Note – if you’ve been following along, you know my New Year’s Resolution was to make a post per week. This is still my goal, but due to not having Internet in my new house yet, this post was delayed a few days.
A couple of weeks ago, I was reading an article about how Facebook is becoming less popular among teenagers. I started to read it because I’m a youth pastor and I needed to see what was cool and apparently that’s important for me to know, but there were a few things that stood out to be, particularly one sentence:
At some point, adding these details, like hundreds of photos from a recent vacation and status updates about your new job amounted to bragging — force-feeding Facebook friends information they didn’t ask for. What was once cool was now uncool. Worse yet, it started to feel like work. Maybe the burden of constantly constructing immaculate digital profiles of ourselves is tiring.
We live in an age where we are more exposed than ever. I mean, I should be proof. I write a blog, post on Twitter, have Facebook, and read a few different message boards. I also have an Instagram and a Playstation Network ID. If I really looked hard, I could probably find a few more things that I have or do that put me out there somehow. I’m all over the place. My guess is, if you’re reading this, you found it via my Facebook or Twitter. So we’re all exposed.
But if you pay attention to my Facebook or my Twitter, and you don’t know me outside of those places, do you really know me? I am a bit of a control freak about what pictures get put out there of me. My job kind of requires it. Take, for example, a picture of me at an Ole Miss football game. Say I’m sitting with some friends in the Grove, drinking a Coke out of a red Solo cup. Somebody takes a picture of us. I’m going to make sure that picture doesn’t make it to Facebook. Why? Just because I can’t afford for there to be any misconception. It gets really easy for that to go from “I was drinking Coke out of a red Solo cup in the Grove” to “I was drinking out of a red Solo cup in the Grove” to “I was drunk in the Grove” to “MAN THIS WEEKEND IN OXFORD WAS SO FUN I GOT TRASHED” to “Hey, this is your pastor and we need to talk about what you’re doing away from Brookhaven.” Really easy. And in this made up scenario, all I was doing was drinking a Coke.
So, up front, I’m admitting that there’s a screening process. I am trying to actively manage what you get from me on a service that supposedly gives us unfettered access to people’s personal lives. And that makes sense. Even if I wasn’t a youth pastor, I wouldn’t want to send out the misconception that I was drunk in the Grove, because odds are, I wasn’t.
But what about stuff that doesn’t make sense? What about pictures of me doing something I really enjoy doing, but not wanting the pictures to be out there because I look fat? Or not “liking” a band because they may not be the most popular band out there? I have, on several occasions, witheld posting something that I read that I found meaningful because I was scared that the author wasn’t “Reformed” enough for the people I go to seminary with. Or…whatever. There can be a million different reasons.
The fact is, I’m fully aware that Facebook (or Twitter) is the most exposure some people have to me. So I’m going to make sure there aren’t any “embarrassing” pictures, “bad” theology, whatever. But more than that, I’m not ever, EVER, going to reveal my true struggles on there. I may jokingly throw out something like “man, I just ate a whole large pizza, no wonder I’m fat” or “wow, I just listened to Mmmbop four times in a row” or whatever, but I’m not about to tell you my real thoughts or struggles.
And that’s why Facebook feels like work, and why it isn’t that “cool” anymore. Yeah, we’ll still use it, probably for a long time. It has forever changed the way we network and keep in touch with people. But faking it is hard. I think deep down, everybody wants to be truly known and still loved anyway. And I think part of the appeal of Facebook is that it appears to give us that option. But then we get to it and realize it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
That’s one of my biggest concerns with the digital age. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…whatever…they give us the illusion of community without actually giving it to us. And so we wind up feeling more exposed and more isolated than ever, which is not a good thing.
As I have written this blog, I have never wanted to just insert the stereotypical “and this is where the Gospel comes into play” part at the end of a post where it doesn’t fit. And since most of my posts have been on the less-than-serious side, there really haven’t been many chances to do that. But this is where the Gospel comes into play. Only in the story of God seeing our sin, loving us despite it, then coming to earth in human form to live among us and then die for us can that desire ever be fulfilled. When I deal with kids, or elders, or my family members, or even my fiancee, there is always a nagging feeling that I can’t ever be truly real because I’m scared that will be the thing that pushes them over the edge.
But Jesus does just the opposite. Jesus says “I know your faults and your struggles and your inconsistencies and your insecurities and your sin better than you ever could. I felt them in ways you never will. And I love you anyway.”
So I guess the point here is this – you can’t fake real community. We try really hard sometimes, but we can’t. We try to put just enough of ourselves out there so that people “know” us, but they really don’t know us. So we’re left longing for more. But as we move past Facebook on to whatever the next social media craze is going to be, I hope we can keep in mind that calculated, digital interaction with people can never replace real Christ-centered community.