Why I Am Slightly Uneasy About Social Media

 

Although I don’t particularly like the term, I can be characterised as a millennial. As a millennial, I am a part of a generation of individuals who have intrinsically grown up with and around digital technology. The normative usage of personal computers, mobile phones and video game systems are implicit cultural and generational expectations. Particularly of note, however, is the cultural phenomenon that is the Internet. It has been interesting to me to see it develop concurrently as I have developed, from being an obscure blue button that I was never allowed to click on, to a resource that I was sometimes allowed to use for homework, (at the expense of preventing everyone else from making phone calls in the house) to having perpetual, instantaneous, high-speed access even when I’m not at home.

Like most human endeavours, the benefits of the cyber revolution also carry particular pitfalls. Social media platforms, like Facebook, are built on the human desire for “the other”. They are designed to connect you to people in a communal capacity ignoring the usual barriers like location, time and even language. Want to keep an aunty in San Francisco involved in your life? Want to share your business? Want to publicise your blog? You can now do all of this! In this respect, Social Media is an incredibly powerful tool. It creates communities in a non-physical space, thus allowing limitless possibilities for social interaction. The problem, I perceive, is that, in many ways, it’s not really social interaction in that it encourages a false form of self-disclosure.

An individual on, say, Facebook, can custom tailor their self-exposure and interests to even their closest of friends and relatives (not to mention people they may not even know) in a way that suits their tastes and desires. In a level unseen before, people have a level of control over their revealed image, which they normally wouldn’t have in face-to-face interaction. Thus it can perpetuate a deadly spiral – one creates and tailors an image to produce content which people like, which are generally highly tailored snapshots of reality, and so on. Real people with real desires, hopes and anxieties (not to mention sinfulness) are therefore encouraged to present themselves as and treat others as pseudo-people, becoming merely numbers in a highly demanding digital market. What initially appears as an act of mass social disclosure carries an element of mass social manipulation disguised as disclosure. In this sense, Social Media can lead to a denial of being a self-disclosing being, driven by the desire of self-disclosure.

Theologically speaking, it seems to me that Jesus is much more interested in deep relationships rather than abstracted ones. He cares for deep relationships between Himself and the Father, his disciples and Himself, and his disciples and the Father. He cares about oneness of heart, soul and mind between those who follow him, His own person, and the Father, which is ultimately meant to mirror His own oneness with the Father. (John 17:20-24) What does this oneness constitute? Well, from Trinitarian theology, we know that this very oneness of God is constituted by love – a self-giving disclosure that very members of the Trinity have with one another which all of creation is invited into such that we might say “I and the Father are one” and “I and my brother and sister are one”.

And so as I look at Facebook and recognise all its value as a tool, I can’t help but feel that it can easily become a cheap imitation instead of fulfillment. It’s not meant to be a replacement for genuine self-disclosure, but all the same, people do use it as such.[1] Ultimately, these deepest human desires can’t be satisfied in media that doesn’t necessarily act in cohesion with the telos of humanity: love; and if Jesus has shown me anything, it’s that love is much deeper than clicking a few buttons.

[1] The irony of me writing this article to be disseminated through social media is not lost on me.

Anthony Bondarenko