So what do we think of TIME’s decision to name Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg their Man of the Year? We, the citizens of Facebook, I mean — citizens of the third largest nation in the world, if 500 million accounts counted as a nation. But also we as in all of us, whether we’re on Facebook or not, who know how profoundly media and technology have shifted, who have adapted our communication and connection habits, whether we wanted to or not. And we as in all of us who know that notions of private and public are being re-shaped, again.
There’s plenty of chatter about the angles of this – from sneers that TIME isn’t exactly the authority it used to be on what’s important (which is why I asked what “we” all think, if the we over at Facebook can just pause from collecting tractors for our farms for a moment, or taking a test to discover what dead celebrity we might have been in another life) to SNL’s comics setting up WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as bitter over Zuckerberg getting TIME’s honour (and this landing in newspapers and on computer screens everywhere as news!).
Of the list of TIME candidates (Julian Assange, the Tea Party, Afghan president Hami Karzai, and the Chilean miners), my pick would have been Julian Assange. Not because I find him more likable (it’s not about liking — Hitler was once was Man of the Year, and Stalin was twice), but because I think the WikiLeak events and the impulses behind them will reverberate through global politics and life more significantly than Facebook has or will.
But whether Zuckerberg or Assange, whether social media’s “sharing” or the WikiLeaks insistence on “transparency,” both confront us with the same thing, as Doug Saunders noted in a helpful article at The Globe and Mail. They’re on a historical continuum of debate and action over public versus private, over the ideal of “total openness.”
I’m not inclined to summarize that debate or even offer my opinions on where individuals or societies should land. (I am on Facebook, so I shouldn’t get too snobbish about that.) But, I’m going to veer off in closing this post to one place that seems almost untouched by the current discussion. I’m speaking of the institutional church, and — since I know it best — my particular Mennonite denomination. (If you’re not a participant in any of these, you don’t need to read on.) And it strikes me that though there have been, in the past, lively conversations about how one balances the work of “the press” (the need to know) and the work of boards and head offices (the need to not reveal too much of the internal) within a community where love and trust are core values, we’re not talking about it much anymore. This debate often arises around negative goings-on, though it shouldn’t be seen as pertaining only to those.
If that debate is still active, it’s not reaching my ears. My denomination is on Facebook, has a website, and a magazine, and there are good stories and also news releases carried in all of them. But the MB Herald, still our national body’s main reporting medium, is not allowed at meetings of the executive board or board of faith and life, currently the main loci of the denomination’s decision-making and direction. Generally, I think it’s safe to say, we’ve settled for much greater distance between the constituency and our leadership structures than ever before.
So I’m wondering, how does information, disclosure, transparency, watching – the interplay of public and private – look in the context of church? Do our thoughts/opinions about TIME’s man of the year and the cultural shifts that Zuckerberg (or Assange) are presiding over have any relevance or application here? I need to think about this a lot more, but would welcome thoughts or links to the subject (in reference to a church context) that I may be missing.