Social Design for mission and ministry (8): curating identity

The final piece of the Social Design puzzle is potentially the most controversial — and maybe also the most fruitful for thinking about Christian mission and ministry.

It’s curating identity.

The metaphor of ‘curating’ is itself fascinating enough.

It suggests that identity is a bit like an art gallery or museum.

Identity as climate-controlled space people can wander — lining up to take in the main attraction (for a small fee), stumbling across unknown gems in some far flung wing, or trying not to get caught up in a labyrinthine section full of the identity equivalent of antique tea cups (sorry if that’s your thing).

At the same time, there’ll be parts of our identity — the dark secrets or (in the case of Facebook) just the boring and not-always-happy-and-successful bits — that are safely packed in freight containers in a warehouse.

When it comes to applying this fascinating metaphor, Facebook Developers offer four specific strategies:

  1. Be context-relevant — build what you’re doing around the people you want to engage with it as well as making sure you highlight the distinctiveness of what you’re offering (like a social cooking app that lets users share recipes).
  2. Curate content — ensure people retain a sense of ownership of what they’ve entrusted you with (information, etc) and use input from them to organise and present it intelligently.
  3. Tell stories — this isn’t just an obligatory nod to postmodernism; it’s about helping people to find (and share) meaningful patterns in their interactions with you and others engaged with what you’re offering.
  4. Highlight interesting information — you want to be able to tell people something they may not know about themselves, without making yourself into the untouchable expert (e.g., in the social cooking app you may want to highlight a user’s favourite ingredients).

I’m itching to get into the application of this stuff — I think it’s just so rich.

Before I do, though, it’s worth observing that from a Christian point of view, the idea that identity can or should be ‘curated’ may seem morally dubious.

I mean, could it ever be right for Christians to leave aspects of their identity and history packed away in a warehouse?

Without embarking on a comprehensive response, my sense is that one major function of Christian mission and ministry should be to place certain aspects of our identity ‘under lights’ — while allowing other aspects to be set in a new context (ie. given new meaning) or even packed away entirely.

I’ll say more next post…

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