I did a spin around a prominent social media site this morning. These trips are becoming less and less frequent. Briefer too. On talk radio yesterday, the host decried Facebook as a waste of time, and while I don’t completely agree with that—I’ve seen some pretty awesome pictures of my nephews via Facebook—he is moving toward something many of us have experienced. The problem with his position, though, is that, in many cases, it isn’t severe enough. Aside from staying in touch and sharing information, there aren’t many positives with Facebook or at least not the way most of us use it, and there are even some tragic negatives. Here are a few of the most disturbing ones:
1. Envy building
We like to look through pictures to motivate our own greed. “I never do that,” you may think, and you may be right—I can’t enter your brain. But I know my own mind, and I know I’ve done this. When I first got on Facebook, it was about girls. I would visit Facebook and find guys with whom I attended high school or college, and then check out who they were dating. Based on that, I would be informed on if the girl I was dating or the girl I was after was “attractive enough.” How sick is that? My own life was not viewed through the prism of reality, but the fiendish scope of comparison. We use Facebook to see how big a person’s new home is, not to celebrate their new home—oh no!—but rather to see how our life stacks up. We’ll see who is driving what and who’s got successful kids and who doesn’t. And we’ll scroll through, patting ourselves on the back when our life tops someone else’s and berating ourselves when we see things we don’t have—things we didn’t even know we wanted until we began this jaunt down the envy trail toward destruction and then . . .
2. Chest thumping
We didn’t work that hard to get a ‘hotter’ girlfriend or boyfriend or cooler car or larger house or faster boat for nothing did we? Heck no, we worked hard to get those things and the world should know it! I’ve done this. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve done it. I’ve taken the sort of pictures, at a ballgame or a concert, that are purely motivated by the desire to put it on Facebook, garner up ‘likes’, and show the world how GREAT MY LIFE IS! I may not have the big house or fast car or whatever, but man-oh-man do I know how to live! Out of my pre-existing envy—envy fed by my Facebook visits—I now have this need to show everyone I achieved my goal (a goal, of course, no one else ever even knew existed in my wicked heart!). And then, with my shiny new boat I don’t even know how to work, I’ll be dismayed when I find that someone else has a nicer one or downright depressed when I don’t get the affirmation I was looking for, so then . . .
3. Affirmation hunting
Tell me I’m good enough, tell me I’m good enough, tell me I’m good enough . . . that is my thought sometimes when I post a link or picture or funny status. What, three likes and one is by my mother? Three measly likes? my shallow ego has stomped. Often, we do not post funny updates to bring joy and laughter into the world, but to be recognized as “funny” by the world. We don’t post pictures of our kids out of an overwhelming sense of pride and love and so our loved ones can see little ones they love too, but instead so others will think how “cute” or “with it” our little family is. We try to get affirmation, but the tragedy is that we are only being affirmed in the “self” we choose to represent, one that isn’t our real self at all. Affirmation is great, but when we strive for affirmation for the man-made version of ourselves, it is like someone paying a compliment to our shadow. And this undying need to shape our identity has us . . .
4. Substituting our present
I witnessed a stunning picture of this the other night. I was watching a basketball game on television, and after a commercial a shot of the crowd was shown. Of course, it was the rowdiest portion of the crowd, and there on the screen were a handful of college gals dancing to whatever Jock Jam was blaring over the sound system. They were not good dancers, any of them, but boy were they enjoying themselves. The nostalgic part of me cheered them on, young and wild and free, they were in the Thoreau-ian days of their lives, sucking the sweet marrow from the moment. And then the girl in the center of the screen suddenly stopped gyrating and brought out her cell phone. She finger-pecked away while the music and dancing continued to swell about her and without her—she left the moment behind and the moment left her, never to be had again.
