Friday, March 13, 2015

5 Ways Social Media Skews Reality and Why It Matters

Your sense of reality is based on the things you immerse yourself in. When you spend a lot of time on something, it can influence your thought life and how you feel (Facebook proved their influence on emotions in a controversial study published in 2014). The influence can be spiritual, too.

If you’re between 18 and 35 years old, chances are that you spend about 3.8 cumulative hours a day on social media. The stats aren't much better for those over 40. That’s a lot of time and daily devotion, especially considering that only 15% of average American adults claim to read the Bible daily.

What’s the effect of all this time on social media?

For many of us, a skewed sense of reality, and with it, a skewed perception of self, others, and the Lord.

Consider these 5 ways that social media skews the truth:

1. Represents A One-Dimensional View

Have you ever had the feeling as you scroll through your Facebook feed that you’re viewing a gallery of someone else’s “perfect” life?

There’s a reason for that. Facebook is one-dimensional. On social media, users determine what they display. Most people display pictures of their families, beau, pets, exciting trips, etc. You see posts about Gotham and Parks and Rec, a Bible verse here and there, and some funny quips.

You rarely read about people’s personal struggles. Politics, religion, health issues, and other “hot button” issues are generally no-no’s. Those aren’t what social media is designed for. But struggles, conflict, and suffering are all a part of real life that you can’t (and shouldn’t) avoid.

2. Offers Only Positive Reinforcement

Whether or not you surround yourself with outspoken, opinionated people, your life isn’t one giant swath of positive reinforcement. In reality, life doesn’t always go your way. People argue. Your co-workers’ and friends’ body language let you know that people don’t always agree with you.

In reality, tragedy and loss are met with natural provisions of comfort. You receive empathetic looks. When you hear horrible news, you exchange expressions of sorrow or shock, and might give someone a hug. Whole conversations allow you to properly grieve.

On social media, you “like” stuff. From news reports about tsunamis to your friend’s RIP tweet, the most natural reaction you can offer on social media is to leave a quick impression, share the word, or reply with an emoticon. Condolences are often limited to 140 characters or less.

3. Provides No Context

A single image and a limited text box often provide very little space for substantive content. Especially when intermixed with all of your connections’ (and the world’s!) opinions and posts and pictures, it’s hard to really get an accurate message across.

When you post an article and say “interesting argument,” for instance, your opinion and beliefs are open to anyone’s interpretation and assumptions.

With no context for much of anything, social media creates a culture of tossing things out into the great beyond carelessly. The power of the story, the thesis, or the intent of anything and everything is simply lost in the process.

4. Buffers Consequences

Real-life consequences are largely buffered on social media. You can delete a contact for posting an article that you assume they agree with and that offends you deeply without ever confronting anyone. People can get into wild, vicious debates and devour one another with no real life effects.

It’s also possible to interact without ever actually doing or experiencing anything. How? Check out how many “likes” there are on a non-profit’s page about feeding orphans, and then look at the donations the non-profit actually receives.

5. Fosters an Illusion of Connection

What this all comes down to is that social media transforms reality into a tidy, manageable, set of illusions.

The world of social media allows you to connect with hundreds and thousands of people you don’t know. But you can make that connection without any of the risks of having to actually be in relationship with others.

With a buffer for consequences, a lack of context apart from your interpretation, loads of positive reinforcement, and a palatable, one-dimensional view, you can be “in community” without getting out of your own little world.

Here’s the problem: real relationships have risks and stretch you. Real life is risky. Living a life that honors the Lord? Even more dangerous and challenging. Through social media, we can feel like we’re really living and loving and relating, but we can completely miss the reality of what’s actually going on in our hearts and in others’ lives.

Why It Matters

Social media is virtual. Have you ever thought about that word? Virtual means: being very close to something without actually being it.

One of the first verses to come to mind in connection with the word: “having the appearance of godliness, but denying it’s power. Avoid such people.” Thank you 2 Timothy 3:5.

What about “be doers of the Word, and not just hearers deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22)?

So much of the time that we spend online we are just perpetually hearing. We are just enjoying appearances of “good” lives, causes, and relationships. But we’re denying the power of reality and of connection. We’re deceiving ourselves concerning what living actually requires.

As Christians, that matters all the more.

When you follow Jesus Christ, you’re called into deeper relationships. You’re called to commit your work to the Lord, to have integrity, to be sharpened, to test your heart, to speak the truth, as well as to ask for forgiveness and to forgive. Plus a whole lot more.

While you may be able to use social media as a tool for launching into the kind of life Jesus gives, you’re not going to live that true life entirely online. But it may feel like you are.

So take warning. Don’t be deceived. While you don’t need to delete your profile, you must examine your ways. Are you relying on the illusions of social media to guard yourself against the (social) life that Christ designs? 

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