Have you ever taken time to meditate upon the content of our favourite social media sites like Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and many others? An abundance of entertainment, humour, irony, affection, anger, cuteness, hatred, feeling, and distraction can be found. What is it that we are so hungry for? What motivates the hours spent searching, clicking, and looking on these mainstream websites? I have given much thought to how our social media behaviour reflects upon ourselves. In one interesting psychological study it was observed that an everyday person could predict rather accurately the major personality traits of a total stranger just by being given a short view of their bedroom, up to thirty seconds and even as short as six seconds. If the state of our bedroom walls speaks so clearly about us, what are our Facebook walls saying?
I closed my Facebook account for three years at one point, my motivation stemmed from close observation of how I felt and what I did while surfing the site, either through messages or browsing what other’s had posted. I saw with a new clarity my neediness, the perpetuation of empty message strings all so I could feel something when I logged on and would see that I had a new message or notification. I saw the surge of emotion I’d get when I realised that I had something waiting for me, or conversely the disappointment when there was nothing.
It scared me.
Most recently I’ve decided to significantly reduce my exposure to Facebook. In order to come to this conclusion I asked myself some tough questions. Was my exposure to the content on the site leading me to grow as a person? Was the content teaching me to be stronger and more passionate about loving? Was the content leading me somewhere better?
With the exception of a small amount of the content, the answer was no to all three.
In the rock opera Tommy, the protagonist cries out with one visceral cry, the same tangible and overwhelming outpouring revealed by the activity on Facebook: See me. Feel me. Touch me. Heal me. In essence, over and over again, “will someone love me?”
We all have this longing to be loved, called by name, to be known completely, but all choose to express this longing differently.
Can our need for love be answered on Facebook? What troubles me about this state of affairs is that I know that these cries are, for the vast majority, unanswered. Having someone comment on your post feels good, but it will never fulfill. Having someone share your picture is gratifying, but it will never satisfy. In a large way, there are many who live in this poverty of love, but who is going to do the loving?
My roommate asked me as we drove together to buy some groceries, “What is your current aspiration in life?”
I responded, “To be a witness to love and compassion.”
In return he asked, “So you want to watch people being compassionate?” To this I had a good chuckle because it never occurred to me that the word witness is both a word for someone who observes something, but also something much greater and altogether different.
I thought over my viewpoint and responded, “A professor is someone who teaches with words, but a witness if someone who teaches with actions.”
Facebook is a powerful tool which can either be used for great good, banality, or for harm. I use the site regularly to settle plans with friends, to learn about great events and ways of connecting with the community, and to promote this blog. For these reasons I will continue to use Facebook. I feel, however, a keen awareness of the feeding frenzy of “me, me, me.” I often ask myself what can be done to help, how can I live out my life’s aspiration?
I must become a stronger, more loving, and compassionate man.
In order to achieve this goal I must be honest and clearly aware of what I am feeding my soul. A person cannot grow strong from eating garbage, and neither can I learn to love if everything I consume with my eyes and heart is mundane, thoughtless, and egocentric. True, there is great wit, links to profound articles, and interesting information on most popular social media sites. However, these insightful markers are swallowed up by a sea of debris and clutter. Moreover, there are better places to hunt for that which expands the mind, challenges the wit, and guides a person to become more open and aware. The library is an excellent starting point.
One of the dangers of social media is that there’s enough thought out opinions circulating that people get the impression that they are becoming well informed, that their time spent thus is justified. If you happen to disagree with the current cultural slogans you will notice an incredible bias towards one way of thinking, and little to discuss the opposite.
As I am not advocating outright absenteeism from social media, I do promote awareness of how much time a person spends within these sites and with what purpose. What a stark contrast in the way I feel after spending a half hour reading a well thought out essay, as opposed to spending the same amount of time learning what Jim-Bob cooked up in his microwave, or seeing the outfit Sally-Mae wore to the club last weekend. The impact of thoughtful reading cascades into other areas of a person’s life. If I avoid large amounts of mindless internet time I am more productive, internally aware, and more willing to come to the aid others. The brain and will move into a very different state of being. One altogether more satisfying and encouraging to the growth in wisdom and productivity. Though I should mention, productivity is not my aim in and of itself. Being alive is my goal; being awake enough to embrace the adventure of life is my aim.
The weight of our need on Facebook rests upon all humanity, our entire global family. I pray that I will be granted the grace to live as a man of love, to give so completely to the people in my life, that they will never feel like Facebook is somewhere they should go to find the attention and love they deserve.