False Gods in Social Media

By Barbara Boatwright, Ph.D.

 

 “You shall not follow any other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you.”

                                                                                                            Deuteronomy 6:14

 

Not too long ago, my daughter and her husband, David, were having a conversation about the time they spend on their phones. They had recently installed software that tracked their phone and social media time in an effort to reduce their daily screen time. I was impressed, especially considering that David works in the tech industry! In fact, he told me that people in that industry have the tightest controls over their children’s access to technology. Why?

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Science is just beginning to unpack the consequences of social media, screen exposure, and other aspects of our technological age on the brain and relationships. Many of the trending results are alarming regarding the impact of screen time and social media exposure on the developing brain, emotional and mental health, and human relationships. While there are obvious merits to the internet and our information age, the unintended consequences of social media play into the powerful and timeless false gods of busyness and “success.”

The False God named BUSY: “Being Under Satan’s Yoke”

Author John Ortberg asked the question in a blog post some time ago, “Might it be that the evil one is doing his best to steal your time?”

Without digging into neuroscience, common sense and daily observation tell us that social media is a huge time stealer. The amount of time on social media is constantly increasing. Teens now spend up to 9 hours a day on social platforms, and tweens (ages 8 to 12) spend an average of six hours on social platforms. Screen and media use is on the rise across the generations, even with babies (https://www.wvea.org/content/teens-spend-astounding-nine-hours-day-front-screens-researchers).

Do you have an i-phone? Did you know that i-phone users unlock their phones an average of 80 times a day (6-7 times an hour), and the typical cell phone user touches his phone 2617 times a day?  (Business Insider, 2016). We are addicted to and drowning in a sea of media. Just look around the next time you are in a restaurant and watch how many people are sitting at their meals more engaged with their phones than with one another.

No wonder our relationships are disconnected. Is it not ironic that the very platforms intended to help us “stay connected” actually have the opposite effect? We are busier than ever and the limited time we have is often gobbled up and glued to social media. The irony of being plugged in is that it may actually rob us of precious time with God and authentic face to face connection with others, which is the vital ingredient for meaningful relationships to flourish.

 

The False God of “Success” (aka “Comparison”)

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Culture always offers counterfeit ways to meet our hard-wired needs to be known, valued, and loved; in essence, to belong.  A counterfeit always imitates something valuable- for example, there are no counterfeit $1 bills.

Social Media is driving much of what is considered valuable in today’s culture. Is it possible that these platforms are enticing because they offer counterfeits for the real thing? Consider Ancestry.com. Their commercials are all about our human need for belonging, and Match.com speaks even more deeply to our desire for bonding in a long-term love relationship.  And while Facebook and Instagram can keep us updated on the life events of our friends and family members, it seems that most posts seek to impart a subtle message depicting how happy, popular, or successful we are. How many likes did I get? We tend to promote ourselves in the way we wish to be seen, and often that is not our authentic self.

Could this be why heavy use of platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram is  

strongly associated with feelings of social isolation and depression? Those images depicting perfect lives, popularity, etc. really don’t represent true reality, and ultimately make us feel like we are less than or missing out and thus tend to increase social anxiety.  When my “false self” seeks affirmation from your “false self,” there is not much space for truly being known and loved, warts and all.

People who use social media more than two hours a day have twice the odds of being socially isolated, lacking a sense of social belonging, engagement with others, and fulfilling relationships.  Of this group, more than half reported feeling feel inadequate and unattractive in comparison with others (Social Media Today, 2017). Whoever said, “Comparison is the thief of joy” made a profound statement for the insidious impact of social platform use.

Compounding the issue is the fact that the majority of content found in other forms of media, such as television, movies and gaming is typically filled with bad news, explicit violence, and the exploitation of humanity. When we are not busy posting, we passively marinate in images of fallen man that are known to activate the parts of our brain that keep us anxious, fearful, and addicted. It is not the kind of material that promotes peace or emotional well-being.

Science is concluding that Social Media is not social and studies are increasingly showing that “replacing your real-world relationships is detrimental to your well-being” (American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2017).

Might it be better to find our identity and value in WHOSE we are (our loving Father God’s) rather who the world perceives or judges us to be? Could our time be better spent cultivating a safe haven in our homes as a place of refuge and re-centering for the family? As believers, we are called to be different from the world, which requires courage that can only come from a secure identity in the love and grace of Jesus Christ. This must be taught in our homes (see Deuteronomy 6: 4-7).

We cannot throw our children a life vest if we are drowning ourselves. Let’s face it, kids have a highly developed hypocrisy meter. Do we model what we ask of our kids? Should the entire family have a screen free time each day? We should not be parenting to be popular with our children, their friends, or other parents. We must be willing to say NO to the demands and peer pressure of the world so that we can say yes to these most important relationships in order to truly flourish.

Author Andy Crouch describes flourishing as thriving- prospering- being fully alive, engaged and lovingly connected with one another (Strong and Weak, 2016). Loving connection is the safe haven we need in this media driven world of pseudo connection. Research evidence as long shown that when children have a secure human base, a safe haven to return to, they are more independent and adventurous, and more confident in engaging the world.  Home is where this is designed happen, in the safety of one another, as spouses and as parents for our children. The best gift we can give others is genuine loving connection. Let’s not allow the false gods of success and comparison or busyness usurp the sacred gift of authentic connection with our loved ones.

            “Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ. So, keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always. Follow the example of all that we have imparted to you and the God of peace with be with you in all things.”                                                        Philippians 4:6-9, The Passion Translation

 

Dr. Barbara Boatwright is a Clinical Psychologist and the founder of Life Resources, a non-profit Christian emotional and relational resource center located in Mount Pleasant, S.C. For more information about Life Resources, visit their website as www.myliferesources.org.

 Article as seen in the July 2019 edition of The Carolina Compass.