The Mythical World of Social Media
[I preface this post by saying that not everyone engaging in social media is living in this mythical world and that social media is not inherently bad. It is neutral; it becomes good or bad according to how we employ it.
My recent presentation on this topic was aimed at unearthing the hidden, unspoken world into which social media draws us. It is a closer examination of a piece of our culture and an evaluation of it in light of the Biblical worldview.
It behooves each of us to examine our culture in this way. Failing to do so will render our lives unexamined, unanchored, and ultimately, tossed to and fro by every breeze that blows.]
A world in which the right pose, filter, backdrop, or caption enables you to instantly project a carefully designed image of yourself. The image need not be accurate – just trendy or some shade of likeable. Most of us are first beckoned into this world of social media because it does serve good purposes like keeping us in touch with people who aren’t in our inner circles. Once we’ve entered the world, however, we have a conscious decision to make. Are we going to succumb to the trendiness, shallowness, and competitiveness that are rampant in this social media world or are we going to remain genuine and use our platform for good?
This decision is real because the more exposed we become to this world, the more often we are told that our personal value is reflected in how many followers and likes we get. In this world, value is measured by how many people positively respond to our posts. In the minds of many Instagrammers and Facebookers, moments with family, celebrations, and accomplishments are subjected to public opinion and then measured by the number of positive responses. One quickly notices that certain hashtags, captions, and poses produce a greater response from followers; so future posts are intentionally presented in a way that will keep one achieving the goal that matters most: more likes and more followers. For the subtle promise in this mythical world is that more likes and followers will equal some kind of success or value which will equal happiness and significance.
The subtle messages of this social media world seek to shape the user’s character. They invite us as users to measure our value by the number of likes we get. They also invite us to compare our lives with the lives of others (which appear perfect from our vantage point), leading either to dissatisfaction with our own lives or to pride because our lives are better than so-and-so’s. The endless “selfies” present in this world invite us to become self-absorbed – to shamelessly promote ourselves rather than allowing others to do so.
This world wants us to believe that popularity is success, and value is validated by numbers. And rather than being fully present during sacred moments, it wants us to exploit them by posting them publicly. Rather than wasting time reading and learning, it wants us to relax and scroll through pictures.
It isn’t hard to see that dwelling in this world of meaning will make us worse as individuals, not better. Immersing ourselves in this mythical world and believing its messages as truth will lead us down a road that puts ourselves first, that seeks to please people rather than God, and that roots our identities in other people’s opinions of us rather than who we are in Christ. For the values promoted in this world stand in stark contrast to those promoted in Scripture. Popularity among peers is of utmost importance in this world, evidenced in the fact that attached to each post is its number of likes and placed at the top of each user’s profile is his/her number of friends or followers. Instagram’s terminology is especially significant. On Facebook, we have “friends,” but on Instagram we have “followers.” This is the language of a world driven by personal-platform-building and self-exaltation.
This drive flies in the face of Biblical values such as humility, resting in the Lord, allowing others to praise us rather than praising ourselves, and basing our worth on who we are in Christ. And Biblically, value is not rooted in numbers. God had no problem with thinning out Gideon’s army. Victory rested with Him, not with the multitude. And Jesus didn’t seem too enamored with crowds for crowds’ sake either – He often said things that decreased His followers. How foolish of you, Jesus!
If social media’s worldview were followed to its natural end, it would create us each in the image of our peers – more specifically, in the image of those we “follow.” We would cease to be our unique selves and would simply adopt the poses, hashtags, and captions that are trendiest. We would rest assured of our individual value as our number of followers continued to grow, or would recognize our lack of value if it never did grow.
Hopefully this world sounds bizarre and backwards to you. Indeed, it should. For in Christ, our individual value is forever and unwaveringly validated.
As Christians, we are in the world but we are not of the world. Our citizenship is in heaven. The Kingdom in which we live operates by a secret wisdom that overturns this world’s values. We are free to engage in social media, but we are obligated to do so in a way that is Spirit-led. A way that is congruent with who we really are, not who the world wants us to be. A way that is marked by godly boundaries. A way that allows us to be a Kingdom voice into our world but is guarded against our being sucked into its lies about reality.
Let’s offer the world a breath of fresh air and be who we really are – in person and on social media!