So here we are, it’s Good Friday. It also happens to be my 46th birthday, but I feel more melancholic than celebratory. Today, of all days, is an opportunity for me (and all the other millions of Christians) to reflect upon the crucifixion of Christ, and what that means in our lives; and we have just marked the close of Lent; the 40 day period of reflection and penitence. leading up to this Holy Week, including Good Friday and Easter Sunday with its celebration of the Resurrection. (And THAT’S the time for the chocolate eggs, yiya!!)
Many of us will have observed some small sacrifice in the past 6 weeks to mark and make a little bit more real this solemn period. We can interpret this “Lenten vow” as a promise made to deny ourselves something that we might suspect holds too much power over us in our daily lives; something that would actually cost us something to give up. When I think about it, that’s pretty counter-cultural. Denial of self is not popular. So..a couple of years ago I gave up sugar for my Lenten vow; last year I put myself through a rigorous period of daily reading and prayer simply because I’m pretty bad at spiritual self discipline. This year I gave up two things; red meat and my reliance on social media. The red meat I haven’t missed at all..not much of a sacrifice, then! What about the social media then? Ah..not so easy.
Why did I think this was a good “sacrifice” to make anyway? Overall Facebook, and to a lesser degree, Twitter, have improved my life, not stolen from it. Social media affords me a lot of pleasure, engagement and opportunity for reflection, and even tears. I keep in contact with family and old friends (almost all of whom I only rarely see in real life), I get exposed to article and opinions that actually help me to work out what I really think about the world and the people in it. Not infrequently, I find out news through social media well before it appears in “The News”. I respond to personal messages on FB more quickly than on email and by phone.
Sure, most of us know there is no time-killer as effective as Facebook, and social media generally. (As if to underscore this point I have just sent 32 minutes Googling for the awesome cartoon I saw ages ago featuring the lone person on Facebook and the gargantuan gulf between that person and their hopes and dreams. I wish you could have seen it. Truly.) And then there is the bigotry and closed-mindedness even from people we love. And not to forget the insufferable smugness of those who claim moral and political high ground; the vapidity and frivolity of those seeking to shore themselves up by Facebook validation. Of course, it goes without saying that I myself don’t fit any of these categories. Not at all.
What a load of bollocks. Of course I do; I fit all of them. In fact my use of social media reflects back to me things about myself I would rather not acknowledge; moments I would rather keep secret. Those times when I have hovered over posts, waiting for likes, comments and shares. The times I have lovingly crafted seemingly casual put-downs of other people just to show my superiority. The times I have wrestled with someone I don’t know about something I know little about (and care less about) just to be RIGHT; or even worse; just to see my own post (thus hear the sound of my own voice). The moments I caught myself thinking in status updates.
None of these things are grave sins, and I am no different to other people I’m sure. But it’s instructive that people often refer to Facebook as ‘addictive’. Well, I’m not sure if it is the flow of information we develop addiction to. In fact I’m sure it’s not. The addiction might well be real, but it’s not to Facebook, or any other SM.
I realised I needed to make my SM use the subject of a Lenten vow because of one thing; I was putting myself at the centre of the world. Or perhaps to put it another way, I was becoming a kind of Narcissus, the beautiful young man of Greek myth who, catching sight of his own reflection in still waters, fell in love with his own image, believing it to be a nymph in the water watching him with love and desire. Every time he reached for the image it shimmered and broke apart,so he just sat and watched the image; enamoured. Ultimately he died; still rapt in the facsimile of himself and its false love.
By its nature social media gives us all the opportunity to present our ‘better selves’ to the world, and then to cultivate and groom that better self as if she actually existed.
This is not in itself a bad thing. Obviously any time we present ourselves to the world we edit what we show; when we walk out the door; on the bus, and in the group email at work. Self editing is necessary for good social intercourse. And for those of us who do want to blog or write or otherwise put our opinions and thoughts in the public sphere have to put ourselves at ease in putting our public self ‘out there’ or else not bother. We have to believe someone else is interested in what we have to say; and that what we have to say is worth saying. There is a fine line between having that necessary degree of confidence, and slipping into the kind of dangerous self-regard I was starting to see in myself. And of course, this shiny coin of attention is double sided. One side is the adulation we crave from others, the other is the hatred we might also attract.
