I remember what it was like when you had to build a website from scratch using HTML. With a lot of effort, the average person might be able to learn enough to put together a small, obviously amateur web site with a few pages. And unless he had enough money to get his own server, he would have to upload his work to a server owned by someone else, who would take up half of his space with ads.
Then came tools like WordPress and Blogger. Suddenly you could have your very own web site without having to learn computer programming and without having to pay a dime. If you wanted to start a blog about cooking, preaching, paying taxes, music, coupon clipping, parenting, or anything else, you could have it up and running within about twenty minutes.
After the blogs came Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter. It got even easier to post your thoughts, to have your own corner of the World Wide Web.
Something all of these online tools have in common is the comment feature. After you write an article or post your stream of consciousness, you can check later to see if anyone made a comment or “liked” your post. Maybe this explains the constant stream of inane statements—something one author called the “Chinese water drip of Facebook status messages.” When we post something, it’s not because we’re trying to get information out there. It’s because we want to see if anyone cares, if anyone is listening.
How are these technological advances developing us as human beings? Someone might point out that they are keeping us connected. This is true. Parents are able to keep better tabs on their teenagers, and churches, schools and other organizations are able to get important information out to their people.
But there is also a downside to being so well connected. The Internet has given us a dangerous feeling of self-importance. Anybody can post anything on their own space on the Internet. And most of us do it expecting other people to read with rapt interest.
This isn’t just some soapbox of mine. The trend of social media towards narcissism has been noticed by a number of scholars and sociologists who have been conducting studies on the new media.
UK neuroscientist Dr. Susan Greenfield, a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, recently testified to the British House of Lords during their internet regulatory debates:
My fear is that Facebook is infantilizing the brain into the state of small children. Social networking sites can provide a constant reassurance – that you are listened to, recognized, and important.
Dr. Greenfield believes the rise of social media is coupled with a decline in the skill of face-to-face, real-life conversations, which are “far more perilous, occur in real time, with no opportunity to think up clever or witty responses” and “require a sensitivity to voice tone and body language.” (Carolyn Thomas, “Why Narcissists Love Facebook,” The Ethical Nag, April 1, 2011).
This isn’t just an interesting discussion. I bring it up to address a trend that runs counter to Christianity’s focus on others. Consider these passages:
- “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
- “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).
- “Love does not envy or boast” (1 Cor. 13:5).
- “[Submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).
- “In humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
We’re not here for ourselves. We’re here to make others’ lives more valuable.
Ironically, when you puff yourself up using social media or in the old fashioned way, you’re miserable. It’s focusing on others that makes you truly happy. God didn’t wire us for navel-gazing. We were made to serve.
Why do you post to Facebook or Twitter? Do you talk about yourself, or do you make connections with other people? It’s worth considering.