Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Putting the Instant in Instagram

           One of the biggest draws to social media is its instantaneous feature. With Instagram, a photo can be seen by hundreds of people just within seconds of taking it; people can respond and comment online about something that literally happened within the minute. The instant part of Instagram has many benefits that can also be seen as downsides depending on the situation. However, within the Christian community when it comes to prayer, there are many upsides to this feature. Instagram knows no geographical barrier, and it serves as a way to connect people over a span of continents. It also can spread information very quickly, allowing instant feedback.
In my observations this week, I came upon three examples of religion being lived out through Instagram. One post was a picture of a women getting ready to go into the delivery room. Another was a picture of a girl sitting on an airplane. The last one was a picture of papers and books surrounding a laptop and a cup of coffee. What do these three pictures have in common? Prayer.
In the first picture, a very pregnant woman is laying in a hospital bed with sweat dripping down her forehead. The caption reads, “IT’S TIME. Please be praying!” Within just a few minutes, multitudes of people had liked this picture and were commenting with encouraging words. People all over the country had been following this woman’s story: she was about to give birth to her baby girl that was going to be born without a fully developed brain and was not expected to live longer than a few hours. Through this post, her followers were able to know that she was about to enter the delivery room and pray for her instantly and continually throughout the process.
In the second picture, a girl in her lower twenty’s was sitting in her airplane seat. The caption read, “Shameless selfie- Africa, here I come! Prayers would be appreciated.” Once again, it took only minutes for the likes and comments to come flooding in. Encouraging words were posted as this girl embarked on her journey to the Middle East during a time when there had been Al-Qaida threats surrounding her destination. In just minutes, people worldwide were covering this user in immediate prayer as she was stepping into a dangerous situation.
The third picture displayed a mess of papers and books all sitting next to a laptop and cup of coffee with a caption that said, “LSAT today! Pray for a miracle.” Within just a few minutes, many comments were made wishing this user luck and saying that they were praying. This is another example of how a user used Instagram in hopes to involve his followers in praying for him as he struggled through last minute studying for a make-it-or-break-it exam.  
In all three instances, the user is about to enter into a vulnerable position where they feel they need help beyond themselves. By posting something and asking for prayer on Instagram, their established online community was able to instantly respond and engage in praying over that person and situation. The users were able to inform their followers of what was going on in their lives at that moment and allowed them to be encouraged by the responses of prayer. Being able to share information instantly is a benefit when you are in need of prayer. This is yet another way that Christians use Instagram as a part of their daily devotional. Having now seen and analyzed examples dealing with bible verses and prayer, and I am looking forward to observing other ways that Christians live out their religion via Instagram. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A picture is worth a thousand words

            I have chosen to study how individuals that claim themselves as Christians use Instagram in their daily religious devotion through observing pictures that are posted and the captions associated with them. This past week, I observed many examples of this. Instagram allows its users a unique opportunity to express their creativity through pictures. While sharing pictures allows the user to get their point across without necessarily having to use words, some users choose to post pictures of words, but how those words are displayed has more significance than you may think. In my observations this week, I came across three examples that were all pictures of bible verses in some form. One picture was of a passage from a daily devotional book called Jesus Calling. Another picture was a handwritten bible verse in a journal. The last picture was a typed bible verse that was part of a computer-generated image. All of these pictures expressed a bible verse or passage. While the common similarity between the three posts is very apparent, there are some contrasts in the contexts of which they were posted.
In the first example, the passage from the book was a repost from an Instagram user actually called Jesus Calling who solely posts the daily passages from the book. The user reposted this image in order to encourage other believers to slow down for a minute and remember that God is in control. The passage talked about giving your plans to the Lord, and the caption read, “A little glimpse of peace in the midst of your unknown.” In this example, the user took a translated passage and, through the use of a caption, gave a hint of how it had affected her while also making it relatable to her followers.
            The second example was a handwritten bible verse written on a page in an open journal. With a caption that reads, “My morning in a nutshell,” we can tell that this picture illustrates the user’s personal interaction with the bible verse. She took a simple verse and chose to write it out in fancy handwriting. The specific significance this verse had on the user is not clarified, but a follower can easily see that this verse must have impacted the user that morning and she was sharing it in hopes that it might encourage someone else.
            The third example is a typed verse that is placed in front of a computer-generated background. The caption says, “Coming this Sunday- YOU do not want to miss it.” This particular verse was posted to foreshadow a largely anticipated upcoming sermon series at a church. It was meant to encourage the church members in their daily walk leading up to Sunday so that they would be excited about what was to come. The user selected a verse and applied it to a selected audience, and through Instagram, so many more people beyond the church’s membership were able to see the photo.
            All three of the previous examples involve the use of bible verses in the users’ Instagram posts. All three are an illustration of religion being played out in their daily lives as part of their daily religious devotional. All were meant to encourage fellow believers in some way. This upcoming week I am interested to observe more examples of how Christians interact and use Instagram and explore, once again, their purpose.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Insta-Inspiration

About a year ago, sparked by acquiring my first iPhone, I became one of the many to join the world of Instagram. Over the last couple of years, Instagram’s popularity has certainly increased and has kept up with other popular social medias like Facebook and Twitter. Being someone who is drawn to pictures rather than words, I have enjoyed keeping up with friends and family near and far in a fun, artsy way. Since my entrance into the Insta-world, I have come to notice that many of the people I follow who closely relate themselves to a certain religion, use Instagram as a space to display that association with their followers and the rest of us Insta-people. My fascination first started with my church back home when they got an Instagram, and I became very interested in the kinds of pictures they were posting and what pictures they liked; it was a fun, easy way to keep up with what was happening. This made me aware of the many other people and organizations I was following, and how they used Instagram in their daily religious reflection, whether they chose to do it through the picture itself or if the significance of the photo is found in its related caption. I have also enjoyed observing what other pictures those people have liked and how they comment on others’ photos.
For this specific case study, I will observe people who publicly express their association with Christianity and focus on how they use Instagram in their expression of religious devotion in their daily life. I will do this by observing the pictures that they post and the caption associated with them along with the pictures that they like and their comments on them. I will pay close attention to their purpose in posting whether it be apparent in the caption or the picture itself. I will choose people that have openly proclaimed that they are a Christian and closely monitor their activities on Instagram: their pictures, captions, and comments. I will then make connections on how their interaction with Instagram illustrates Christianity in their daily activities. I am excited to observe and research about how Christians use Instagram and gain some insight into how their religious association is played out into their everyday lives.