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Book ReviewsLaying #Rules For Engagement in the digital minefield 

I must confess to an interior eye roll when I first picked up the slim, colorful volume emblazoned with the title “#Rules for Engagement;” the grammatical stickler inside of me shuddered at the use of a hashtag in a book's title, and I intuited – correctly – that it was but the first of many creative uses of underscores and various punctuation marks outside their intended purpose. It wasn't a deal breaker, but I confess to finding it a major distraction.

And yet, a closer look at the brief text – a handful of pages per chapter, it really is a slim little volume – reveals a depth at odds with the quirky colloquialisms and visual noise. 

The first several chapters invite the reader to work toward establishing a sort of individual social media baseline, done by an exhaustive self-examination of motives and a repeated return to individual accounts to scroll and examine past behaviors on the platforms. Honestly, this was painful to contemplate; the nature of social media is utter transience – why oh why would I want to look back at something I'd tweeted months ago, much less years? All tweets disappear into the ether, don't they?

And therein lies the rub. Because in inviting her readers to perform an intentional examination of their Instagram consciences, Garrido sets the stage for an uncomfortable confrontation between the unconscious, dopamine-driven self who tweets and reposts with reckless abandon, and the rational, thoughtful Christ-follower whose real life interactions bear almost no resemblance to what happens online.

The discomfort I felt in envisioning examining some of my own past online behavior seems to me a bellwether of sorts, not only for the individual but for the larger culture. What does it mean if most people act differently, sometimes radically so, online than they do in the real world? (I don't imagine I'm alone here.) What does it portend for our interactions offline, and for our own souls? 

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Garrido compiles, as most “how to internet” books do, data on the increasing number of minutes and hours one spends online in a typical day. But here is where she departs from the Cal Newports and Sherry Turkelsons of the genre: she does not necessarily assume people are going to reduce their time online.

The entire thrust of the book aims to help its reader identify and correct their personal pitfalls and pathologies when it comes to time spent traversing the digital continent, and while she does invite reflection on intentionality and quality of time spent, she doesn't make a sweeping directive indicting the very use of social media.

And she's probably right.

For better and for worse, this technology is here to stay. And like the debates around gun control and high fructose corn syrup, for a vast majority of people, the answer will not lie in abstinence but in behavioral modification.

Most people, especially younger people, will never return to a life without social media. Many have never experienced one. And so the value in this book is immense in its capacity to invite self-reflection, not over whether one will use it, because that genie is well out of the bottle, but how.

Rules for Engagement is two parts self-help and one part instruction manual for evangelization. Because in inviting Christians to align the online with the offline self, she opens the door for contemplation and correction of behaviors which many of us may have automated, for lack of a better term. We've been using Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and the like on their terms and conditions. It's high time we take a closer look and imagine for ourselves our own terms and conditions, thoughtfully considered and consistently applied within a framework of the values and virtues we practice and profess as Christians.

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We can't disappear the internet, or the ever-increasing proliferation of social media platforms, and maybe we shouldn't want to. We've been born into the 21stt century, and this is our mission field. It's time to rethink our rules of engagement there, and elsewhere, to better make Christ known through our actions, our words, and yes, even our hashtags. 

#Rules of Engagement, Ann M Garrido

Ave Maria Press, 2021

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