On Shooting the Messenger of Social Media

Social media is phenomenal. It connects us with our best friends about all the things we find important. It’s like a group forum where we share our lives together—our research and links and quotes and videos, our life events, vacations, mission trips, and more, and it’s all instant, auto-magically updated whenever we are free to join the party. Only, in reality, social media isn’t all that phenomenal.

Instead of enabling conversation, it tends to create false ones. Instead of growing meaningful connections, it tends to sprout fake ones. Because, as Jonathan Sacks so eloquently put it, “Technology gives us power, but it does not and cannot tell us how to use that power. Thanks to technology, we can instantly communicate across the world, but it still doesn’t help us know what to say.”[1] We have this dynamite technology in our pockets, but it tends to be more curse than blessing.

I say it “tends to” because it’s not always like that. After all, Facebook and Twitter aren’t the enemies here, we are. Don’t shoot the messenger and defame technology when it’s obvious that the human heart is what makes a good thing bad. “Social” means friends and “media” means content and entertainment, and neither of those are bad things. But they can become bad real quick. Let me give you the doomsday scenarios so you can avoid them whenever possible.

Social Media Can Numb Us to Life

With the recent ISIS newsflashes, one thing I’ve noticed is the seeming absurdity of life. Flipping through your newsfeed, you’ll see it. You’ve got articles about ISIS cutting tongues out, political cartoons spoofing president Obama’s idiotic foreign policy, an infographic from Pinterest on what the length of your middle finger tells you about yourself, and yet another cheesy vine-esque video clip that’s supposed to make you laugh hard enough to subscribe to their other videos which also are supposed to make you laugh. And after a while, it all just looks hazy. Decapitated bodies look less shocking and goofy videos less entertaining. It’s the same numbness that comes from spending too much time in the water. Our fingers and toes weren’t made to look like prunes. Too much water can be a bad thing.

Social Media Can Make Us Depressed

The content just keeps coming and I can’t keep up and that makes me depressed. One of my favorite writers, David Foster Wallace, said that he just feels overwhelmed because it seems like there are 500,000 streams of information swamping him all the time and he can’t handle it all. (He wrote that before social media ever existed.) He said life is essentially absurd because no one, not even the most brilliant people, can make sense of all that data. DFW was forced to withdraw and admit defeat because, since he didn’t believe in an omniscient God, he saw it as his responsibility to make sense of all that data. And there’s nothing more depressing than to bear that load.[2]

How Should We Then Social Media?

It’s so Evangelical to critique social media it’s almost boring, but, given the absurdity of my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I think a couple things bear repeating.

  1. We don’t need to redeem social media, we need to redeem our hearts. Technology isn’t the enemy here; we are, and more precisely, Satan is. We have to think about it in the big picture, not just in what may be good for me and my personal happiness.
  2. We need a dose of humility to recognize we aren’t even good enough to keep up, much less make sense of it all. We aren’t God, but that doesn’t mean we can’t experience the benefits from God—the rest that a) it’s all under control, b) Someone else is keeping up perfectly, and therefore c) we are free to be small and created. If you’re getting depressed, it’s probably because you’re shouldering too much responsibility.

Social media has enabled us humans. It’s an enabler. So those of us who are whiny and selfish and hateful now have a trumpet through which we can blow whiny things. Those of us who are proud of how many books we read and how culturally affluent we are now have a trumpet through which we can blow trendy cigars and huge bookshelves of books. But that doesn’t make social media bad. It merely accentuates the same human problem that’s existed from the beginning. And that problem (cosmic unrest, i.e. sin) isn’t ultimately your problem to fix.

If you do Facebook or Twitter (or snapchat or Instagram or …), hear me when I say I hope this is an encouragement to you to relax and be at peace. Don’t let the fear of missing out or the social fever that usually comes as side-effects of social media cause you angst. The Gospel frees us from that because it says it’s not up to you to fix it, figure it out, or even to keep up.