I want to continue my series of posts on being present with one another, but from a slightly different angle. A number of years ago, I sat with a principal of a local public high school (who also happened to be a strong believer), and I asked him about some of the tough challenges that are facing high school students today. Among the expected answers (pressure to achieve, increased sexuality, bullying, teenage drama, etc.), he mentioned the “YouTube effect”. Intrigued, I asked him to explain a bit more.
The YouTube effect is the enticement that popularity and fame are not only out there, but within reach. A kid coming home from the dentist, a cat video, music covers – it is now possible to broadcast yourself to an audience with the potential of reaching millions. Before, fame was the lofty aspiration and pipe dream of a magazine cover or some awards show. With the advent of YouTube, the average person has the potential to reach stardom without ever having to sign a contract, move to LA, or have a cosmetic procedure.
This golden opportunity also can bring a great deal of pressure. If you want to be famous, you can be. You just have to create something entertaining, and now technology makes that possible. So would-be stars throw themselves creatively and passionately trying to come up with the next viral hit. I’m not knocking the amazing creativity and amusement we get from so many viral videos. It’s just that we must be careful. The dark side of the viral phenomenon is that fame and popularity are still as elusive as ever. Only now they tease us more (and make us feel bad) because they seem to be within reach, just not within ours.
So where am I going with this? I think the YouTube effect can also distort what we desire from our relationships and our work. We want instant impact. We want immediate attention and notoriety. We want virality when it comes to the things we give ourselves to. The YouTube effect causes us to overlook the very ingredient that every quality thing – be it relationships, career, family, ministry, even that viral video – needs: PERSEVERANCE.
I love how Seth Godin addresses the empty allure of going viral.
If your work goes viral, if it gets seen by tens of millions of people, sure you can profit from that. But most of the time, it won’t. Most of the time, you’ll aim to delight the masses and you’ll fail. I’m glad that some people are busy trying to entertain us in a silly way now and then. But it doesn’t have to be you doing the entertaining–the odds are stacked against you. So much easier to aim for the smallest possible audience, not the largest, to build long-term value among a trusted, delighted tribe, to create work that matters and stands the test of time.
What an important assessment. Instead of trying to gain the biggest audience possible (or the most dynamic relationship, or the most impactful ministry, etc.), aim for the smallest – one that you can truly and honest build long-term value into. This is not the call to forsake ambition. Rather, it is the call to let go of unhealthy and lofty expectations that your work will be the next biggest hit. If it is, great! If it isn’t, you weren’t aiming for that anyway. I think we understand intuitively that quality is found in intimacy.
Maybe that’s why you can always tell who the freshmen are in a college dining hall – they’re the ones sitting 12-16 to a table. Spread the nets wide and meet as many people as possible. Yet, rare is the person who can maintain all of those relationships. It’s elusive like fame! The upperclassmen are with a few good friends, soaking in relationships that have stood the test of exams, late-night eating, road trips, cramming, drama, etc.
I’ve realized this to be so true of ministry. Spiritual formation doesn’t happen virally. Belief in the gospel doesn’t happen through an entertainment-driven amusement. It happens one verse at a time, one experience, one confession, one repentance. Spiritual formation stands the test of time as we build with the right materials (1 Cor 3), and as we are present with each other in intentional disciple-making relationships. There’s no YouTube video for that (not even your favorite Mark Driscoll/Francis Chan/David Platt videos)!