Social media gives us intoxicating power to rearrange our deepest desires and our most secret insecurities in the exact order that we want them. It isn’t deeply introspective to say that media now is just collection of all the perfect things about our lives – only the things that we want others to see. If you want attention, there is plenty of it to go around. If you want to come across as wealthy and successful when you’re broke in reality, you can do that too. If you want to compete with your friends, then on your mark, get set, go. We can create our own world by only revealing bits and pieces of ourselves. Ironically though, no one seems to be fooled by this game that’s being played. Ask your friends and they’ll all say the same thing, “that darn social media, man. It’s just toxic.” As much as we all use it, there seems to be a negative connotation with the phrase. Though social media gives us this great power that quite frankly I’m not sure we fully understand, I am not sure that the invention and use of media is the real problem. Rather, media seems to be only a new way that we release what is already inside of us. I am not sure if it makes us worse than who we would have been without it, but social media definitely makes us more calculated and organized in how we execute our desires.
Has there ever been any other invention that allowed so much freedom as social media? The automobile comes to mind. The invention of the automobile was something like the social media of the 20th century. Unlike ever before, one could be wherever he wanted to be so long as he had the time. This freedom gave rise to all kinds of opportunities, but one movement in particular could not have happened without this newfound liberty. Without automobiles, the “Free Love” movement of the 1960s never could have happened because four wheels gave us the ability to escape and act out our carnal desires on a magnitude we couldn’t have before. Men who knew better couldn’t act out the worst things because they didn’t have a car-yet. The freedom that came with cars quickly diminished accountability, and with it some of our shared traditional culture norms. It was the freedom of the automobile that showed us what was inside us all along.
Similarly, social media gives rise to not just a new place but a new life entirely. Travel, food, sex, fashion, etc are not immune to the wireless game that is played by so many. You can be your own favorite supermodel, traveler, surfer, gypsy, or athlete. The individual twists that we put on our profiles come from needs inside of us that are never quenched by likes and comments. Because these habits come from our own moral agency and not from our profiles, Instagram isn’t the real problem folks. Social media seems to be not only a revelation of what exists inside of us but also an amplification of how often and how deep we act on the worst parts of ourselves.
As cultures and technologies change, there are some things about us that stay the same. New inventions don’t seem to bring about new morals in people, they only reveal morals that were there all along. Our flesh seeks opportunity, and like the automobile, our phones give it to us. The reality is that social media has become so deeply rooted in our culture that we have to live with it, and so it takes an intentional effort to not get caught into the pressures of playing dress up and flirting with our lusts. As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. Social media doesn’t bring out the worst in people – we’re just already the worst.
Ecclesiastes Chapter 1:
1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.