Dylan Evans is a newly minted Presbyterian (PCA) from (pretty close to) the mountains of Northeast Georgia. He enjoys basketball, rap, true crime podcasts, and anything from the 16th century. He and his college sweetheart-turned-wife, Ariana, live in Birmingham, AL.
During Lent of 2018 I gave up my social media. Facebook, Twitter, Insta, Snapchat: gone. Apart from desiring to devote myself to more prayer and meaningful personal interactions, I wanted to see what I would do in those dull moments throughout the day without social media. What would my knee-jerk reaction be when I was in an awkward social situation; when I got in bed but wasn’t ready to go to sleep; or even while doing something as remedial as walking from one class to the next.
Well Lent 2k18 has come and gone, months have passed, and surprisingly, there are still no social media apps on my phone (other than Facebook. For birthdays, of course). Here’s why.
The first take away from my hiatus from social media was an understanding of what one of my old high school mentors meant when he said, “social media is a fake world.” This line of thinking goes something like this:
Our social media platforms allow us to present nothing but the absolute best versions of ourselves. When we are with friends and happen upon a picturesque moment, what do we often times find ourselves doing? We stop and take 37 +/- pictures as we switch poses, push our hair to its best side (guys I’m looking at you too), change the focusing of the camera to this or that background object, and try to look as “candid” as possible. We then pour over the dozens of pictures, pick out the best 2 or 3, and edit them like it is our job. The next move, of course, is to brainstorm with our pals what the best caption would be. “Am I shooting for funny or classic? Should I capitalize the first letter? Do I put an inspirational, or even obscure quote? Or (God help us) should I pull out the age old “humble brag” and talk about how “blessed” and “humbled” I am about my latest achievements and recognitions?” After we have painstakingly gone through this long process, we post, and wait to see if we can get the likes into the triple digits.
Despite the fact that this is a thoroughgoing social norm in pretty much all of Western society, we have to ask ourselves: what is it that we are doing here? I certainly do not claim to speak for everyone, but I seem to be trying my hardest to portray to my followers and friends the very best version of myself; that version of myself that you and I (should) know doesn’t really exist. Even though this is the social norm, think about exactly what is happening here: at times, we are literally going out of our way to post pictures of ourselves so that people can look at us and be impressed. And most of us are still convinced that this is an acceptable endeavor because, well, “it’s harmless” and “everyone does it.” However, not only is this practice inherently self-seeking, and rather vain, but the negative effects that it has on society are probably more discrete and damaging than we would like to admit.
You see, as we are “innocently” scrolling through our various social media feeds, we often times begin to feel the sneaking suspicion that our lives are not as perfect or adventurous as everyone else’s. The problem with gorging ourselves on everyone’s “absolute best” is that we compare what we see on Instagram to the fact, which we know all too well, that our own day to day lives are full of uncountable woes, sins, and difficulties. And others likely think the very same thing as they look at our profiles. The fact that social media very rarely, if ever, exposes the lows that we constantly face means that we will almost inevitably begin to compare the “absolute best” of others to our own, difficult, often embarrassing, real life. As we should easily see, when we put the fake one-sided universe of social media up against our own daily realities, we lose that bout every time. This often leads us to drown in a sea of insecurity, jealously, or pride… all because of a world that doesn’t even exist.
A close look at regular social media activity also exposes the pride in ourselves that leads us to believe that everyone needs to know what we think about the latest news or popular debates. Again, I can’t speak for you, but I often find myself chomping at the bit to post the most intellectual and thought-provoking insight on whatever is going on in the world. At the bottom of this is the embarrassing fact that I often want everyone to think that I am a smart and influential voice of wisdom that has the answers on the world’s greatest problems. Subconsciously—here again we see the sneaking deception inherent to the fake world of social media— I believe that the cultural, political, and theological battles need to fought on my page and in response to what I have to say about them. Surely I’m not alone here, right?
The previous social media sin leads to yet another downfall: the cheap nature of abbreviated and one-liner debates. The deep misunderstanding and pettiness that can result from social media battles is baffling, and hardly ever gets us to any desired destination (other than thinking the other person is an idiot, of course). Many a sacred and convoluted topic have suffered greatly in public opinion by not being given their due research and critical articulation because the main locus of the debate is on someone’s social media profile. My own rendition of an old John Meyer song seems fitting here: “Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the two sentences on someone’s twitter?”
Finally, and this is one of the most common downfalls of my own generation, social media allows us to subtly substitute deep, meaningful relationships with a 100-day snap streak or a quick “like” of someone’s comment. Although many of us wouldn’t dare take to Instagram or Facebook when the crap hits the fan in our lives (at least I hope this is the case), social media constantly tempts us to be more concerned with a tweet than we are with the person sitting right in front of us. The dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out) that arises when we haven’t checked our phones in the last half-hour plagues the best of us. All the while what we don’t realize is that we are indeed “missing out” on the real world and the real lives of the real people that share our very oxygen. I am by no means the first person to point this out, but for some reason our slavery to the cyberworld and the shallowness of our relationships seems only to be worsening.
As a Christ-follower, I strongly believe that just about every worldly institution can be redeemed for the sake of Jesus’ fame and adoration. But I wonder if we use the redeemability-of-all-things argument as a justification to not give up the very things that seem to be doing far more damage than good. I surely have.
Remember: “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor. 10:23).
On another note, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not proposing that its selfish or deceptive to post updates of your new-born, your engagement pictures, your daughter’s graduation, or to ring the alarm concerning the latest social injustices. Social media is by no means inherently or necessarily evil; it often rears its encouraging and informative head. My main goal is simply to get us to ask ourselves some important questions before we click “post:”
Are my meaningful relationships being deepened, or do they suffer from my constant concern with social media?
Am I trying to be self-promoting?
Is this just an exercise in showing off my talents, intellect, or privileges?
Does the world really need to see this photo that I spontaneously took of myself?
Why would anyone be concerned with my #OOTD or #IMHO?
What will it do to my self-confidence if I get half the likes that I am expecting?
Ultimately, does my social media activity bring me more joy and edification than it does anger, jealousy, insecurity, or pride?
Personally, I can’t answer appropriately to all or even most of these questions. And I’m guessing that I’m not alone.