We can no longer fool ourselves into thinking that having more friends in our social media channels means that we are happier and more connected in real life.
How many friends and followers do you have on social media? Do you still get lonely?
Our social media feeds simply cannot take the edge off our loneliness or fill us with the life-giving friendship we need. But, like an empty refrigerator, we continue to return to our social media feeds hoping we will find a few morsels to satisfy our hunger. “Maybe if I just check one more time, what I need will be there,” we reason, only to be disappointed yet again.
Researchers warn of two dangerous pitfalls of social media usage. One is self-comparison. We all know the inherent danger of observing the sunshine-and-rainbow lives that people portray online and comparing them to our all-too-ordinary lives. Self-comparison is a dangerous vortex that worsens our loneliness and isolation. The second pitfall is called social snacking:
[Social snacking] involves activities such as browsing through other people’s profiles or reading other people’s comments without making any of your own. Social snacking may feel like social engagement, and while you’re doing it you might temporarily forget your own feelings of loneliness. But just as junk food makes you feel both bloated and empty afterward, social snacking only leaves you with much time wasted and more loneliness than before. (David Luden, Psychology Today)
How do we break the tendencies we have to self-comparison and social snacking? More than that, as believers, how do we balance our social media following and our real-life relationships in a way that honors God and satisfies our loneliness? There are three important shifts we must make in our lives.
UNDERSTAND HOW GOD MADE YOU
God made you for real-time, in-the-flesh friendships. God is a relational being at his core—Father, Son, and Spirit, co-equal, co-eternal, and in complete harmony—and He made you in His image. As an image-bearer, you will always be incomplete without, first, a living and active relationship with Him and, a close second, vital and edifying relationships with other image-bearers.
If relationships weren’t central to life, could Jesus have given us this summary of God’s Word and will? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. … Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31, NIV). No! God made you for relationships with Him and with His people.
Social media—bytes and bits transferred through the ether—can never be a substitute for the warm embrace, cheerful encouragement, heartfelt prayer, happy smile, pat on the back, or belly laughter of a friend across a table, on the other end of a sofa, or in the passenger seat.
USE SOCIAL MEDIA CORRECTLY
Once you know why and how God formed you, you should consider carefully how you’re using social media and what you’re expecting to get out of it.
Social media is a means, not the end. Used correctly, social media is a wonderful tool for cultivating real relationships. But, it will never satisfy you as long as more friends, followers, and likes is your goal or if your online presence is the source of your self-esteem. Use social media to facilitate real, positive, productive, enjoyable, edifying relationships.
Think of it this way, if your social media channels are succeeding in getting you into the same room as others, you’re using them correctly. But, if they’re keeping you at a distance from others, you should rethink how you’re using them.
A wise person once said, “Wherever you are, be there.” That’s good advice for our connected age.
Have you ever been at a restaurant with friends and family and spotted an entire table full of people who are completely engrossed in their own phones? (Have you ever been guilty?) Have you ever stopped to think how sad it is to squander quality time with people you love—people who are at an arm’s length—so you can monitor the miscellania posted online by relative strangers?
Because you understand that God made you for intimate, in-person relationships and that social media is a means to the end of getting people together, you should feel free to turn off your screen, look your friends in the eyes, and relate! Share dinner. Play a board game. Talk deeply. Dream and pray together. You’ll be amazed how much joy and meaning you will experience as long as you are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually present.
DON'T BE A SOCIAL SNACKER
Ironically, because of how we use them and what we expect from them, our social media feeds only feed loneliness and isolation. So, don’t be a social snacker. Get in the same room with people you know or that you want to get to know better. Share hugs, handshakes, and high fives all around. Pull up a chair. Smile and make eye contact. Then belly-up to the table and enjoy the feast. God designed you to have deep, sustaining relationships with real people, in real time.