Hardly a day goes by on my Facebook news feed without somebody announcing they’re going to Barbados, they’re in Barbados right now having the most amazing time or they’ve just come back from the most uhhhmazing time in Barbados. And if it isn’t Barbados, then somebody’s having an amazing meal/time at a gig/sunny time in the park. And if isn’t a life altering meal, then it’s the endless stream of photos of an apparently adorable child (I don’t find all new-born babies or toddlers adorable, I know, I’m a monster) or an old school colleague in a nice suit or nice dress looking ridiculously good looking (hat tip to Derek Zoolander).
Value in Self
Regardless of what it is we’re sharing, we seem to be in a constant state of wanting to show and tell one another other about ourselves and our apparently scintillating existences. Whilst both we and the social media world at large tell us that it’s nice, caring and really rather important to be perpetually sharing with one another, and whilst this might have some truth to it, I fear that we live in a digital age of narcissism where we believe we only have value when others affirm us through the sharing of noteworthy moments solely relating to us and our lives.
In the context of Facebook, it is my view that a key reason we share updates, photos etc. is in order to achieve ‘likes.’ Charlie Brooker in his documentary ‘How video games changed the World’ likened social media to a video game, whereby we ‘win’ by receiving retweets, likes, shares, favourites etc. Thus, in the ‘game’ of Facebook, when we receive a ‘like’ we get a hit of dopamine, which makes us feel good, which in turn makes us want to do it all the more. Further, this desire and acquisition of ‘likes’ fuels this narcissistic craving to not only be liked, but adored at the exclusion of all others. In essence, posting updates, pictures, thoughts etc. is reduced to a self-indulgent vanity project where the focus is exclusively on us as individuals.
This, quite clearly, is problematic. Firstly, it lures us into both presenting idealised and sanitised versions of ourselves whereby try to convince both ourselves and others these manufactured airbrushed avatars are the real us. In reality, we’re all flawed people with a multitude of problems who a lot of the time don’t get up to particularly exciting stuff. Furthermore, we risk getting dragged into a competition where we want to ‘win’ more likes than the next person. Thus, the more we’re’ liked,’ the more affirmed and valued we feel, whilst those who receive comparatively fewer likes feel undervalued and that they’re not as good as the more ‘liked’ person. The same argument applies with twitter and the ‘retweeting’ and ‘favouriting’ of the snippets (tweets, photos, videos etc.) we share with our ‘followers.’
Such goes the game of social media.
And yet social media provides an accessible, free and wide reaching forum for us to share our beliefs, social events, general funnies etc. Take for example the many noble campaigns that have spread like wildfire because of (or at least in part) because of what social media offers. Further, social media offers the chance for information on a whole range of issues from a wide variety of sources to reach people who without social media would not get the chance to experience it. Before social media, I’d never even heard of magazines like The Atlantic, or been exposed to the comic greatness of the person behind the ‘Boring James Milner’ account. In essence, social media has become a means through which we can quickly and accurately share things that really matter to us.
Further, in an age where relationships are becoming increasingly global and where our time seems more and more like a finite resource, Facebook offers ways for us to connect to those who ‘really matter’, whether they be friends, family, old school mates etc. If all that isn’t enough, many of us (for better or worse) hear about social events of interest to us through Facebook. Want to go to the cinema with your local Bridge club on Thursday night? Sign up on Facey b! Want to go scrumping for apples in Hampstead on Monday night, get online! Thus, social media definitely has really good uses. Given all of this, am I not guilty of coming over too harsh on good ol’ Zuckerberg and co?
It’s true to say that I’m not calling for a mass boycott of social media, and certainly not trying to invoke mass guilt! I do think though that we (and I definitely include myself in this) need to seriously examine both our motives for engaging in social media and ask ourselves whether we derive too much value from this virtual communication sphere. Indeed, in my own life at least, sharing even the most worthwhile article/cause/petition via social media can have mixed motives behind it. Do I really care about the endangered chinchillas of the Amazon Rainforest, or is this a vehicle to enhance my own reputation?
So, if not from social media, where should we derive our value?
Value in Christ
For those of us who are Christians, our value is wholly and exclusively found in Christ through belief in the gospel. One of the amazing implications of this is that when God looks at us he sees Christ. Further, because of what Jesus achieved through his death and resurrection, all the satisfaction and contentment we need is found in him, the gospel and the Bible. May these amazing truths be governing our engagement with social media.
Personally speaking, these truths should prompt a number of practical applications. Firstly, I need to be more content in the knowledge that it really doesn’t matter how many likes or retweets I get and that it isn’t compulsory (although by no means wrong) to interrupt my day out at the football to tell everyone what a great time I’m having, complete with multiple pictures. No, as Christians, whether we get one like, or a hundred we can be content in the knowledge that no matter how popular or unpopular we appear to be in the eyes of our social media pals our value, unfaltering and unfading, can be found in Christ.
An edited version of this article was first published in the September print edition of Evangelicals Now