Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 55. Drowning in Social Media
Jn 4:24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
Where we are: I nearly covered this subject in the previous study entitled, ‘Drowning in Unreality’ but felt that it was such a major and significant subject that it needs dealing with on its own. Remember, we are covering things that have a tendency to drown the modern believer. So that we are quite clear, let’s lay out the scale of changes in our world in this area of social media or social networking and our general access to the Internet.:
Understanding the scale of social media:
- First a Wikipedia definition: “Social media are computer mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks.”
- Also, Social Networks refers to “a dedicated website or other application which enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. or a network of social interactions and personal relationships.”
- Mobile or cell phones are probably the primary means of such communication across the world today. Here’s another breath-taking detail from the Internet: “In 2019 the number of mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion. The number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to pass the five billion mark by 2019. In 2016, an estimated 62.9 percent of the population worldwide already owned a mobile phone.”
- This has to be one of THE most significant changes in the way humans run their lives that has come about in the last hundred years.
- (Figures have recently been released that suggest that 70% of people accessing the Internet do it today via a mobile phone.)
Benefits or otherwise of social media: Various websites extol the use of social media and without doubt the general use of the Internet can educate, build confidence and so on. Negative aspects about social network usage, that are highlighted in the increasing levels of concern being expressed, include Cyberbullying, Internet Addiction, Sleep Deprivation, Digital Footprint, Pornography and Sexting. In addition, warnings are given about general internet usage in respect of account hacking and impersonation, stalking and harassment, being compelled to turn over passwords, walking a fine line between effective marketing and privacy intrusion and the privacy downside of location-based services.
Extent of Usage: Figures from the internet (although these vary from time to time) suggest Facebook with 2,200 million users is top of the usage charts, followed by YouTube with 1,900 million, Instagram with 800 million and so on. If you know anything of just those three you will realise the difference in types of site. There are many more in the table. Perhaps, rather than bandy figures about, a better means of observing the changes in culture worldwide in respect of social networking is simply to watch people around you in public spaces. For some people, to not have a phone in their hand would mean a serious sense of insecurity – we are not being dramatic here, it is true – and this, for us who are Christians should, I suggest, be a major cause of concern. We could be negative and speak about how intrusive the use of such a phone link is while in company, but the bigger concern is the downside of the wonderful friendship networking capabilities that has come about, which is this sense of insecurity if we are ‘not in the know’. One might also suggest for Christians, that a study on ‘gossip’ NOT being part of the kingdom of God maybe deserves revisiting.
A Pride Builder: Knowledge, they say, is power and as I have watched the use of the Internet and social media in both young and old, I notice one particularly interesting feature: a sense of ‘being in the know’ also creates a sense of superiority or, at the very least, a sense of self-worth. Knowledge is available as it has never been available before. With social networking, it is knowledge of what everyone else in my social hub is doing. Being ‘in the know’ creates this sense that once being a member of an elite club created. But there is being in the know in respect of the latest news or, for that matter, knowing about anything else. Google has become the most amazing source of information within a few seconds, whether it is to do with the local weather, the weather in your part of the world, how to freeze beans, how many sorts of elephant live in the world, or even what your street looks like! (The car on my forecourt is out of date!!!) Similarly, without doubt when my grand-daughters go out on their own, the presence of a mobile phone and instant access to home creates a sense of security. That is the good side but, although I watch the confidence etc. that exudes from the users of mobile or cell phones around me, I also note that generally there are still in their lives, many insecurities, worries, cares and concerns and, indeed, the knowledge of what is happening to everyone else (not always good) often adds to those things. Pride and superiority on one hand but insecurity on the other, and perhaps all three have increased with the use of the mobile phone.
An air of unreality: Living in the world of constant instant news, of knowledge of what all my friends are up to, and of this amazing sense of being linked in to all my friends is, I suggest, a source of creating an unreal environment in which to live. We think we know, but what we know is only superficial, basic facts of information. We may think that knowledge is linked to wisdom, but it isn’t necessarily. We may think that information is the same as ‘understanding’, but it isn’t. It may just be the particular group of people I know in my local vicinity at present, but when I watch this culture I sadly find absent among the Christians the Spirit of God and it seems as if this reliance on networking and information acts as a substitute – and not a good substitute – for the presence of the Lord in your life. There is an absence of “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord,” (Isa 11:2) and one cannot help feeling there is a link. Accept no substitutes.
Concerns: Now I must confess to a real aversion to doing this study because I am aware that it flies in the face of modern culture, a culture that does have, without question, many benefits. Yet, as a spiritual observer it worries me as I observe the things I have commented on above. As I observe chat rooms and comments made by readers on news websites, it seems that so often this facility simply gives opportunity to bring out the worst of people, with hostility, criticism and general grumbling being regularly seen in such places. Not good.
The Source of Security: But perhaps the biggest issue must be, where do we get our sense of personal worth, personal fulfilment and personal security? Is it from being part of one of these networks, or of having knowledge available instantly, or any one of these other benefits? As good as they are, they should not be the primary means of obtaining such senses; it must be through the personal interaction with Almighty God, who is not merely available on the other end of a phone or Internet line, but He is there with you wherever you are and in whatever circumstances and instantly accessible. You will build up that sense of reality in prayer, in reading and studying His word, in Spirit-led and inspired worship. There is no substitute for any of these things.
To Conclude: It is possible that if you are someone who has a phone in their hands most of the time, you will feel defensive by what I have said, but all I ask is that you check out the reality of what I have been saying: do you have a real and genuine sense of self-worth and of security that comes from the knowledge of the living presence of the Lord? And perhaps, even more as a test, if you shut off your phone and left it in a drawer for a week, would you still have that? If you can honestly answer ‘yes’ then no problem, but otherwise perhaps some thought needs to be given to making some changes in your lifestyle.
Presumably you are here because you have been reading these studies, and so I end with asking the very basic question, are we each aware of being in the midst of God’s process of ongoing redemption for us? If we are not then, is this particular culture a hindrance to that? Let’s conclude with Psa 121 and may this be our anchor: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”