In the age of Facebook, Instagram, etc., we are more digitally connected than we have ever been, and yet we are also more disconnected and lonely than we have ever been. So why do we keep participating in something that is not good for us? David goes into three big reasons why we are drawn in.
Most of us have experienced the feeling of isolation at seeing all the happy, shiny faces of people living supposedly perfect lives on social media. For example, David was a scrawny, introverted theater nerd in high school. He and his friend both liked the same girl. But his friend got up the nerve to ask her out first, and took her on a date to a hockey game. That night David stayed home and felt sad, and watched the hockey game (scanning the audience for his friend). But what would that night have felt like today? He would not have been watching the game on tv, he would have been witnessing the whole thing in almost real time on social media. It would have been so much worse!
This ultra connected world we currently live in is unprecedented, and there are many good things about this. David gets to take part in a PHD program out of Belgium. Games are more colorful and realistic and satisfying than ever. We can see all the things our heroes are saying at any moment, we have access to instant news. We can find a like-minded tribe of people who we feel understand and accept us.
But as we learned in last week’s sermon, Greg believes in what he calls the Principle of Proportionality, where something’s potential for good is equal to its potential for evil. So our tribes become tribalistic. In the world of perceived connection, it is all conditional love, where we are unfriended and unfollowed if we don’t agree or if we fail to entertain. We self-sort into silos and echo chambers of our own thinking, so we are not exposed to different ideas. Our attention span becomes dependent on constant stimulation. Where we used to wait for days or weeks for information (and obtain it in conversation with actual humans), now we listen to podcasts on 1.5 speed, and if we have to wait than 5 seconds for a movie to load on Netflix we move on.
We have to ask ourselves, do the pros outweigh the cons? Does my online engagement outweigh my engagement with the people in front of me? And if he pros do not outweigh the cons, why do we keep pursuing it?
David cites three reasons.
1) We believe in the myth of “online community”
We have fallen for the myth that online communities can be an end in themselves rather than a means to an end. We think we can show up there and have that satisfy our deep need for human connection and acceptance. And the hope when these social media platforms were created, was that they would draw us into deeper community with those around us, where we can show up unpolished.
We want this (and the platforms wanted to provide it) because God has given us an innate desire to be connected. But at the same time, we have this insatiable desire to monetize and weaponize good things. We have competing desires — both the desire itself and an unyielding temptation to monetize that desire. But we don’t spot how harmful this is because there is nothing obviously sinful or wrong that we can see. It all looks perfectly harmless. But in fact, the forces that pull us together become the same forces that pull us apart, by excluding those who are not like us.
“Crowds lie. The more people, the less truth… in crowds the truth is flattened to fit a slogan. Not only the truth spoken, but the truth that is lived is reduced and distorted by the crowd. The crowd makes spectators of us, passive in the presence of excellence or beauty. The crowd makes consumers of us, inertly taking in whatever is pushed on us. As spectators and consumers, the central and foundational elements of being human — our ability to create, our drive to excel, our capacity to community with God — atrophy.”
We believe that an online community can give us what in-person community can’t.
2) We are addicted by design.
The second reason we keep participating is because we are quite literally addicted to it, and this is not by accident.
Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 2:10-11—
“Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
We need to be aware of Satan’s scheme but currently we don’t always recognize it. And online community is the perfect place where Satan would love to (and does) work his schemes.
The psychologist BF Skinner authored groundbreaking research about predicting and controlling human behavior. He invented something called the Skinner Box. In this experiment, he placed a rat in a box with a lever and a slot that food was delivered through (and an electrified floor for other permutations of the experiment). The rats pushed on the lever and got more food. This was predictable so they knew every time they pushed the lever, food would come out. Eventually they stopped always pushing the lever because it was reliable, and only pushed it when they were hungry. But then they changed the system so that the rat would have to push maybe three or five times to get more food. It was always different and inconsistent. This unpredictability created a tension and a release, so the rats kept pushing the lever again and again to see how they could get the food. The principle was called Variable Ratio Reinforcement and it transformed everything from slot machines to social media.
