I’m an old soul. I’d rather read an actual book than a device. I prefer hymns to contemporary worship. I was mercilessly made fun of once for saying that a glass of iced tea “hit the spot.” So it probably comes as no surprise for me to tell you that social media. . . scares me sometimes.
I’m not anti-social media or anti-Internet, I promise. There are undeniable benefits to social media, such as our ability to be instantly connected to those who are miles away. But I also see some subtle habits and mindsets that creep in as we become more and more familiar with and accustomed to our devices.
Social Media Feeds the Need for Instant Gratification
First off, social media feeds our need (or want, really) for instant gratification. Remember when the Internet took a minute to dial up? Or wait, remember when we didn’t have the Internet at all? When we would mail things off, and wait days for a response? Remember when we had to wait a week between each episode of our favorite TV show?
But today, we can find what we want to watch or know just as fast as our fingers can type. The world is literally at our fingertips! The idea of waiting feels preposterous now. And I think that we are losing our appreciation for waiting. The idea that there is any value in waiting feels ridiculous.
Luke records for us in the book of Acts that, right before Jesus ascended, He told His disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the promise He had spoken to them about. I don’t know about you, but if Jesus had told me to go back and wait, I would have had a million questions. What am I waiting for? How long will I wait? How will I know when it’s here? And I probably would have been a passive “wait-er.” I would have let the time whittle away, doing nothing.
But not the disciples. If they had questions about Jesus’ instruction that day, Luke doesn’t record them. Instead, we are told that they go back to Jerusalem and pray and make use of the time by choosing a replacement for Judas. They didn’t rush. They didn’t panic. They saw that waiting can be good, that sometimes when we wait instead of rushing ahead full steam, we are better experienced or better equipped for what comes next. Waiting comes from a posture of realizing that I don’t know everything and that time doesn’t own me.
When I think of periods of waiting in my own life, I think of when I was pregnant with my daughter. Those months of waiting and anticipation prepared me for what was ahead. There was no way I would have been mentally ready (or that she could be physically ready) any earlier than those nine months. There was value in the waiting. It prepared us; it slowed us. It showed us that we don’t know everything. In short, I think waiting humbles us.
Social Media Devalues Work and Effort
“Can’t I just google it?” Oh man, these words. As a teacher, I hear these words every day. And yes, a lot of the time, it may be faster to find the answers we’re looking for by just googling something or asking someone on social media, but faster isn’t always better. I am concerned that social media, and the Internet in general, has made us lazy: we just take the easy way out by looking up something someone else has already worked on. Less work for ourselves; a good thing, yes? I think not.
Work is a biblical value. God worked for six days to create the earth, and then on the seventh day He rested and enjoyed it. When we work, create, and produce, we are living into our purpose as His image-bearers. It can be dangerous for us as Christ-followers to lose an understanding of the significance of work. We are doing what we were made to do when we live in the pattern of “work, then enjoy.”
We work to make a delicious meal, and then we enjoy eating it together. We work to research and put together a paper for the novel in our English class, and then we enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. We work and work to save for that vacation with our family, and then we revel in a week off with the people we love most.
So in my classroom, googling isn’t an option. When I ask my students to find a question, I don’t want them just reporting back to me what someone else has already said. I’m doing my best to encourage the generation to think deeper, to wrestle with questions, to analyze and wonder, to ponder and create.
In my own world, I’m recently working on this: I am writing out the sayings of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. I heard this suggested a long time ago as a way to focus in on Jesus’ teachings and instructions. Sure, I could just google this and get a list of things He has said, but by reading through Matthew and writing Christ’s words out in my own hand, I get a much deeper sense of communion with Him. By having to slow down to write out His instruction, I’m slowing down to think more deeply about what Jesus has said and the context in which He said it.
Social Media Makes The Truth Just That Much Harder to Find
Several years ago, I decided to take some time off from social media. I took an entire year away from Facebook. After my year-long hiatus, I noticed that a remarkable shift had occurred while I was away. Facebook used to be about friends keeping in touch with friends and wishing each other happy birthday, bragging about your vacation, things like that.
When I got back on, I saw so few people actually talking to one another. Instead what I saw was people “sharing” articles or posts. Facebook had become less a site for people to be “friends” digitally, and more a space for people to push their agendas. And with everyone pushing their agendas, from every angle, it has becoming difficult to know what’s what anymore. People can literally say whatever they want and publish it.
In our day and age there is already a fight for the idea of absolute truth—that there is only one Truth, and that His name is Jesus. Instead, what we see today is relativity: “You do you.” This is already a difficult fight, and so all this other stuff on social media is just muddying the water.
Social media gives each of us a podium and a platform. But just because someone has a podium, it doesn’t mean what they are saying is true or right or valuable. That might be a hard truth, and a very unpopular one in our day and age, but I stand by it. Just because the majority is behind someone or something, doesn’t make it truth.
So, What Should We Do With Social Media?
How do we use social media in a way that is responsible, and that doesn’t set us up to fall prey to these subtle shifts in thinking?
Some things I have done are to delete the Facebook app on my phone. If I want to log on to Facebook, I go to an Internet browser, type in the web address, and log in. Having to do this every time I want to get on helps me to not be a casual browser; instead I have to get on very intentionally.
Very recently, I also limited my time on my phone in a couple ways: I heard someone say they fast from their phones from 8:00 p.m.–8:00 a.m. I think that’s a great idea. I also try very hard, and don’t always succeed, to resist the temptation to browse social media when I’m with my daughter. I don’t want her having to compete with my phone for my attention. I want to set a good example for her: I don’t want her to be addicted to her phone when she grows up, and that begins with me modeling that for her.
A concluding thought—C. S. Lewis writes on the origin of evil in his book Mere Christianity. He says that when God created humans, He gave them certain faculties and intelligences. And as much as humans had capacity to use that intelligence for good, they had the same capacity to use it for evil. Social media is the same. It has a great capacity for good, but also for evil. I think we would do well to be sober-minded about its power and influence in our lives and our world. We need to be a force for good with it. We need to represent Him well with it.