users break more news stories than CNN. Bloggers and influential social networkers are taking the place of traditional journalists and experts. Friends and technology platforms are replacing editors and producers. And before long, I’m sure, we’ll hear of a crime victim sending a “tweet” right after the 911 call.
2) The hamster wheel gets faster and faster. Oh, how good we used to have it. We just didn’t know it. There is a part of me that would love to trade my computer, cell phone and other gizmos for those quiet afternoons on the front porch sipping lemonade, just hanging out and having a single landline phone to answer. Our modern-day devices have forced us to move at a break-neck pace and it is almost impossible for some of us to survive without an Internet connection for more than a few hours. I don’t know about you, but I had enough trouble listening to God when things moved slower. Now there’s more noise than ever.
3) Relationships become a mile wide, an inch-deep. Social networking is expanding the number of relationships we have but not the depth of our relationships. A few years ago, I would have told you that I had maybe a dozen friends. Today, I can show you that I have ten times as many “friends” according to Facebook. Am I more popular today? No. It’s just that we’ve loosened our definition of friendship. While I can amass a great number of friends on Facebook and convince myself that they all want to hear what I have to say, I’m not really sure how many of them I could count on when the chips are down. I attend a fairly large church congregation and the minister there has always stressed the importance of life groups to break down the enormity of it all and have real, lasting relationships. Social networking may cast a wider net but we still need that handful of close friendships to survive. Life has too many bumps in the road to leave it in the hands of virtual relationships.
4) Growing intolerance for Christians and religious “zealots”. Two surveys released this week provide the latest evidence of growing animosity towards Christians within our own borders. A Gallup survey released yesterday showed a correlation between religion and ethnic intolerance and a Newsweek report this week on the decline of Christianity in America generated more than a few hallelujahs from those who dislike Christians on the news site’s discussion boards. Christian discussion boards frequently undergo verbal assaults from atheists and I can show you a few pieces of hate mail that we get because we are a Christian site. Our response: Turn the other cheek and continue to love people unconditionally. When it’s time to engage in meaningful dialog, it should be done with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). I’ve heard some Christians talk about increasing persecution but we need to keep that in perspective when compared with our brothers and sisters in China and other places around the globe.
5) Calvinism’s resurgence. While I could write everything I know about religious movements after Jesus on one hand, one can’t help but notice the rising popularity of Calvinism in the Christian world. According to FaithBlogging.com, Calvinist blogs by John Piper and Marc Driscoll rank as the most influential on the Web. Time named Neo-Calvinism as one of its “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now” and also notes the rising popularity of the Calvinist-flavored ESV Bible. We use the ESV Bible on our Web site–not for theological reasons but because the publisher make it easy to license and use their technology (see No. 2 above).
6) Changing values. In a nutshell, Americans are more focused on saving, reducing debt, and living with less while helping others. Many Americans saw their retirement accounts cut in half last year and their home values fall by at least 10 percent. While almost everyone is poorer in a material sense, charitable giving has been relatively strong. Some of the non-profits I have talked to have seen their funding decline but by single digits and a recent Everyday Christian reader survey showed that less than 25 percent of people were reducing their charitable and church giving. On the whole, Americans are maintaining their support for non-profits by sacrificing elsewhere. Just look at the number of causes and supporters emerging on Facebook or join a giving group on a microlending site like Kiva.org and you will see a whole new level of passion for giving and helping others. It’s safe to say that more and more people are trying to find something else to believe in other than themselves and material belongings.
7) Big government is here to stay. When free markets failed during the Great Depression, people turned to the government for help. This time is no different. We have seen nationalization to some degree in the banking, financial, and automobile industries with more to come. Our federal government is spending a staggering amount of money to revive the economy and we will all be paying the price for years to come. As a result, every citizen–Christian or non-Christian–should take a more active role in our public policy debate. We can’t afford not to.