book review: Viral, Len Sweet

michael bells

3.5 Stars

September 4, 2012

title: Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival author: Leonard Sweet publisher: WaterBrook Press date: 2012

There are two disclaimers that I have to make at the beginning of this review.

First: is the official one. I received this book free for review from Blogging for Books by WaterBrook Multnomah. This does not mean that the review has to be favorable, so the review is my honest opinion, but I do have to notify that it was a review copy. You are now notified.

Second: is the unofficial one. I am a fan of Leonard Sweet’s books. I have read most of his books, and heard him speak a couple of times. So, I am a little biased when it comes to Sweet’s writings.

In "Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival", Sweet addresses the Gutenberger - Googler contrast in understanding culture and the impact of TGIF on ministry. [Basic definitions: Gutenbergers are those born into our culture when it was devoted to the written and spoken word; Googlers are those who have re-written the rules of forming networks, connections, and relationships; TGIF: Twitter, Google, iPhone, Facebook] Sweet shows not only WHY we need to exegete our culture but WHERE this is leading us.

Gutenbergers are holdovers from the print era while Googlers are “digital natives.” For Sweet, the differences between Gutenbergers and Googles goes far beyond their familiarity and comfort with the Internet and mobile devices. He describes it this way: Gutenbergers: It’s necessary to be right.Googlers: It’s necessary to be in relationship. Gutenbergers: God is in charge.Googlers: God chose to be among us. Gutenbergers: Capital campaign.Googlers: Homeless campaign Gutenbergers: Statement of faith.Googlers: Life of faith. Gutenbergers: Build something.Googlers: Meet someone. Gutenbergers: A culture of words and individualism that has lost its ability to propagate.Googlers: A culture of images and relationships that breed virility, the petri dish of revival. In Viral, Sweet is critical of Gutenbergers for being overly left-brained and focused on using words to debate, divide and isolate. Meanwhile he sees the right-brain dominance of Googlers as being more in line with how Jesus lived – telling stories, using metaphors and imagery, accepting mystery and paradoxes, and most of all pursuing relationships. The real question is not, “Would Jesus tweet? But, what would Jesus tweet?” The Twitter question of “What are you doing?” has been replaced in my mind with “What is God doing?” and “Where do I see Jesus?” and “What am I paying attention to?” Some may find Sweet extensive use of metaphor an issue, but then, metaphor is the language of the Googler.

Viral, is not a how-to manual for people for Gutenburgers who want to move into this generation’s way of life. Rather, Sweet approaches this new world as a TGIF world; a rising generation whose social interactions and medium of choice are built around Twitter, Google, iPhones and Facebook. If the unit of the premodern world was the family, and the unit of the Gutenberg world was the individual, the unit of the TGIF world is the network. At its best, this means a rediscovery of our being-in-common, the sense of the village square or town commons. So should you read Viral? It depends. If you are a Googler, you will find little that you don't already know. If you are a Gutenberger, it might open your eyes a little. The subtitle of the book is: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival. And that title/subtitle combination gives a glimpse into what you’ll get out of it: an understanding of how social networking isn’t here to destroy relationships and spirituality but, instead, can be used to spread the Good News further and faster than ever before.

The world has and is changing in ways that these digital innovations have and are embedding themselves into our lives and into our relationships. We are no longer confined by time and space; we can asynchronously communicate with the whole world if we want to. From a distance we can create the closest of relationships. And, Sweet points out that from that distance we can create deep relationships but not always really know what’s going on in someone else’s world.