Social Media (e.g. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook) may very well be the greatest technological and cultural phenomenon America has ever developed in terms of its massive use and influence, and yet ironically though unsurprisingly in my view, is struggling to keep the promises it made within the last decade or so, to connect and engage people electronically in community.
A new study finds that young people in particular, are reporting loneliness in increasing numbers and at a rate outpacing that of their elderly counterparts according to news reports of the study’s findings.
Teens whose face time with friends is mostly on their phones are the loneliest of all, but even those who mix real-world socializing with social media still are increasingly isolated, according to one report.
The loneliness report isn’t just an age thing; it’s generational, said the author of the study, which showed that the percent of high school seniors who said they often felt lonely increased from 26 percent to 39 percent over the past five years, as per data collected from national surveys of 8.2 million U.S. adolescents between 1976 and 2017.
The study comes as the topic of loneliness gains considerable interest in the health care field because of its link to mental and physical health, as well as life expectancy and its links to suicide.
Our own South Florida community has just been shocked by the news this past week that two survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting just took their own lives perhaps suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which may have translated into guilt for having survived the mass shooting in Coral Springs just over a year ago.
Did social media play a role there? Although we may never know what drove those young adults to suicide, the possible absence of meaningful, face to face counsel and comfort assuredly didn’t help.
In fact, the parents of one of the suicide victims, said she struggled with “survivor’s guilt.” Shortly after her graduation, she shared a post about suicide prevention on her Facebook page with a hashtag, “asking for help is not a weakness.”
Not to wax overly nostalgic, when I wanted to socialize with my peers as a teen and young man nearly a generation ago, I had the advantage of having to call a friend, to actually use the phone for what it was literally and originally designed for, to hear a voice -emotions and all (sans emojis) or visit with them personally or in groups to play and socialize; what have you.
No one then was looking to share or bear burdens and opinions of any length over a pay phone. One New York teenager was “alone in her suffering” when she died by suicide three years ago. Her father said there was no “one cause” that led his daughter to take her life though he believes social media played a role.
“With social media, there’s an appearance of having all this closeness, but we have a lot of time alone,” he said.
Although Christian disciples are called to spend time alone with God in mediating over his word and prayer, a discipline commonly known as ‘daily devotions’, they are to understand that they are social, image-bearing beings specially created by God for relationship and fellowship, mirroring in a small and human way, the loving relationship of the triune Godhead.
In other words, man was made to relate with other people one on one and in community- primarily, which makes local church fellowship such a vital and necessary part of the human experience as well as maturity in the Christian faith (Heb. 10:24-25).
It is safe to say that online or internet church is not God’s ideal for making, maturing or multiplying disciples, as the apostle Paul conveyed in his New Testament letters to his disciples and churches…..
The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9, ESV)
Social media can never and should not be used as a tool or vehicle to replace interpersonal relationship in the flesh.
Seemingly, boredom, fear and isolation are not ameliorated but rather exacerbated by social media and excessive electronic consumption (i.e. video games, television). Another researcher says teens’ increasing isolation is not caused by more time spent on work or homework – because the research shows they now spend less time on paid work and about the same amount of time or less on homework and extracurricular activities as they did in the 1980s and 1990s.
A just released annual global well-being survey, Well and Beyond, reports that U.S. millennials – members of Generation Y who are 25 to 34 yrs.-old, appear to favor their smartphone and gaming more than socializing with friends. Spending more time on digital devices and gaming leads people to isolate more by avoiding in-person interaction, the researchers found.
Relationship or Consequences
Technology has made it possible to create new ways for us to sin or do damage to our souls.
For instance, we now have the seemingly innocuous auto-playing video. The feature has long been a common pop-up annoyance on social media. But more recently it’s become weaponized and used to inflict trauma. Many people learned this the hard way after the terrorist attack which claimed at least 50 lives in New Zealand, when the gunman “live-streamed” the killings to his Facebook account.
According to Facebook, the video of the attack was first reported to moderators 29 minutes after the stream began, and 12 minutes after the live feed ended. Initially, fewer than 200 people watched the footage during the live broadcast, and it was viewed ‘only’ about 4,000 times in total before being taken down. But a spokesperson for that platform said that within 24 hours of the attack the company had removed 300,000 copies of the video and blocked 1.2 million copies from being uploaded.
What kind of damage or influence to an already troubled soul can a video of such carnage- replayed repeatedly, do? Interestingly and tragically enough, watching such images—whether by choice or by accident—may be exposing people to images that could be causing in some, media-based secondary PTSD trauma.
“When you watch a violent video of mass shootings and other violence, you increase your chances of developing vicarious traumatization,” a psychologist said.
Christian Response to Social Media
Volumes are being published on the social media phenomenon analyzed from a Christian worldview. Here are a few of my pastoral suggestions that may help guard believers from overindulging on social media and electronic gadgetry beginning with some negatives:
– For those of us who are tempted to turn to various sorts of sin by excessive smart-phone and social media use, turn it off!
– For those of us unwilling or sadly, unable to make the above commitment – adjust the settings on those platforms to avoid auto-playing videos and sensitive material from being injected into your feed. Furthermore, silence or altogether turn-off your platform notifications. Try it for a few hours. Your heart and spiritual life may be glad you did!
– For those of us (myself included) who are prone to be news and political ‘junkies’ in today’s never-ending news cycle, reduce your exposure to media-based trauma by scheduling those times (like email use- remember email?) of use on a daily basis.
On the positive side, I have found Facebook (yes, my middle-age is readily apparent) to be an effective means of not only reuniting but reconnecting with old and long-distance friends, and by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and the gospel of God to friends via scripture references, meaningful dialog and yes, to an extent, peaceful and engaging debate over kingdom and gospel issues with those who are meek, mild and willing.
I’ve even gone as far as to go where I never thought I as a local church pastor could go, which is hosting a live, monthly Facebook chat on our church’s page, for the curious, unredeemed and unchurched among us looking for something meaningful and something more.
My goal with social media I suppose, like everything else in life is, ‘whether I eat or drink, or whatever I do, including social media, do all to the glory of God.’
To join in and engage with my monthly Facebook Live chat, W.O.W. (Wisdom on Wednesdays) , go to our church’s Facebook Page, Christ Community Church of Pembroke Pines. Our next chat will be Wednesday, May 27 @ 8 PM , featuring the topic, “Why Are So Many Pro-Life Christians, So Pro-Life?”