In the years I have been studying and writing about pop culture, I have devised several rules in how I approach pop culture, celebrity, and new trends. First, pop culture is neither always good nor always bad. There are times when a word of Law needs to be spoken and there are times when we witness the Gospel. There are times when we see bad examples and sinful behavior and there are times when we see a glimmer of God’s redemptive work in people. Pop culture exists whether we like it or not, and our job as Christians is to be guided by the Holy Spirit in interpreting and acting on our culture in a way that is in accordance with God’s Word.
Second, when something becomes popular, I always want to address it in some way with my kids. This doesn’t mean I change the lesson every week to address something new and fleeting. I can keep my lessons focused on God’s Word, but there are always opportunities to talk to them about what is going on in their world. Ignoring culture deprives me of an opportunity to teach them how to think critically about the world around them and discover how to navigate it in a God pleasing way.
Third, I do not want my blog to be one where I constantly rail against all the sin and evil in the world. There is great evil and sin in the world; we should never diminish or ignore this fact. However, I do not want my only focus to be the law. Teens tend to ignore adults who respond to pop culture simply by screaming “No, No, NO!” Rather, I want to direct my attention and my teens’ attention to how God can use even the worst in our culture for good.
With those rules in mind, I was intrigued by the newly popular website Chat Roulette. Designed by a 17 year old boy from Russia, Chat Roulette is a means of communicating with complete strangers using text, webcams, and microphones. When you launch the site, it automatically detects and connects to the equipment in your computer, then with the click of a mouse you are communicating with a random person who is also on the site. You or your partner has the option of choosing “next” whenever you want. When you or your chat partner “nexts” you automatically connect with a new person. The site is designed purposely with no set up, meaning you do not create a profile or even a user name, and with no oversight. It harkens back to the early days of the internet where there was little control or supervision of users by even the most popular sites. There is a single warning sentence in the opening screen asking you to not use the site if you are under 16, though no effort is made to stop young people from using it. Every day the site gets over a million and a half hits.
I decided I couldn’t accurately discuss the site with anyone without actually trying it. In my scariest 30 seconds on the internet I was connected to a nearly undressed girl who immediately nexted me, a pre-teen girl’s shoulder, a twenty something male who I immediately nexted, and a teen boy. After four tries with no actual communication, I lost my nerve and shut it down. The idea that I had no idea who I would get next or what I would be subjected to seeing was too overwhelming. In less than a minute, I was convinced this site was not only a waste of time but dangerous.
Here is where I got caught up in my sinful self. After a few days I decided that just maybe I didn’t stay on long enough to give the site a fair shot. I should give it another try just to check. After a short battle with myself, I went back to the site. This time I stayed on for a bit longer, but it was almost exactly the same. Most people immediately nexted me without a second glance. A few people I nexted after seeing them in compromising positions, and the only person who actually communicated with me asked me to remove some of my clothing. I exited and suddenly realized what had happened. The curiosity this site provoked overruled any good judgment I had about staying away from things which could lead me into sin. It was like I was convicted with a two by four.
I have found the exception to all of my rules.
While others may see this site as a means of communication just like any other, I can’t bring myself to find any redemptive quality in it. It plays to our worst insecurities as person after person nexts you without a second glance. It exposes you over and over again to people who are, well, literally overexposed. There are so many things that could go wrong with teens and this site, that I honestly don’t even know where to start. Take the premise of the site, think of how your middle school girls would use it and then try and control the panic attack that will inevitably occur. The site takes away our ability to control who and what we interact with, and that takes away our ability to stay focused on the things of God. In fact, this site thrives on the curiosity that leads so many of us down a dangerous and sinful path.
I am not going to address this site with my youth. If I hear they are talking about it or using it, I am going to address it one on one, but I am not going to address it to the group at large. I fear they will be so curious that just like me they will try it, and in trying it just once they will never be able to take back what they saw. This is one of those trends I hope will flash and fade. If it doesn’t perhaps I will reassess.
As always, there is the possibility that I am completely wrong in my perspective of this site. I call them like I see them, and this site seems to bring out the worst in me and other people. I will admit that the Type-A part of my brain is automatically terrified at just the thought of the site and that may be skewing my experience. I would love to hear both your responses to the site and how you are addressing it (or not addressing it) in your ministry.