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We can bring relevance, balance to social media

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By Andy Pope

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive . . . not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people!”  — 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (italics mine).

Not that I’m about these being the “last days.”  I’m not particularly attracted to end times theology or eschatology.  Still, I can’t escape thinking that, as our society becomes increasingly entertainment-driven, and decreasingly committed to religious practice, we might be headed in that direction.

I also don’t doubt that the human dynamic of “loving pleasure rather than God” has been around for a long time.  After all, God is kind of intangible—even for those of us who believe.  To seek God at any juncture, rather than personal gratification, is not easy.  This is especially true in today’s society, where there are so many outlets for entertainment and escape.

Addicted to Social Media

Not the least of such outlets is the modern-day phenomenon of social media.  I’ve noticed that people who have never indulged the classic addictions of alcohol, substance abuse, and gambling often seem addicted to Facebook.  At times such people will become defensive when someone suggests they might be “addicted.” This could be a symptom of denial, much the way that alcoholics often deny they have a drinking problem.  Also, many people drink or use drugs while engaging in social media. This enhances the pleasure factor—often with embarrassing results. 

While I myself have never gambled, I find myself wondering if my own indulgence of Facebook or Twitter is similar to that of a gambler.   Is the elation I feel when I receive a larger-than-usual number of likes and shares like that of a gambler at a slot machine?  I may not be gambling for money, but I might be gambling for popularity. 

Others See It Too

How can it be that people who have never been addicted to anything else get so hooked on social media?   In a story dated Nov. 10, 2017 on the experimental news site Slate, Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, has this to say:

“We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever, and that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments. It’s a social validation feedback loop.  We’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”  

Granted, Parker only worked for Facebook during the early years.  But if the first Facebook president openly admits to this exploitation of the addictive nature, can you imagine how much more addictive Facebook has become today? 

In an article dated Oct. 6, 2017, Paul Lewis of The Guardian tells the story of Justin Rosenstein, the Facebook engineer who created the “like button.”

“Rosenstein purchased a new iPhone and instructed his assistant to set up a parental-control feature to prevent him from downloading any apps,” writes Lewis.  “He was particularly aware of the allure of Facebook ‘likes’, which he describes as ‘bright dings of pseudo-pleasure’ that can be as hollow as they are seductive.”

If even Facebook engineers and executives wish to avoid the very pleasure-seeking phenomena that they themselves created, doesn’t that tell us something?

Social Media Can Be Useful

While social media can certainly be useful in constructive ways, it is often only a form of recreation.  There’s nothing wrong with recreation, when kept in balance.  But when we spend hour after hour on Facebook, seemingly unable to get off the site, we might want to consider whether we are indulging a love of pleasure at the expense of doing good things for ourselves and others. 

According to Jesus, the whole of the law is to “love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  One need only follow a political Facebook thread, and it won’t be long before the Internet shouting match is in full display.  People on both sides resort to pointless name-calling and bitter demeaning of those with whom they disagree.  Sometimes the most virulent, hate-filled statements are the ones that get the most shares and likes.  It makes me wonder if that is the motive for the hateful blasts — to experience the immediate pleasure of doing so, in hopes of gaining popularity or approval. 

Of course, not everyone on either side of that shout has regard for the relevance of time-honored wisdom.  But we who are people of faith and values certainly must.  My hope is that those of us who do revere religious wisdom bring this reverence to life on social media.  Maybe then we can balance out the folly, and show the world of social media that we are lovers of what is good, rather than lovers of pleasure. 

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About Andy Pope

Andy Pope is a freelance writer currently residing in Moscow, Idaho, where he is a member of Moscow First Presbyterian Church. His work on social justice has appeared in Classism Exposed in Boston, Berkeleyside in Berkeley, California, and also in the Bay Area newspaper Street Spirit, where his regular column, Homeless No More, encourages those making the transition from homelessness to housing. An accomplished pianist and lifelong musical theatre person, Andy is also the author of Eden in Babylon, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.

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