I am not going to lie, I love me some Facebook. And it turns out loving Facebook works well, because only old people are on it now. Where there was one Facebook, there is now Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and the lowest form of social networking, YikYak. The longer I work with students the more I am seeing the lasting ramifications of social networking overtaking actual human interaction, and what I see is startling.
Like all things we invest our time and effort into, there will be fruit. If we eat right and exercise, we will be more fit. If we practice the guitar or the keytar, you will be able to be a rock star, or at least a studio musician. If you are in the habit of sharing life and being vulnerable with people, you will develop deep friendships, and if you actually spend time in reflective prayer, the depth of your faith and intimacy with God will deepen. These are facts.
For the amount of time our students, as well as everyone in the inter web, including you and me, there are bound to be consequences. We reap what we sow, and all of this investment is reaping some pretty awful fruit. I am sure that for as many people as would try to make a list of some of the fruit that comes from this investment in Social Media, there would be as many different lists. But since this is my blog, I thought I would throw out my two cents. And I would love to know yours.
As I see it, these are the three main fruits of a life invested in Social Media:
1) Passivity: Life is not longer lived, but rather observed. The students I work with are paralyzed to actually take risks and commit to activities for the fear of missing out on other activities. They actually think they are caring for the world and helping the poor because they “like” something and they are superstars if they actually repost it. Life can not be lived behind a computer screen. Life is meant to be lived interacting with people, interacting with your surroundings in your context, and I would even say, meant to be lived outside. Being so connected to Social Media, to our phones, to our news feed, we end up being totally unproductive, enjoying the exploits and adventures of others rather than having adventures of our own.
2) Cruelty: It has been this way since the original IRC chats from the early 90’s. What we are willing to say via text, tweet, chat, whatever is always more cruel then any face to face interaction. What is even worse is when small groups of friends use their time together, not having adventures, exploring the world around them, but rather simply reading through news feeds, judging the people as they scroll. This is not fundamentally different then the chat experiences of the past, except that, now most interaction is done through social media, and less and less done through actual face to face contact. And this means that the actual rhythm of how we talk, interact, and view the world is one of judgement and cruelty.
3) Idolatry: Students, and might I even add, myself, are addicted to Social Media. It is not simply what we do to connect with others, it isn’t how we get our news, and it isn’t just a tool to communicate our thoughts. It is an idol that we worship. It is an addiction that can not be mastered. Watching students try at all cost to find ways on line while we travel internationally is like watching an addict hankering for a fix. Social Media is a god to many people. For us old enough to remember life before, we can see how this idol is simply a poor echo of the deeper friendship and relationships that can be had with true time and effort. But for our students, this shallow version of interaction is all they know, and worse, it is their God. They worship this idol, they tune the rhythms of their life around this idol, and will do whatever it takes to serve it. To the detriment of their real relationships, and even their relationship with God.
Where do we go from here?
If we can’t beat them, join them doesn’t seem to be working. Is there another way in which we can help our students balance their social media lives? Or is that like saying cars have ruined community and there is no going back? What is a realistic way forward? Is this a battle worth fighting?
Man, do I feel old. What are your thoughts?