February 16, 2017 Jonathan Evans

Social media is a world within a world within a world

Beyond the snow

Social media is here to stay. But only because we are inescapably, hopelessly as well as hopefully, relational creatures. Being in a good relationship means “the world” to us, while being in a bad one can feel like our world has ended. I would venture to guess, and safely, that the highest percentage of our conversations and thinking and acting revolves around people. 


And even if we want nothing to do with people, we can’t escape human interaction at the grocery store or the gas station. Those who do manage to escape all human contact are soon enough in their behavior and appearance evidencing why in God’s wisdom and love He determined, “it is not good for man to be alone”. 


However, away from this extreme of complete aloneness is the other extreme of complete neediness. Here is the tilt towards which many slide: we so desperately don’t want to be alone, or unnoticed, or under appreciated, that we constantly hunger and seek, ultimately craving, for any kind of human connection and affirmation. And here lies the appeal and power of social media.


A thirteen year old girl begins to feel that what happens on social media is where true value is determined, not in the real world, whether in the classroom or at church or at a friend’s house. All these locations serve only to reaffirm and confirm what is happening on social media. She hurries to get back on. But soon she can’t live up to the image being held up of what “everyone is talking about” or thinking or doing. She is in tears, but she can’t put down her device, because—well, what else is there? Her feelings are real, but what they are responding to is not.


What happens on/in the world of social media is not real or reality. It may serve many positive purposes, but it creates its own set of values, its own means and ends, its own standards and rules. It tells us what to want, what to feel, what to think, and how to act. But this is all creating an unreality in that in reality no one person or marriage or family or community can thrive on being self-centered, -seeking, -absorbed. Of course it doesn’t strictly follow that being on social media will make you self-centered, but its atmosphere is filled with the air of measuring and comparing yourself. You can’t help but feel negative, like feeling dirty after sitting in a filthy house. 


The further we get into this world, the further we go into ourselves. The further into ourselves we go, the further away we get from the world and from others. But we must get out and be out of ourselves to enjoy anything of lasting or meaningful significance and value. This is how we determine what is of value: is that worth more than this? Nothing is gained in life without giving up something in return. From social media, is what you want worth what you have? Is what you’ll gain worth what you’ll lose?


You can “live” in this world of social media if you want to. In fact, you have to to some extent now. But living in this world does not mean your life finds its ultimate meaning and purpose in this world. The world, the real world, is going on all around you. If you did “disconnect,” the world outside your device would not end. Your life would not end. The disconnect may produce side effects, withdrawals even, but it won’t kill you. You may discover that you were sick or dying but now you’re moving, feeling better, and living again. You might remember what laughter sounds like, how music feels, how to enjoy a good meal and conversation around a table. With time, your satisfaction and contentment may increase, found there in/through your real home, your real job, your real friendships, your real talents and skills, the real neighborhood and city and nature you’re in the middle of. 


However, if we never or rarely disconnect, what happens in the real world is then influenced by what happens in the social media world: we bring into real circumstances and real relationships what we bring out of the world of social media, where we spend most of our time doing—doing what? Being “emotional”. Feeding our emotions. 


Our emotions are fed or starved, heightened or lessened, based upon among other things who likes us or who dislikes us, how many retweets or mentions we have, how many comments we’ve received, how man debates we can win. We can’t go but a few minutes without checking the Facebook “world” icon for notifications that prove we are connected. But this world icon is, what? The world that revolves around me? The world of friends I’m a part of? The world that creates and sustains and directs my life? But if this “world” is void or empty of notifications, am I lost to the world? Is the world lost to me? Is my world over—pointless, purposeless, meaningless? Maybe not my world, but maybe my day is ruined, less happy, less meaningful.


No one who stands in front of a mirror can truly affirm themselves or give themselves dignity or purpose or meaning. Saying to yourself, “I’m loved. I’m special. I affirm myself. I believe in myself. I can do anything. I have a purpose.,” is not, it cannot, it will not ever be or mean the same thing as someone else standing before you or by your side saying, “You are loved. You are fearfully and wonderfully made for a reason and for a purpose. I encourage you to keep going. You can do this, I know you can.” We need others not in the sense that we can’t survive without them, but in the sense that we can’t fully live without them. Fulness of joy in life is found in living for another, and in another living for you. This “living for” is in fact love. Love is always centered in another, not self, focused outwardly, not inwardly; it makes space for self-giving and for receiving the self-giving of another. It is personal.


But is this what we’re seeking or finding? We stand before the mirror of social media in an attempt to create and seek and seize for ourselves approval and acceptance. We post in order to get a response, in order to get a reaction. In social media we seek to bestow upon ourselves the gift of importance, acceptance, love. But we cannot impart or bestow this gift, this “grace,” upon ourselves. Grace, a gift, is what we’re hoping and looking for. If you buy something for yourself, it’s not a gift. It’s a purchase that soon will lose its appeal and significance. But a gift, something someone gave to you at a cost to themselves, well, that’s something that retains its value, its meaning, its significance, its “personal” quality. 


What we’re looking for is personal. But what if the gift was in fact a person and not simply something they gave? 


 The problem of social media is not social media per se but the human heart seeking there (and elsewhere) in countless ways what only God gives, who only God gives. The Gift is a Person; Grace is a Person. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, Jesus, to the world. But Jesus also is the Creator of the world. As its Creator He entered into it to be its Savior, to save what He created, to recreate what He would save.


Since it is in Jesus that God created the world, that He rescued the world, and that He is making all things new in the world, it would make sense that if we were to find our place and purpose in this world we would need to first find Jesus. The beauty and power of God’s love, though, is that He first loved us and so sent Jesus to come and to seek and to save the lost.


This Jesus finds us and in turn we find our place in Him, and in Him we find our place in the world, not only this world but the new world to come. We discover that all the riches of God, all the abundant blessings of life in the presence of God, the reality and freedom of the coming new heaven and new earth, the tasting and touching and glimpsing of this new future life—it all begins now. All things in heaven and on earth are joined together in Jesus Christ.  


What world are you living in? The world of social media is a small world—a world within a world within a world. What you find in it cannot compare to the world outside it, and that world cannot compare to the new world on the horizon of eternity. All worlds find their place and purpose in Jesus; all worlds find their beginning and end in Him; all worlds can be received and enjoyed in Him, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Savior, and the King. 

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