Facebook, Insta and Twitter. OH MY!
Oh, the lovely mixed blessings of cropping and sepia filters. I hope a few words on the subject of social media will generate some conversation, especially with yourself, because it’s one thing to take the machine at face value and another thing entirely once you’ve looked behind the big green curtain. We certainly aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.
I’m not going into the mechanics. In this Age of Information, there’s really no excuse for ignorance. It’s simple to suss out the humbugs for yourself. Everything on your phone has been designed to addictively engage with you and take your money, including the phone itself. Period. So be it, if you decide some things are worth paying for. But at least admit you are voluntarily allowing the Wizard of Oz an opportunity to manipulate you.
Tech is one of the best tools invented by man to date.
It is also one of the most insidious. You don’t need Google to educate yourself about human nature. You can use a Bible or a mirror. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jer 17:9). We are needy things. We are wired to be social. We are constantly looking sideways at each other. We like shiny toys. And we are ever grappling with our place on the planet.
The tech companies understand this. They’re really, really hoping you forget.
Social media helped us keep in touch during a global pandemic. And while we were there, we scrolled. And scrolled. And scrolled some more. Every time we did, we triggered the machine’s algorithms, and it fed us things we never knew we needed. It offered us power. Popularity. Told us things we wanted to hear. Presented the world at our fingertips.
There is a difference between being socially present and being physically present.
Which felt good because the actual world was certainly unavailable for a while.
Once the world became available again, that good feeling should’ve faded by comparison.
Not sure? Try leaving your phone behind the next time you go out.
I’d like to remind you of some things that tech cannot do. That social media cannot replace. There is a difference between being socially present and being physically present. Our standard of living may be going up, but we need a refresher on what living looks like.
Only when you are physically present with another human being can you learn:
Trust. You can connect on social media and still not understand, give, or earn personal trust. The middleman is always there. We should already be on guard because we know how easy it is to deceive someone with the machine between us. Handshakes, hugs, eye contact, body language, and other authentic, nonverbal cues are lost. Are your “friends” really your friends? Find out what happens when you hang out with them in person. “A friend loveth at all times.” (Prov 17:17), not just online where it’s convenient. They might be strangers after all. Building meaningful relationships requires a level of personal trust that cannot be exchanged online.
Patience. There is no instant gratification in person. You must wait for your companion’s reactions, thought processes, and answers to formulate. You take the time to watch their facial expressions and nonverbal cues, make inferences, and then respond. There aren’t shiny lights, buttons, or advertisements to look at while we wait. Boredom. How did we ever survive a solid ten minutes without something winking at us and telling us what winners we are? The machine makes real people look slow and dull by comparison, and this skewed view manipulates our fear of time scarcity. If we are headed into eternity, is there really a time problem? “Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it until he receives the early and latter rain.” (Jas 5:7).
Teamwork. Being in a room full of people working toward the same goal as you is energizing, whether going into the gym or the office. Online, you can’t physically see who in the group is actively working alongside you on the project, and it gets discouraging quickly. Nehemiah built more than a wall. He built a community. He says, “the people had a mind to work.” (Neh 4:6)—a mindset they were willing to fight for. (Neh 4:21). The energy a physical group creates can’t be underestimated. From basketball to family reunions, every team effort requires showing up in person and feeling that pulse. Don’t forsake assembling, as Hebrews 10:25 cautions, but connect and build each other up.
Active Communication. Suppertime used to be the social hub. We found out what we needed to know around the campfire. The back and forth, give and take, question and answer of the real-time conversation teach a million small social norms in the background, too. It forces you to exercise skills like empathy and reflective listening. Real-time communication forces you to learn the wisdom of choosing when to speak and what to say, forming and reforming opinions and replies on the fly. You learn both your place and your possibilities in society, bring your attention to the table, contribute to the mood, and share the victories and defeats of your people. You won’t catch politicians or kings problem-solving online. A civil war was averted in Joshua 22 because they decided to debunk the long-distance rumors of verse 11 with some face-to-face communication.
Conflict resolution skills. How easy it is on social media to simply ghost when a conversation appears to be going south. How tempting it is to take cyber revenge when we feel slighted. It is hard to convey exactly what we mean via a short text. Even emojis are misinterpreted. If only there were a way to numb (or indulge!) those pesky uncomfortable feelings… Using social media as a pacifier or a microphone is both immature and socially irresponsible. Discomfort is our opportunity to grow. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22-23). Learn the difference between responding and reacting. Tap into wisdom before jumping to conclusions. Feel all those messy feels and learn the skills to handle conflict in real-time and space maturely.
How to shelve your ego. Social media creates a tense, unnecessary, and unhealthy atmosphere of comparison and competition. Scrolling social media can lead to jealousy, envy, and the impulse to act on it. It can also make you feel depressed or full of FOMO (fear of missing out) anxiety. This is your ego’s fight-or-flight response. We are all a hot mess. If there were such a thing as perfection, we’d not need Christ. 1 Samuel 16:7 adjusts our point of view nicely because “people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Your real friends know all about you and love you anyway. They make room for your growth. When you spend time with whole people—not just the parts they post—you can relax and put your ego back on the shelf.
Personal integrity and self-respect. If you wouldn’t think of adding a pic of your latest party to your resume, don’t add it to your social media. Social media strips away your privacy and reveals your sloppy underside to browsing employers. On the other hand, carefully curated images that represent only the persona we want the world to see allow us to be anything or anyone at any time online. Sometimes, we are different people in different places simultaneously. And there are no stakes involved. If social media reacts negatively, we can simply delete it. If the person in front of us calls us on a false front, we have to explain our incongruities. Working with real-world consequences keeps you from compromising your self-respect. “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.” (Prov 10:9).
Social media is something to remain vigilant about. So long as your tech remains the servant and not the master, it can be used for good things. It will hold exactly the amount of power you bequeath it. If the tide begins to turn… turn it off.
San Diego Ecclesia, CA