The irony of writing a post bemoaning self-addiction by writing mainly about myself is not lost on me. Regardless, 6 weeks without seeking likes, and shares and comments have done me good. I hope I can return to social media with care. Perhaps the proof of that particular pudding will be in how often I find myself hovering on my stats page for this blog, seeking evidence of love and approval from the universe.
Mā te Atua koutou e manaaki i Te Aranga nei.
So dear Mamari, not only are you well-educated, socially conscious, politically astute but pious and self-deprecating. I would say that in offering a reflection on the aspects of social media ‘addiction’, using the secret thoughts that only you and your God can know, is in itself a pretty instructive reminder to any of us who chose to ‘hold forth’!
SM has lowered the barrier to holding forth. Social values, like the notion of denial, in service to a better version of oneself, are not encouraged in any obvious way in mainstream media. One role of faith-based communities is the emphasis on values that are generally pro-social.
What I appreciate so much about your reflection, is the fact that you bare your soul (using that word in a psycho-historical, and, an esoteric non-material sense). Even calling yourself out on tendencies that everyone has, but are even more critical, in a ‘laudable’ social position. A few leaders in some of our ‘laudable’ institutions (in both Church and State) have been all about ‘management’ of their online/public personas.
And unless I didn’t hear about any appointment that you may have had in the flavour of religion you practice, I think that your position in that faith-based community is that of a lay-person. So I think about an ancient set of villages, towns and cities where a new form of belief was being talked about in small groups.
Conversations and sets of actions that showed that it was more than just talk, behaviour that itself spoke of values that came to be called Christian. I see and hear you professing your faith, in a post on the virtue of not posting (for six weeks). And because you are not ministering, because you are not lecturing us, then the potency of the gesture is precisely it’s simplicity/subtlety.
This isn’t a vapid ‘like’. It may lead to a ‘status update’ that fans the fire that your Lent period dampened down. However, I don’t give you a compliment in order to flatter your sense of (virtuous) self: I make an observation. Too few people tell the truth about themselves. Confessing in SM is like professing in public educational settings. Complete with risks and barbs, misreadings and malicious mis-hearings.
Stepping up and speaking about the faith that calls you, and the teachings in it that inspire you to ‘right action’ _is_ that faith’s teaching.
Kia kaha ē hoa!
Tēnā koe, Geoff, what a great comment, thank you, and warmest of greetings to you, and the whānau! “Confessing in SM is like professing in public educational settings”..love it. It’s hard to be honestly honest, sometimes, I think. And as far as the Church is concerned…you are so right; we have been in a post-Christendom world for a long time now; we have to understand that. I thought this guy puts it quite well, as an American evangelical: http://davidfwatson.me/2016/03/01/trump-evangelicals-and-the-road-ahead/
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Well, that post that you gave the link to really encapsulates a massive amount of social analysis & ethical critique. I’m still reeling from its impact. Thank-you for directing me to that. It will be some time before the reverberations settle.
Much aroha & learning happening for our whānau en route. The journey _is_ the journey and the itinerary has had way more unexpected moments of ‘soul’ expansion, than either of us imagined. Glad that SM enables us to share some aspects of our respective journeys. 🙂
That was worth saying, and reading. As you conclude, blogging and posting requires enough self regard to lay out your wares. But the very activity makes one more susceptible to that necessary level sliding into self absorption.
SM followers who don’t have to live with you will not care whether you are slipping off the narrow track. We just appreciate the results of the urge for display
Thanks Stephen, appreciate your comment!
I good role for Social Media (SM) is for building a better world, not self-indulgence.
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Hi Kevin…sorry if you saw my previous comment, I assumed it was on my post the other day on karakia in schools. Ha! Now I realise what you meant, and I agree!