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Is digital affirmation taking the place of God?

“I am beautiful; I’m exceptional; and I’m powerful; all because love is inside me calling me to be a daughter of destiny.”

These lyrics from “Daughter of Destiny” on the latest Ginny Owens album sum up the views of many religions.

Is digital affirmation taking the place of God?

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“I am beautiful; I’m exceptional; and I’m powerful; all because love is inside me calling me to be a daughter of destiny.”

These lyrics from “Daughter of Destiny” on the latest Ginny Owens album sum up the views of many religions. For perhaps thousands of years people have been affirmed by words such as these. From Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Mormonism, we have been told we are unique creations of the living God. In fact, we are made in the image of God. Our lives have a purpose. And if we go wrong, God will forgive us, wipe the slate clean, and call us back to destiny.

But now in the 21st century, a new institution has emerged. We are able to design social media pages that show us at our best. We can upload manicured photos of us laughing, singing and dancing among all our hundreds of friends. Our many accomplishments can be listed in our timelines. Our lives are significant and we have a purpose because it’s written right there in the captions. And if we go wrong, there is always the delete button. It’s like the transgression never even happened. Facebook still wants us back.

Catalina Toma, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has studied the effect of Facebook on a user’s self-esteem. Her findings are published in a Media Psychology paper titled “Feeling Better but Doing Worse: Effects of Facebook Self-Presentation on Implicit Self-Esteem and Cognitive Task Performance.” A summary can be found on the website Science Daily, Facebook Profiles Raise User’s Self-Esteem and Affect Behavior.

“A Facebook profile is an ideal version of self,” the summary says, “full of photos and posts curated for the eyes of family, friends and acquaintances.” After people spent time viewing their own profiles, however, they performed worse in simple cognitive laboratory tests. “Performing well in a task can boost feelings of self-worth,” Toma says. “However, if you already feel good about yourself because you looked at your Facebook profile, there is no psychological need to increase your self-worth by doing well in a laboratory task.” In other words, we often get satisfaction by completing a task, but this satisfaction can be replaced simply by viewing our own Facebook profile. Toma cautioned that this does not necessarily translate into poor performance in other aspects of life. More testing is needed.

So how does this kind of affirmation compare with that which comes from a religious experience? If you’re feeling good about yourself because of your Facebook page, is there less of a need for God? And is this kind of affirmation healthy for us or society?

 

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  • Lace

    Interesting questions and insights raised in this post, Bruce. I cannot help but think that the way we view ourselves, either through social media or what others say about us, is an illusion. Or as the writer of Ecclesiastes says poignantly, “All is vanity.” Don’t you think it’s a universal struggle, perhaps even a temptation, to look good? Hence the one-dimensional side people choose to reveal on Facebook. Hence the anonymity of confessional, honest sites like postsecret.com.

  • Bruce Meyer

    Good points Lace! I wonder if we start believing the one-dimensional illusions we choose to tell on Facebook rather than the real messed-up me?

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