Friday, April 12, 2013

Social Media: Desperately Seeking Influence

My generation is the generation of social media, and it's kind of amazing to me how some people seem to live more of their lives through these websites than they do in reality: constantly posting every little thing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you name it, and then scrambling to check and see if any more people "liked" or commented on or retweeted their latest pictures and updates. And I see people acting on Facebook in ways they probably wouldn't act in real life: yes, sometimes tearing people down and being jerks (but that's a topic for another post), but also bragging about their lives like no other, constantly updating the world on everything they've accomplished just to elicit praise from others. There's nothing wrong with posting your exciting news on Facebook or Twitter, and I'm not saying you should never share these things with others online, but I think there's a pretty clear line between sharing and oversharing. And some people post obviously boastful items so often that everyone more or less gets tired of liking them and commenting on them--leaving those people, metaphorically speaking, walking around with their hands raised for the high five that never comes. And it makes me think that part of becoming mature is learning to let others honor you first instead of always trying to honor yourself.

But why, then, do we act this way in our carefully crafted online worlds? Why is it so easy to become addicted to the rush of posting every tidbit of our lives for the obvious purpose of receiving more accolades--accolades we'd feel pretty silly about asking for in real life?

And the problem runs deeper than just having others thinking your ego's a little too big. You can receive the recognition you want at first, but eventually it fades away. Of course, this is true for all of life, not just the personas we forge on the Internet, but it's especially obvious in the online context, where people can so easily become absorbed in things that don't really have any lasting significance and can't really offer them any lasting fulfillment. The high inevitably fades, and then we rush to find more recognition, or success, or power, like an addict desperately seeking another fix, and then we race to tell the world about it online. This validation seeking, this online posturing for position and influence, points to a heartbreaking epidemic of chronic emptiness in our culture, one that leaves people clutching vices of all kinds just to escape their hollow dissatisfaction with life. These vices aren't limited to our desperate quest to find approval in the virtual world--they can really be anything we grasp in an attempt to escape, even for a little while, from the emptiness that pours out of a life that seems to lack an overarching purpose.

But you're just trying to escape, and then you realize that you're a great escape artist, but yet you're never free. And the reason you strive so hard to craft a venerable virtual identity is because, just like everybody else, you crave influence. No one wants their life to mimic the drop of rain that falls into the sea and is gone. We want our lives to be like the pebble that, though small and inconsequential when you hold it in your hand, leaves ever-widening ripples when it contacts the surface of the water. We all want our lives to have that ripple effect, to have a wide sphere of influence, but it is so easy to be fooled by mirages of purpose that soon disappear.

So how do we respond to an addiction born of emptiness and the ubiquitous craving for influence? How can we stop trying to escape but yet discover that we are truly free? I think it starts by realizing that each one of us has a unique role to fill and a unique purpose that God specifically designed with you and me in mind, and with knowing that He will fulfill that purpose for us. It starts by understanding that the identity we have in Christ--as beloved, as valuable, as righteous, as significant, as worthy--is worth far more than any other identity we could create for ourselves. And it starts by acknowledging that we are not working alone to have influence--we have God working through us, empowering us and giving us the grace and strength to carry out the callings He has placed on our lives. Once we start realizing who we really are--worthy, loved, valuable--the crazed pursuit of recognition, honor, and validation can fade into the background as we start to see that who we really are can free us from who others think we are.

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