Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter encourage the idea that we live in a world in which people are getting to know each other better every day. But are we?
Since I make my living as a freelance writer and social media consultant, allow me to be the first to say, “Are you kidding?” In spite of my opinion, there are a host of people who sincerely believe social media is making them, well, more social.
To add fuel to the fire of that viewpoint, we now have a recent study from Harvard University that seemingly supports it. According to researchers at the University, “the reward given by a person’s brain when a Facebook posting of theirs is viewed, liked, and commented on has proven to be comparable in pleasure to the response from food and sex.” The reason given for this response to social media is what the researchers call a drive for self-disclosure. Or, as the study put it:
“Just as monkeys are willing to forgo juicy rewards to view dominant group-mates and college students are willing to give up money to view attractive members of the opposite sex, our participants were willing to forgo money to think and talk about themselves.”
So does this Harvard Study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences make its case that our basic drive is toward self-disclosure? Only if we can set the rules as to what is disclosed and what is not; which is why if you think you are seeing much of the real person from Facebook postings or Tweets, you’re deluding yourself. Social media allows me to set all the rules of what is disclosed: how often I post, who I allowed on my friends list, what I allow them to see, whether I am really even who I say I am. In the end, virtual disclosure is a shadow of the real thing.
The Ghost in the Machine
Ultimately, we were created to live in total transparency with God and each other. But Genesis 2-3 reveals that sin became the “Ghost in the Machine” that makes it ultimately impossible to be completely transparent with anyone including, at times, ourselves. When Adam and Eve sinned, what should have been the most natural thing for a man and his wife became the focal point of what had gone wrong in their hearts.
The Drive to Conceal
Though created for relationship, the first couple hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Gen 3:8). Contrary to those who believe mankind is evolving away from its basic impulse to live in concealment, freedom from this impulse to hide one’s inner self will only happen when sin is eradicated (1 Corinthians 13:12).
The irony of this drive to conceal is that it rarely shows itself in isolation. In fact, more often than not, anonymity is much easier to find in a crowd.Some hide behind cliques, family, social and economic status, and even religion. Others hide behind their accomplishments, deluding themselves into believing their self-effort has overcome their inner nature.
Fear of Interaction
The first thing Adam and Eve did after their feeble attempt to conceal their true nature was to hide in fear (Genesis 3:9-10). Our problem is that sin leads us to distrust God, others, and even ourselves. The one sure way to protect ourselves is by limiting interaction with others. “Not so in our social media age”, you might say, “people are more connected than ever.” In his groundbreaking book, Future Minds, Richard Watson points to some disturbing trends that show our culture is actually becoming more isolationists rather than truly connected.
- In our multitasking world we do more than one thing at once, but we rarely do more than one thing at once well.
- Bite-size information leads to thinking in the lowest common denominator. Such thinking tends to be devoid of context or real personal interaction.
- We live faster than we think.
- We are finding it more difficult to focus on one thing, one idea, or one person.
Watson believes there is about to be a backlash against pseudo-relationships. At the core of our being we might fear interaction but we also yearn for it. And true, meaningful interaction is seldom a group activity.
When we quit looking to pop-culture to fill the empty places of our mind and pop-psychology to fill the empty places of our heart, we can then see ourselves and others as we all really are. There are no magic fixes for this drive to conceal. Instead, there has to be a certain looking to Christ for the power to overcome, and sometimes, simply to faithfully endure the tensions that will always exist between us until Christ returns.