Social Media vs. Reality: Engaging the Digital World as a Christian
Do you know what situation is likely to cause a quarrel? Gather a representative from each generation and put them in a room together. Then ask them to converse about social media.
The result would be interesting. And that may be putting it mildly. It is not hard to imagine the baby boomer ranting about how today’s youngest generations don’t know how to look up from their phones. Meanwhile, the millennials might be rolling their eyes while scrolling through their app du jour.
While the descriptions above are certainly generalizations, there are differing perspectives among the generations. The conversation has the potential to break down faster than a trending hashtag becoming yesterday’s news.
When it comes to the social media vs. reality conversation, it’s all about perspective.
Boomers lived most of their lives before the internet and social media ever existed. ‘Social’ meant going outside to play with friends. Toys were a luxury, so spending the day making up games was normal. They brag about playing outside all day when they were kids, and it’s their badge of honor to tell stories of how their parents had no idea where they were until it was dark.
But for kids today, they’ve never known life before the internet, life before Facebook and Twitter, or life before these snappy chatter apps. The generation growing up now has never known social life without screens.
Social Media vs. Reality: Which is Better?
Let’s get this argument about which is better — a pre-social media or a post-social media society — out of the way and admit we can’t answer this question.
Yes, it was better for our eyes when we weren’t spending so much time in front of screens. But technology has also brought us a level of productivity and education never before realized in the history of the world. (And we all have quick access to that history now, thanks to Google!)
At the very least, it has allowed for a larger (and quicker) distribution of information. We cannot say we are not informed. The information coming at us may be about some celebrity activity, or it might be the most recent natural disaster.1 The reality is, because of the expedient nature of social media, we can respond in real-time to things happening around the world.
In addition, with three billion people using social media2, the influence one person can attain has never been bigger. One immediate benefit is the unlimited potential scope of our influence — our reach is exponentially larger now. Plus, social media enables us to keep in touch with and make friends all over the world!
Like everything else in life, social media has its downsides as well. For example, do we trust the sources giving us the information? Is there potential to become addicted to ever-increasing screen time? And perhaps the reason why you’re reading this blog — does social media alter one’s understanding of reality?
Let’s explore how social media distorts reality and our perception of it.
Social Media Perception vs. Reality
For anyone that has spent any amount of time scrolling through social media, it is no secret that it can foster a sense of discontentment, insecurity, or even depression. When we see others accomplishing more than us, it can breed low self-esteem or even a lack of self-worth.
We have an opportunity to rejoice in the good happening among our friends and peers, but if we stack their glossy world on social media vs. reality as we know it, discouragement can follow. In fact, one study found 6.7% of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from depression.3
The real challenge comes when we become envious of everything our friends appear to be doing. We compare their online world with our offline world and we often feel we don’t measure up. Of course, we forget that we ourselves will only post the bright spots of our day, so we find ourselves comparing the best of our friend’s lives to the worst of our own. No wonder the majority of Facebook users tend to have lower self-esteem.4 We need to be reminded that our friends are likely comparing their struggles to our bright spots as well.
Another study revealed that it might not be how we compare ourselves to others. Instead, it could be how our own posts perform on social media vs. our expectations for how they should perform.4 We anguish over the number of likes our posts receive, and we let our online engagement define our self-worth. We realize we can’t be other people, but often times, we agonize over not being a better version of ourselves.
Harnessing the Social Media vs. Reality Conversation for God’s Glory
So what are we to do with all this information? The internet will not suddenly close up shop and cease to exist. To hope it might is to shelter ourselves from all the perks that come with it.
But isn’t this where thoughtful Christians have found themselves in every generation? Technology forges ahead and we must adapt. To do so without thought will mean giving up a part of who we should be.
So what are earnest Christians to do with the social media vs. reality conversation?
We should seek to be truth and light in whatever relevant outlet we find ourselves in. For the Apostle Paul, it was a Roman jail cell. For us, it might be the 280-character confines of Twitter.
As Christians, we need to have a holistic view of social media vs. reality, understanding that every tool at our disposal has the potential to use us. We must realize that social media can be a dark shadow, but we have been called to be light. If the Great Commission applies to us today just as much as it did the first-century Christians, then it should apply to the social media realm as well.
The need for Christ-focused and biblically-grounded people in all spheres of influence is why Grace College exists.
At Grace College, we equip the next generation of leaders to effectively engage the world as we know it. We don’t shy away from complex, nuanced, and multi-faceted conversations like social media vs. reality. We dive in. We wrestle. And we seek Christ to show us the role we are to play in reflecting Him to all corners of the world.
Are you interested in making a true impact? Discover how the ways of Grace can help you endeavor forward on this path.
1 Guzman, Alejandra (2016, April 7) 6 ways social media is changing the world Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/04/6-ways-social-media-is-changing-the-world/
2 For an interesting read on social media and business, read https://bit.ly/2uOPrWZ
3 Sunstrum, Kelsey, How Social Media Affects Our Self-Perception Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-social-media-affects-our-self-perception/
4 Gallinari, Elizabeth (2017) “Likes” for Self-Love? The Effects of Social Media on Self-Perception [Undergaduate Review] http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1405&context=undergrad_rev
5 Matthew 28:18-20