It took me a few minutes to properly pose, but after a few attempts, I was finally pleased with the image I’d captured to share with my Instagram followers. But here’s the downside: all that time I took to capture the perfect #latte-gram, I was actually ignoring one of my closest friends. #fail
Sitting beside me was one of my best friends, whom I only get to see a few times a year. Yet snapping the perfect picture trumped her getting my full attention. Let’s be honest…that’s not okay. I’m guilty of doing this on a more regular basis than I’d like to admit. I have a feeling I’m not the only one.
Which do we value more?
Social media or socializing?
Spending time with your girlfriends or getting the perfect picture of you and your girlfriends?
Appearance or authenticity?
Likes or love?
The problem with this is that we are more concerned with our virtual self-image than with authentic community. What do I mean by “virtual self?” Here’s a definition:
Virtual Self: the one we strategically, carefully, and purposefully allow the world to see through the lens of a screen. This is the person we want the world to think we are via our social media platforms.
By using social media platforms, we invite people into a crafted and controlled world. One in which we can edit, delete, and tweet the image we want to convey. We can brighten and lighten, adjust and filter, rewrite and rework our little hearts out until the most visually stunning picture has been created. And then we get to share our creation…our “virtual self” with the world. The next part is how we get hooked on living for the virtual self. Our “virtual self” image is now judged by the world and can get “likes or hearts” that give us validation. No wonder people are addicted to their phones. We all want to know that we are valued and loved, so we look to our “virtual self” to tell us if we have value based on the number of likes on our recent image. As a result, “likes” become a drug to us as we crave more and more and more.
Therefore, a major shift has occurred in our culture as we spend more time striving for followers in the virtual world (where we get a quick fix of validation) and much less time cultivating friendships in the real world (where we will actually find authentic love.) There’s a word for this type of behavior and it is idolatry. As Marian discusses in her podcast series this month, Wrecking Ball, an idol is anything that is central to our lives that we think will provide for us the things that only God can truly provide—love, security, worth, significance and purpose.
Have we made idols out of our virtual selves without even knowing it? The very definition of an idol is a mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance. Our virtual selves may look good, but they are just images. Images only tell one small, edited, and touched up part of the story. Our idols promise to deliver what only God can. A like promises us validation, but that like can never deliver value or true love. Sure, we may feel important and noticed for a minute, but we are soon left needing another fix.
And this, my friends, is why we end up staring at our phones instead of our friends.
As we are more consumed with our virtual self, we neglect a much more important and essential human experience: real life relationships. We need to slow down and actually have coffee with another human being, We need to look eye-to-eye with one another and genuinely ask each other how we’re doing.
The allure of the virtual world is the ability to stay removed from awkwardness and insecure moments, but we NEED these moments in life to be real. Sure, meeting with people face to face may require a few awkward silences and jumbled thoughts, but at least we are connecting!
As we are all learning to connect by putting down our phones, we need to learn to listen when people talk and to ask good questions. All of our senses working as we engage on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels.
When I think about how my generation chooses the virtual world over the real, Psalm 106:20 comes to mind. “They exchanged the glory of God for an image of an ox that eats grass.” The stark contrast is profound. On one hand, you have the almighty, mysterious, uncontainable, unexplainable glory of God — and on the other hand, you have an image of an ox. The two could not be more different. Instead of choosing God, they chose a man-made image. They so clearly chose the fake instead of the real.
While I’m tempted to judge the Israelites for their choice, I recognize similarities with how our generation chooses the virtual self. When we choose the virtual world over authentic relationships, we too, settle for the fake instead of the real.
Jesus says that you will know a tree by its fruit. What kind of fruit are we producing if we are consumed with the virtual world? It is probably pretty fruit but lacking of substance. This fruit can’t feed anyone but your own ego. You’ll be left wanting more likes but real connection will always be just out of reach.
Then we have our friends. Remember, those real life wonderful people? What kind of fruit comes from cultivating friendships in the real world? Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another.” This fruit has real substance. This fruit is filling. The fruit of friendship is organic and gets better over time! Being known and seen and loved is a beautiful gift that God has given us.
What kind of legacy will we leave at the end of our life? Will we be remembered for the followers we had or the friends we were? I want to be remembered as a friend who loved well, a friend who wasn’t afraid to ask the hard questions, a friend who celebrated with you in life’s sweet moments. I want to be remembered as a friend who sat with you in your brokenness and pointed you to the beauty of Christ. I also want to be remembered as a friend who wasn’t afraid to show you my brokenness, my mess, my awkwardness, my shortcomings. I want to be remembered as a friend that gave you more than a one-dimensional pretty picture, more than meets my “virtual self”.
There is risk in being known. The real world is far scarier than the virtual ones we construct. We cannot edit or filter or delete in the real world. We cannot predict others responses. But in being real and facing our fears of being known we discover the beautiful irony – what we fear is actually what our hearts long for most. Real community. Real connection. Real love. So how about you shut your computer off and go call a friend to meet for coffee…pumpkin-spiced lattes anyone?
Blake Snyder, Outreach Coordinator