I woke-up today and as part of my morning routine proceeded to check the news and have a brief scroll through Facebook. I was not prepared for what I was going to see pop-up in my typically mundane and convoluted news-feed. There was a Selfeo (the video equivalent of a selfie) that a teenage girl had frantically posted in the early hours of the morning. For the purposes of this blog post, lets give her a name… say, “Anne”.
Anne pushed play on her phone to record what was to become a plea for forgiveness; one last chance to tell her friends that she loved them. You see… Anne had made the decision to overdose on pills that night. This strikingly beautiful and youthful girl had decided that there was no other way-out than to attempt suicide. Anne was huddled in the corner of a bathroom and struggling to balance her phone and record the video that was going to be posted on her timeline. – I do not want to try and assume that I know what caused her grief because that would be outrageously arrogant and presumptuous on my part. However, in her video she said that “she just wanted attention”, that “there was nothing else she could do” and that she had already taken the pills and she “couldn’t go back”. She said all of this amidst her tears, her shouts and her expression of helplessness as she continued to fight the urge to pass-out. Anne revealed with honesty her deepest remorse for her actions and her love for her friends. As you can imagine, this video was deeply disturbing and heart-wrenching for me, and I will never know the pain that it caused Anne’s close family and friends who were not present with her at the time.
What struck me about Anne’s situation was the medium she used to convey her last intentions: Social Media. Anne revealed her deepest struggles through a video posted for all her friends to see. She needed to talk to someone, to speak her mind, to share her pain with someone who would care. This video immediately became viral across her network. A video where a beautiful, love-starved, and helpless young girl would shout one last time in hopes of receiving the love she undoubtedly had been searching for. Anne’s video unmasked the harsh reality that social media is often used to satisfy what it cannot satisfy; relationship. Many of us today have never felt so connected, yet at the same time have never felt so lonely.
So how the heck did this ironic loneliness develop? Short answer: I don’t really know. But I do know some of the different ways we helplessly resort to social media to bandage our wounds. We allow social media to take the place of the friend who is willing to go on walks for hours and waste time with us. We use social media to portray the person we wish we could be. Don’t misunderstand me, social media can be really great, but when we use it against its design we risk trivializing ourselves and our relationships to the point where only grief darkens our doorstep.
Social media & the Internet: a simple tool for some, but a relational bandaid for many of us. If we feel like being distracted we have plenty of videos to watch. If we want “intimacy” then we have more porn than we can view in a lifetime. If we want to feel better about ourselves we can take a selfie and watch the likes and comments start flooding our phones. If we want honesty, we can message a friend with an involved question that we wouldn’t dare say to their face. All these little bandaids make it possible for a father and son to grab dinner together without talking more than their “text-thumbs” will allow. Or for a popular high school kid to spend the majority of a Saturday afternoon sprawled out on a couch, phone in hand, waiting for life to get more ‘“interesting”. Social media allows us to have our most hurtful conversations through a led screen, and our most fake, meaningless conversations face-to-face. Without trying to paint a bleak and apocalyptic picture about the situation in the modern world, I think it is fair to say that we are facing a crisis of relationship.
Our desire for community, fellowship and intimacy fights to show itself in a world where our communication style caters to a disordered self-expression and affirmation system, full of pings, dings, likes, reposts and followers. Our desire for relationship is good! It is a gift! But when we try to satisfy this desire only at the surface-level, we risk losing what we first sought to achieve; the very same love that Anne was looking for.
If you are not a believer and are reading this post, please, humour me a little more as I try to share what I know to be the Truth. We were made to be in relationship with others but first and foremost with God. I truly believe that when we seek the face of Christ through prayer and a humble heart, we not only find Him waiting for us there, but we begin to find Him in our family, our friends, even our enemies. This realignment of the desire for relationship, when we first give this desire to Christ, also puts all of our communication tools, gadgets and apps in proper perspective and context. When we look for Christ, our desire for relationship will be met and we will encounter a joy that is unmatched.
Remember that Bible passage about Peter walking on water towards Jesus? In a heroic act of faith Peter leaves the boat and walks towards Christ. But as the waves begin to swell and Peter concentrates on his surroundings he loses faith and begins to sink. All of us are the same way! Without looking intently at our Lord each and every day, we begin to direct attention towards futile things. In the context of social media, our posts, selfies, and conversations turn into a personal campaign that we hope others will approve of. But it is only God who can give us the approval that we are looking for. This approval goes much deeper than someone “liking” our Facebook post (but sometimes this isn’t our reality). Our desire to be approved is similar to Anne’s tear-stained plea for attention. We all have the need to be noticed and loved, we just seldom look for it in the right place!
My hope is that all of us can be witnesses of authentic relationship in a love-starved world. There is something beautiful about a person who is OK with wasting time with a friend beyond social media!
If you will allow me to be corny for a couple lines:
Jesus wants your selfie more than your friends do! He wants you… and all the struggles that come along with you.
Thanks for hearing my rant, even with the irony that I am posting this on social media. Please pray for Anne who is alive but recovering in the hospital.