Field Notes on Social Media
We have just passed high school graduation season, and several young friends of mine have now doffed cap and gown and processed to “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Graduation parties have also taken place. While attending a celebration for a former student, Oliver and I discussed Snapchat. Very casually, this eighteen-year-old told me, “Yea, I don’t even really check Snapchat anymore.” I wondered why, so he enlightened me.
“It was taking up too much of my time,” he said, “and, I don’t really need it.” Oliver explained that just about everything you could do using any social media platform could be accomplished with voice and text messaging. Social media services like Instagram and Snapchat also result in numerous loose ties, Oliver said, offering exposure to the lives of people you know but do not have close relationships with. “Too much drama out there,” he told me. As for Twitter, Oliver said, “I have never seen anything positive on Twitter. It is all negative.”
This brought to mind an article by Corey Alexander. Mr. Alexander, who is seventeen, deleted all social media apps from his phone. What happened? He found that his life got better.
Alexander records seven ways his life improved:
I regularly feel like I did when I was a child — a feeling of overwhelming creativity and not caring what people think.
I have an abundance of free time on my hands.
I’ve stopped feeling inferior to others.
I’m happy, extremely motivated, and in the best shape I have ever been in.
Sounds cliché, but you figure out who your “real friends” are.
I have started appreciating the smaller things.
More in touch with the real world.
Alexander adds, “Deleting social media has been the best decision I have ever made. It’s made me closer to my family, more disciplined towards my studies, eat healthier, work out more and has given me plenty of free time to read as many books as I’d like. Life is great.”
That is a rather remarkable testimony.
Now, these stories are anecdotal. For a deeper dive into overall social media usage (including age demographics), consult the Pew Research Center. Younger generations are still highly engaged with social media.
But my conversation with Oliver confirmed an observation I have made: more and more of my younger friends seem increasingly disinterested in social media, even if they have accounts. They don’t create as much content as they did one or two years ago. They don’t check posts as often. They see how people use social media to hurt others, and they disapprove. They prefer texting and close, personal relationships.
Proverbs 4:7 says, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight.” My sense is that there is a longing for wisdom on social media among those in generation Z. There is a sense that these tools give the appearance of connection, but lack the ability to create avenues whereby we might know others and become fully known.
These feelings of loneliness and social isolation cannot be overcome by technology. But the church has the gifts of hospitality and fellowship to offer, as well as wisdom concerning how to be disciplined in breaking free from our attachments to our devices.
It is our task to name these problems and to give guidance in living a wise life that gives honor to God and evidences love for our neighbor.