When you’ve lived on earth long enough, you observe certain patterns. Day follows night. Milk follows tea. Christians complain about social media.

As a Christian, I will not disappoint. But before I go in on the ills of social media, I want to acknowledge its nuances. I am genuinely grateful to God that it exists.

Social media isnt bad

As one who is blessed and destined to spend my life in dark brown skin, I am thankful that social media has exposed heinous abuses of power against people who look like me. I wouldn’t know the names of George Nkencho and George Floyd if not for social media. I wouldn’t have been able to see the harrowing images of police suppressing the 2020 #SoroSoke protests against police brutality in Nigeria. I wouldn’t know how best to care for my natural hair without the tutorials and testimonials that are circulated online in abundance from black women celebrating and embracing their God-given manes.

And during the pandemic, many of us have appreciated how the church has used social media to invite people, share words of encouragement, and coordinate to respond to needs in their communities. Social media *isn’t* all bad. It has many redeeming qualities. That said, I do believe its effects are weighted towards the negative, and if we seek to be formed into the image of Jesus, this is something we can’t ignore.

Social media tends towards performance

Tailoring your image to suit the perception of others isn’t unique to social media; anyone who revelled in the comfort of pairing smart shirts with joggers in lockdown knows that well. Social media can’t be blamed for starting this tendency. But it certainly entrenches it.

Alongside judging our holidays on how much we managed to explore and how much time we had to interact with loved ones, we’re also conditioned to consider how many Instagrammable’ photos we took, which angles would land most favourably with our followers, and which captions would spawn likes and retweets (#SunsetByTheSea).

Social media can't be blamed for the tendency to tailor our image for the perception of others – but it certainly entrenches it.

It’s not just that this gives us a new metric by which to judge our holidays. This dynamic introduces a new metric into every part of our lives, so that there can be a performative dimension to the most mundane of tasks. Nothing is beyond the glare of a watching world. Performance isn’t bad. But it’s not real life.

When does living our lives as a show preclude us from actually living it?

Social media tends towards dehumanisation

I have a sharp mouth and I enjoy using it; fighting’ for my case with words is fun. It won’t surprise you, then, that a key focus of my discipleship, my formation into Damilola à la Jesus, is on reforming how I use my words. Part of how the Spirit does this is by drawing my attention to the impact of my words on others, sensitising me to changes in their words, tones of voice, facial expressions and demeanour during and after interacting with me.

As anger and irritation take hold of me and distort my view of the other, the Spirit’s counter to that is essentially a rehumanisation exercise, giving me God’s eyes for whoever is before me, and taming my tongue accordingly.

Social media, on the other hand, thrives on inflaming my anger and inducing me into an interaction with the offending party in a way that depends on obscuring their identity as an image-bearer. It’s not only that we can’t see each other for who we are, but that we need to not see each other for who we really are in order to unleash our torrent of rage upon each other in a way that makes for easy sharing online.

And so, I’m led to ask: who am I not truly seeing, because I only see them online?

Photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu on Unsplash
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Social media tends towards unreality

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen pictures of an event I attended in person and been taken aback by the way they are angled, managing to suggest a higher number of attendees were present. I’ve also often been either sorely disillusioned or pleasantly surprised by the manner of well-known internet personalities’ when I’ve met them in real life.

All of which points to the need to take social media with a pinch of salt. Because a lot of the time, it is a market of unreality that trades in manipulating your perception. In a sense, every foray into social media is a gateway into a less-than-benevolent Narnia, a portal into another world which mimics that which is true while keeping you from it.

Not only does social media keep me from reality, it effectively hinders my ability to inhabit it. I am very grateful that Jesus is the hope of the world, because my attention span certainly isn’t. Knowing that titillation awaits me somewhere on the internet makes it harder for me to make my way through the mundaneness of reality.

FOMO (the fear of missing out) blights my ability to stay present in the moment. But in the creative process that is life with God, it’s often through faithfully traversing the mundane and staying present to the Spirit that we arrive at the masterpiece God is making us into. This journey leads us to do the good things He planned for us long ago (Ephesians 2:10).

It’s often through faithfully traversing the mundane and staying present to the Spirit that we arrive at the masterpiece God is making us into.

The opportunity cost of time online

Hours have been spent detailing the underbelly of buzz social media gives us, the comedown after its dopamine-fuelled hits. Even without a personal social media account, I am no stranger to the swells of excitement from watching funny video after funny video, to the depths of emptiness felt after a four-hour binge.

Our time, our attention spans, and our ability to stay present in the moment and see the image of God in others are all indispensable to the life we are called to live and the good things we are called to commit to.

If my ultimate accountability to God on the last day involves any kind of assessment of the opportunity cost of my social media use, I need to fortify myself against its advances and not have God’s desires and purposes in and through me to be swallowed by the vortex of liking, sharing and scrollling.

Perhaps the same is true of you.

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