Following God in a selfie-centred world
Written by Roger Waite
With the introduction of social media, a word has entered our vocabulary in the last decade due to its proliferation. It is called the “selfie.” A selfie is basically a photo that one takes of oneself and posts on social media to share with friends.
We now have a generation growing up in this world today on social media where narcissism has become a growing problem. Narcissism is a term that means love of the self which is derived from the Greek legend of Narcissus who fell in love with the reflection of himself that he saw in a pool of water. This is really like many people today who take photos of themself in a mirror often poking their lips out to make an impression of a duck because ducks are just so good looking. I speak facetiously.
We can leverage technology such as the internet to reach more people than ever before with the gospel and do many great things with technology. On the flip side there can be some unintended negative consequences that technology can have on our walk with God and on our values -- if we are not careful about how we use such technology.
I’d like to take a brief look at two of the serious negative effects that technology and the internet can have on our values and our walk with God -- and what God has to say about how to correct those problems. These negative effects are discontentment and self-centredness.
When we compare ourselves with others, we can become dissatisfied and discontented in our own hearts. When I was young, we just had to kind of randomly guess that we weren’t popular. Researchers did a study at two college universities and they had students spend half an hour on Facebook. They then surveyed their feelings. The research revealed that one third of the students felt significantly depressed, citing envy as the number one emotion of what they felt -- after just 30 minutes of watching what happens on Facebook! “So and so got 100 likes and my post only got 2!”
Even with older technology like TV this can be a problem with ads and shows about celebrities living opulent lifestyles and travelling the world. This kind of media can stir up discontentment that, supposedly, can only be cured by buying the product they are selling, or actually living like the celebrities.
With TV and Facebook we can find ourselves comparing our mundane behind-the-scenes life with “highlights reels” of others. We can feed on images of things and people that arouse lust and cause us to have discontentment with what we have, or even who we are. This can not only can kill our joy but also destroy our relationships with those we love.
There are two godly qualities that can help us deal with this problem of discontentment. The first quality is thankfulness. In Philippians 4:6 we read: “Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel” (CEV). This inner peace, which is the opposite of restless discontentment, comes from being thankful for all that God has given us and trusting God to provide for our needs when we put our requests to Him.
In a few verses in Philippians 4 we read about the other quality that is the flow-on effect of having a thankful heart – being content. “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (verses 12 & 13). It is the power of Christ within us through His spirit that is the secret of being content in every situation. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” as it says in 1 Timothy 6:6. God’s promises of a wondrous future and trusting in His unfailing love for us can help us defeat the dragon of being discontent with our lot in life.
With the popularity of social media and user-generated content such as Facebook and Youtube, as a society we’re becoming more and more addicted to the immediate affirmation of likes and comments from others. Scientists will tell you that it releases a feel-good chemical in our brain called dopamine and many are addicted to this immediate feedback!
One of my dislikes is seeing so many people at the same time playing with their smartphones when waiting for, or on, a bus or train. Something deep inside me wants to scream out: "Get a life people!" or “Why can't you people just be content with your own thoughts and daydreams."
When I was in New Zealand a friend mentioned that where he works he sat in three different meetings with phone companies demonstrating their new phone products and a phrase that was repeated in each demonstration was that they wanted using their phones to be an addictive experience.
And they have achieved this goal. There is that chemical rush that's causes many people to be more addicted to social media and the instant affirmation that it brings -- as well as not being able to resist looking at their phones when they are actually with other people.
I simply can't understand the current generation's love affair with taking selfies. When I was young it seems like most people dreaded having their photo taken and it was a difficult task in getting everyone in a group photo. And, of course, we all dreaded having our annual photo taken of our class at school desperately hoping we wouldn't look as bad as our licence or passport photo.
According to a US statistic, while the average American Facebook user has around 330 Facebook friends, they only have 2 close friends, which is down from 6 some 20 years ago. Many people need to rediscover the power of practicing presence, of being together with other people rather than just online. In Hebrews 10:24-25, Paul writes: “Let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Let’s suppose you’ve got a friend, or a family member, that’s hurting right now. They just got bad news -- bad medical news, they lost their job, a relationship went sour, a family member dies. An acceptable way of showing concern that most of us would do, in our generation today, is crank out a text or a facebook post: “Hey, just thinking about you.”
But let’s take it up a notch. You can actually use your smartphone to talk to them. You can ask them, “How are you doing?" and you can listen to the tone of their voice. And then you can ask them some questions, "how can I help?", and the conversation can go places that it will not go with texts when you hear tone of voice.
Let’s say we really want to go against the tide and take it up another level. Another way we could show love is we could go and see them. We could get in our car, go across town, whatever the case would be, and we could sit down with them, face to face, and listen to them, and ask them questions, have a cup of tea or coffee with them, give them a hug if they need one. For the recipient our presence speaks much more to them than our posts on Facebook.
The cure to the selfishness which can be inflamed by modern technology is to take on the mindset or attitude of Christ which is spoken on in Matthew 20:27-28: “And whoever desires to be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Don’t get caught up in the world of “selfies.” Get caught up in serving and loving others following the example of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.