And we do this, this abandoning of the present tense we are in for the faux-luster of the past shown through previously posted pictures and status updates and tweets. We miss the actual now for the proposed one, and trade out the reality of what is “going on” to find out what is “going on.” In bygone days this wasn’t an option—what option did an ancient person have when such soul-rumbling discontentment happened on? I mean, they could take a nap, but any other exit from their here-and-now were technologically unavailable. Nowadays, however, we exit moments of waiting, of wondering, of thoughtfulness, of peace, even of dancing merry-making, willingly trading such for the promise of something better, even if that something is a world away and featured on a screen. There is a time and place for all of this, but it must be had reasonably and suppressed vigilantly—otherwise we might just forget to live life altogether for the allure of reading about and looking at pictures of life on our devices.
5. Forming our tribes
Sometimes we post things on social media sites because the topic is compelling or moves us in some ways, and we hope that impact might translate to others whom we care about. But often that isn’t the case. Often we post things on social media as a way to propagate our own personal agenda, to grow staunch in our own heavy-set beliefs, and to figure out who is on our side and weed out those who are not. This is regressive. We post about equality and faith and sport and morality, not to find deeper truth or challenge our thinking through the thinking of others, but to find out who agrees most vehemently with us. We glee in passing around a bullhorn and shouting our favorite truths at others who also hold our views as sacred, and in this manner we become people who absolutely believe we are right about everything. We hold daily pep rallies for our nuanced belief systems while throwing eggs of hatred at the other pep rallies going on around us that do not toe-the-line we ourselves drew in the sand. I’ve done this. I’ve made political posts, faith posts, ethical posts, not because I believe in such things and want to initiate discussion to grow in right thinking and abandon wrong thinking, but because I want to form a super team of agreement that will smash any opponents. I know this because I will check back to see who is agreeing with me every hour on the hour, and if someone posts any derisive bit of heresy against me and my tribe, we will pounce fiercely upon the individual . . . no one messes with my tribe! I hate this in myself and want to live a tribe-less life. Community? Yes, please, as much as possible. Tribalism, no thank you.
I’m still struggling with all five of these, and as more and more social media platforms gain steam, I must continue to challenge my motive behind every post, tweet, and link. Here are some questions that have helped me maintain my own personal boundaries in using social media:
–Why am I on social media right now? (If my answer is boredom, I need to engage my inner wonderment: imagination. If my answer is to argue, I need to join a debate club or go to a batting cage or something. If my answer is “to see how many likes I have” I need to remind myself of what identity is and where my true identity lies. If my answer is because there is no one I like here, I need to learn what love is and find some humility—and I may need a gut punch too. If my answer is to check up on what is going on with some loved ones or dear friends or to see cute pics of my nephews or to send my wife a sweet message, I need to proceed with caution.)
–What is the reason I am posting what I am posting? (If it is because I think it is helpful—proceed. If it is because I think it will bring someone joy/peace/comfort/laughter at no one’s expense—go for it! If it is to bring something important to my community’s attention (a charitable opportunity, important warning, or news story, for instance)—post with care. If it is because I find whatever it is I am posting really incredible/awesome/wonderful/inspiring/true and I am overwhelmed by it—that’s beautifully human, man, share away! If it is “to change the world to how I think it should be”, get likes, become the center of attention, make myself known, or really put someone in their place—step away slowly from the phone or device with your hands up.)
–Where am I? (If I am with other people and we are not looking at the same screen—save it for later . . . look to impact new lives in person, rather than known lives virtually.)
–Why am I trying to connect with the person I am connecting with (personal message, wall post, “happy birthday”, etc.)? (If I am in any way trying to promote myself (not a business or product, mind you), show how great I am, or acquire attention, I need to find a better outlet for fueling my identity.)
Social media can be a pretty great thing, but like anything great, we can sully it in a hurry. Social media has changed business practices, enhanced communication options, grown families and friends together (even from great distances), and has enhanced the world. I’m trying to make all of those things true in my life without giving into the lie that social media can somehow appropriately alleviate my inner emptiness, my need for identity, or my tribalistic urges. And now I’ll post this to social media and hope it is for the right reasons and then I’ll return to the actual present tense around me and commit to living my life.