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The anti-social network

The anti-social network

The anti-social network

17 October 2018

Photo: Robin Worrell

By Erin Metcalf

It was the end of my grade 10 year when I first heard the words “World Wide Web”.

As my friends and I sat at the back of a school bus, a tech-savvy acquaintance explained that this web would ultimately eliminate the need for encyclopedias, libraries and the Dewey Decimal System. I rolled my eyes. 

Fast forward a couple of decades and I face the impossible task of attempting to keep up with all the various social media platforms and “apps” designed to keep my life in order. Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. Email, iMessage and texting.

Then there’s Pinterest, Babbel, games, Amazon, mobile banking, the Bible. And all of this on my phone, a device I carry in my hand 92 per cent of my waking hours.

As many can relate, I can be contacted instantly, via numerous platforms and apps, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

All of it designed to make me feel available, in touch, connected.  The trouble is I don’t feel connected. Not really. Mostly I feel insecure, inadequate and insufficient.

I end up comparing myself to other people’s newsfeeds or photos, often resulting in a crash diet, $200 Amazon book order or a total revamp of the kids’ daily chores, because clearly our kids are lazy, entitled brats. 

Every once in a while I take a break from social media and, let me tell you, it is glorious. I find after 24 hours “offline” I feel lighter emotionally. I feel more present when I’m home with my husband and the kids.

The truth is, I am much happier and I can actually think more clearly and effectively when I’m not hyper-connected to a thousand other friends, or receiving news (or other people’s opinions on the news) as fast as my Twitter feed will update.

This is not an earth-shattering revelation, and I’m certainly under no illusions that my experiences are unique. So why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we continually gravitate to social media threads? Why do we ceaselessly indulge in other people’s lives, neatly compartmentalised in posed, filtered photos, and then beat ourselves up because we believe we don’t measure up? 

There are enough stats to prove that depression is on the rise, and while there isn’t enough evidence to state with any certainty that social media is to blame, it’s not hard to see why it could be a contributing factor.

We have been created by a communal God to live in community with one another. And yet, increasingly we are becoming solitary beings connected only through technology. Gone are the days when we willingly carved out time to travel and sit on the couch of a trusted friend, hugging mugs of warm coffee.

From that space on the couch we could see life in all its messy splendour, the perfect and imperfect working together. It seems we’ve traded those experiences for the convenience of an online maze of obscurity, accepting that the whole story can be told in 120 characters, or settling for a photo captioned with an upbeat snippet describing the moment: #welookhappy #blessed.

We compare and evaluate, and sometimes we have no idea of the damage we are inflicting on ourselves.  It’s not all bad, of course. Social media has the power to unite people across the world in an instant, motivating change and action.

Posts on Instagram and Facebook can be uplifting and encouraging. But we need to be cautious. We need to make sure that we are not robbing ourselves of joy and peace by absorbing half-truths and misconceptions.

Theodore Roosevelt said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” We know a picture only captures a moment in time. It isn’t the whole story. 

Scripture says, “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7 NLT).

The only real truth is a life built on and rooted in Christ – everything else is meaningless. I find true joy when my life reflects the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

When I find myself discouraged or lacking joy and gratefulness, it always helps to take a step back from social media and take inventory of the things that really matter.

* This article first appeared at salvationist.ca

Lieut Erin Metcalf is Corps Officer at Niagara Orchard Community Church in Niagara Falls, Canada.

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