In casinos in the 1950s, slot machines were dull drab and boring. 90% of the people used the tables and only a few people used the slot machines. And, consequently, they made no money.
Nowadays, if you step into a casino, you’ll see it is dominated by the blinking, ringing animated cacophony of temptation and reward in hundreds of slot machines. And they make a ton of money. This is all the product of Variable Ratio Reinforcement. We see the blinking lights and the rewarding sounds and we think we are winning even when we are losing. This has all been finely tuned to lure us into a “zone,” a state of numb awareness with no goal in particular. We are not thinking, but fully receiving and processing stimuli. We are not exactly aware, but extremely receptive. And this zone is unsurprisingly the goal of not just casino slot machines, but also social media and games and many other things, since it’s the perfect time to influence us and sell us things!
This diabolical system is ideal not only for advertising, but for data mining. Collecting, analyzing and selling our data is now a trillion dollar industry. It is a more valuable commodity than oil. The dream of an intimate community where we are understood and accepted has been turned on its head. Now it is not only an echo chamber, but one that selectively inserts partial and misinformation to subtly guide our beliefs and influence our actions.
We need to have an awareness of Satan’s schemes so that we are not outwitted.
3) Living without limits.
We are living in a society which is more fast-paced than ever, living lives which are fully connected, with constant access to instant everything. It exhausts us so that when we get home from work at the end of day we just need to relax and zone out.
Thomas merton said:
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence… Activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. It kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
– Thomas Merton
We get to the end of the day and we are exhausted. Those with kids have likely experienced it, where you come home to the kids yelling and hanging from you and you snap at them, to just give you a few minutes of peace and quiet. At the end of the day when in this state, Facebook/social media is that perfect numbing agent.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Rest is in short supply today, and this unnatural state affects us deeply and negatively.
David works at Union Gospel Mission, and one of the things they teach are the tools to say sober. To remember the triggers that cause people to falter to addiction, they use the abbreviation HALT. We are vulnerable to temptation when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.
And this is the state many of us are in when we log into social media — we are tired and in that vulnerable state we log in and go to a place designed to tell you you are lacking something, you are wrong, you are alone because you are not like this happy family. You need more money and bigger house. We show up susceptible and vulnerable and we are manipulated easily.
Quiet time is not just a good idea, but a calling. We are called to rest and recalibrate. This is the purpose of the practice of Sabbath. We are supposed to take time to disengage, and participate in a rhythm of stopping, resting, and delighting in the good things God has given us. Go for walks. Enjoy the world that God has created. And in that quiet space, contemplate the goodness of God.
The most powerful tool is to turn it off. Form a community with God instead. We will never accidentally drift into health. It must be sought and pursued. And it needs space to grow.
Some reflection questions that we can ask ourselves to help build our defenses:
1) In what ways am I living without limits, and how is that making me accessible to the adversary? Is my online connectedness outpacing in person connectedness?
2) Do I recognize the ways I am addicted by design? Am I angry? Be aware and notice the temptations of social media as not just a company, but a scheme of the enemy to get us off track.
3) In what ways am I trusting an online community to meet the needs of kingdom community?
When we start seeing the manipulation we are all subject to, we can speak out and call out the lies when we see them. We can breathe life into a place that is saturated with death. We can show up, after having sat with God, and having had time to breathe life, and rest. And in this refreshed place rather than lashing out or jumping on the bandwagon, we can intentionally work to bring beauty and peace.
Many of our podrishoners are here because they have had a bad experience at a church in the past. So they tune in to get connected to the kingdom without having to go back into church. But stay open to when might be the time to go back. Because the antidote to bad community is not online community. But rather, the antidote is not just finding, but also working to create a beautiful kingdom community. Ask God, where he might be drawing you?
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