Have it Your Way

Cal Jernigan – Senior Pastor

Years ago, Burger King launched an ad campaign that included the tag line, “Have it your way!” The emphasis was on their desire to help you “personalize” your hamburger. Accompanied by a catchy tune and lyrics, the point they were making was why suffer through the trauma of having to eat an “ordinary” hamburger? Little did we realize where this desire was going to lead us.

These days, we live in the age of specialization and personalization. Perhaps this is no more obvious than when you take a trip to your local Starbucks. On every cup are boxes which are checked off as you indicate your choices and likes. Why suffer through an “ordinary” cup of coffee?

This personalization has now become ubiquitous. We have learned that we can and should expect to have everything just the way we want it. We are the customer. We are never wrong… except when we are.

As this personalized mentality has grown and developed, we now are now experiencing unintended consequences. Google has built an empire around paying attention to what it is you are interested in and what you are not. They have designed their algorithms to lead you toward what you are interested in and away from what have they determined you are not. In a real sense, they control what you see and what you don’t see. All of this is based on their best guess of who you really are, which is based on the information they have observed about you. This should creep all of us out a bit.

But Google is far from alone. Amazon tracks your purchases and then suggests other purchases you might like. They tell you what other “people like you” have also purchased. They, and many other retailers, follow you around on your travels through the internet, dropping reminders of that purchase you didn’t yet make but obviously were interested in. Is it a coincidence I tend to see Cabelas banner ads on searches I do as I prep for sermons? Nope. Google knows I like Cabelas. They have taken note of my preferences.

Facebook does exactly the same thing. They notice what you “like.” They pay attention to what and who you pay attention to. Their algorithms prioritize your news feed. They steer you away from content you might find uninteresting or even offensive and toward what they think you will dig. Pretty cool, huh? But at what price?

I could keep going and talk about how Netflix watches what you watch, suggesting other movies they are pretty certain you will like. If you liked… then we think you will also like. As does Pandora. Thumbs up or thumbs down? You get the idea.

At this point I should put a disclaimer in here that I acknowledge much of the above as useful, even helpful. I appreciate being told about something I wasn’t aware of that they think I might like. I didn’t know that book or movie existed. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

But here’s where it becomes challenging. When you choose to watch Fox News over CNN or CNN over Fox News, you are actively making a choice. You can change channels any time. You are fully aware your bias is affecting your choice. While we could easily make the case if you only hear news from one perspective you will be one sided in your understanding, at least we know we are doing it to ourselves.

Not so with many of the technologies described above. Someone else is making decisions for you. They are controlling what you are NOT exposed to. They are making choices for you and you aren’t even aware of what they’re up to. They are shaping our outlook and exposure to what’s “out there.” While we can convince ourselves we are informed, we have actually been isolated. We have only seen what we were expecting to see.

Let me take this a step further. By implementing all of this personalization, we have been allowed to become the center of our own universes. Ideas we are exposed to are ideas we have a track record of being comfortable with. Contrary points of view are silenced.

The end result? We no longer know how to interact with people who have other points of view. We have forgotten how to dialogue. We no longer know how to converse civilly. We are uncomfortable in the presence of people who disagree with us or see the world differently than we do. We are easily threatened.

And so the amount of broadband we can process is shrinking.  We are becoming increasingly narrow-minded. We are becoming uninformed and underexposed. Our worlds are getting smaller…with us in the very center of it all. It all has come to rotate around us!

What do we do about this? How do we break out of this? How do we resist this? Here’s my best advice: expose yourself to the viewpoints you’re most afraid of. Stop talking and controlling the conversation. Sit and listen. Learn. Ask questions. Become a student of other people’s insights. Understand that YOU CAN ONLY LEARN WHAT YOU DO NOT YET KNOW!!!

Let me draw your attention to the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs. While at first blush this passage may not seem to apply, it is very important

“The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” Proverbs 18:17

The point? There is always more to the story than one side tends to present. Learn to listen to both sides before you make up your mind on an issue. Don’t live in fear of those who see things differently, learn from them.

Here’s the bottom line. We have become very proficient as Americans at the expression our opinions. We know how tell people what we think! What is needed most now, however, is the ability as Christians to listen deeply and understand a different point of view.

It’s time to get out of our bubble.

Have it Your Way

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