(Originally Published on www.theomag.com)
Article written by Matt Thomas
Let me begin by acknowledging that I typically login to my Facebook account multiple times a day. I too have a Myspace account that is probably still active despite my blatant abandonment several years ago. An even more embarrassing disclosure: Xanga once graced my Internet Explorer bookmarks tab. Ultimately, it should be evident that I don’t place the blame of the continual degradation of our cultural values squarely on the shoulders of our common scapegoat—social media. (Hillsong worship music should probably accept the responsibility for most of that) In fact, I find tremendous value in social media avenues for the same reasons most of you do. Between the constant pursuit of information, the desire to remain connected, and the occasional entertainment endeavor, hours could be spent daily in this world. Furthermore, the pervasive nature with which it seemingly grips our society, and will continue to do so until teleportation becomes affordable, is inevitable. As I examine my own life and engagement with media, the same characteristics that create this powerful bond and reliance on these tools also generate deep concern.
Perhaps I’m alone in this. Perhaps irrelevance will surround these thoughts. Perhaps our friends in R.E.M were misinformed when they said ‘everybody hurts’. However, one observation I have made through my limited life experience, is that if one person experiences a struggle, failure or fear, hundreds more hide in the shadows with similar difficulties. So, at the risk of irrelevance, however calculated that risk may be, I dive into the cause of my concern. As I reflect on my habits and inward thoughts, in regard to my engagement with social media, my desires to stay informed, remain connected and be entertained are simply secondary impulses clandestinely concealing a more insidious motive. Unfortunately, I am convinced at times that the lure of social media rests on a blind grasp for significance, a futile longing for originality and an escape from present realities. In Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’, the narrator of the story says this in regard to the longing for significance and originality:
“Some men have only to feel the faintest stirring of some kindly and humanitarian emotion to persuade themselves at once that no one feels as they do, that they stand in the foremost rank of culture. Some have only to meet with some idea by hearsay, or to read some stray page, to believe at once that it is their own opinion and has sprung spontaneously from their own brain”
He goes on to describe the inevitable despair that such pursuits often lead to when the faintest doubt of that significance arises. And I wonder if our current culture is plagued by the same cycle that was prevalent in 19th century Russia. And if so, how do we escape? Because my attempts to escape the cycle usually feel like I am trying to dislodge my head from the wall of the Gravitron ride at a carnival.
I believe it boils down to connectivity. If our pursuit of connecting to something that is personally beneficial or life-giving is reduced to superficial human, media-centered mediums or a connection to current world affairs and trends, the cycle will undoubtedly continue. As observations about our world are made by a culture disposed to an unprecedented amount of information, the danger exists of being captivated by our world and its’ information. Eventually national or global politics become a hinge upon which our hope rests, being swung back and forth depending on who wins the battle of applying more force. If one political situation prevails we feel secure. If another, we panic. All of a sudden, economics, on the macro or micro level, become a place of misplaced security. If the DOW is cut in half within twenty-four hours, the paralysis of fear sets in. If the price of gold jumps $20,000 per ounce overnight, the world is as it should be. In time, human relationships become a source of envy, bitterness or possibly more destructive, feelings of significance. If a Facebook friend is promoted or experiences improvement in life situations, our first thought relates to how we are more deserving, creating dissatisfaction with the proverbial cards we’ve been dealt (Cards used for playing Spades, not gambling of course). Perhaps that dissatisfaction leads to the addiction of constant status updates, tweets, and smoke signals in our thirst for validation. Ultimately, our supposed connection results in distance instead of nearness.
Commenting on this relational distance and the empty appeal of significance, Henri Nouwen says,
“But underneath all our emphasis on successful action, many of us suffer from a deep-seated, low self-esteem and are walking around with the constant fear that someday someone will unmask the illusion and show that we are not as smart, as good, or as lovable as the world was made to believe…Moreover, this corroding fear for the discovery of our weaknesses prevents community and creative sharing. When we have sold our identity to the judges of this world, we are bound to become restless, because of a growing need for affirmation and praise…And we are in serious danger of becoming isolated, since friendship and love are impossible without a mutual vulnerability.” (Out of Solitude)
I maintain that if we desire freedom from the cultural god of significance and originality we must subvert these widespread delusions of connectivity in favor of a more sustaining path: the simplicity of communion with our blessed Lord. A wise man I know once said, “Prepare your cocoon.” My advice: Stay connected to the world; stay informed. But, don’t rely on that connection for feelings of security and identity. Instead, focus on deepening your spiritual connection with the true Giver of Life. Focus on tuning your connection with the source of your identity. And in so doing, access the ability to genuinely and selflessly connect to our world.