As a youth group leader I remember a vivid discussion one day about our youths' aspirations in life. With a typically Kiwi fear of expressing too much ambition a young person said 'I'd love to be able to have a Top Comment on YouTube.'
Wow, lofty goals.
This was back when YouTube used to have the top two highly-voted comments pinned to the top of the comments screen for others to adore—until another comment outranked them.
No matter how many youth group Bible studies we run, exploring the danger of fame and attention, the inherent human desire remains. What is it about anonymous strangers taking an interest in, and promoting, something you have done that is so attractive?
Even though Top Comments on YouTube videos is no longer 'a thing', people still want to go viral or be featured on the big screen.
Though, as Hamish and Andy said of the big screen at sports games:
The journey they go through is like, "Oh my gosh, I'm on, I'm on, look at me, I love being the centre of attention", and then that bit at the end where they don't know what else to do and the camera stays on them. That is, in a nutshell, fame:
"Look at me, look at me, look at me."
"Alright, what have you got?"
"I don't know. I just...wanted to be...looked at."
When I went travelling I set up a blog to document my travels, note the differences in countries, and have a repository for remembering the multitude of experiences I was having. Documenting this online, I thought, would be nothing to fear—it's not like anyone ever reads travel blogs.
But when I compared the New Zealanders' affection for the mighty game of rugby to Canadians' obsession with deodorant, people started sharing my blog like crazy and eagerly anticipating each next post. It was terrifying. 'What if this crowd gets disappointed with my next release?' It felt like it was easier to stay anonymous and oblivious than publish something and create high expectations.
This was the first moment I can recall going 'viral', despite how relatively small this was in hindsight.
Underneath the fear of disappointing people's expectations was still the wonder: 'What is the message being delivered here? What am I communicating that people are willing to share?'
12 months ago I created a website for Christmas gifts, called 10Below. I figured that lots of people wanted to buy inexpensive gifts for Secret Santas and workplace gifts but didn't want to resort to buying cheap garbage or a box of chocolates. Again, people started spreading the good news like it was going out of fashion and before too long it was picked up in the media and shared even further.
There's something affirming when you see complete strangers becoming ambassadors for your own idea or creation. But there's still something that terrifies me about it. I can remember the day the website really took flight, and waiting for people to criticise it, or critique what could be done better. After all, I could see its many flaws.
And yet, they didn't. People were enthusiastic and encouraging, and took the time to tell others about it. I think, if I can defy my Kiwi nature, it's because there was a need that was being responded to.
And yet, as we head into Christmas, this all makes me think about what some call the Good News; Jesus was a big-time viral sensation, long before smartphones or any wired media. I wonder if it ever terrified him.
Jesus carried a message that was controversial at times, and defiant at others. When I read the gospels I don't see Jesus recoil in fear of his message being shared, and I still see words that carry hope and light.
This Christmas season, may we all have the courage to pick out one piece of the Good News to share with someone in our hurting world.
You never know, it might just go viral.
Matt Browning continues to go viral, having made an app called Around Town—for activities and events in his hometown of Rotorua. He is also launching a food caravan to mentor and employ young people, to do his bit to respond to youth unemployment. And yes, 10Below still exists, but so too does the Good News.
Matt Browning's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/matt-browning.html