"Scrolling, searching, paging, refreshing." Londeka Mkhize
Daily we are confronted with questions of identity.
Who am I?
So we make murals of our lives, like paintings on walls. We take delight praising those whom we love, highlighting our favorite things, “completing the enjoyment.”
We share HD images of our lovers, expressing how beautiful they are and how wholesome the years have been. We read a good book and tell our followers what we’ve discovered. We find funny videos and re-share to bring valuable entertainment to others. We snap a good picture and publicly exhibit our growing creativity with friends of friends.
Our sense of self is consummated in this engagement, in how
we believe others perceive us.
Whether they see us?
At best social media is a powerful means of communication and connection, at worst an appetizer and refiner of insidious heart evils: pride, greed, need, envy, and self-indulgence.
The founder of Instagram Kevin Systrom shares that the penny drop for how to grow Instagram happened when his now-wife Nicole said: “well I don’t want to take photos because my photos don’t look as good as your other friend, Greg.” To which he responded: It’s only cause Greg uses filters to make his pictures better.” To which Nicole said: “well you should probably have filters then.” This short exchange affirms how we wish to mask what’s bare and present what’s “good enough” online.
Facebook co-founder Chamath Palihapitiya openly speaks against the tools they designed to exploit and manipulate human vulnerabilities. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops the “likes, hearts and thumbs-ups” that induce bursts of ephemeral happiness. The good stuff that keeps us “scrolling, searching, paging, refreshing.” Despite our best intentions to reduce our activity time we are drawn in, addicted. Facebook’s marketing-head boasts in this speech, that the average millennial checks their phone 157 times every day, averaging 145 minutes daily.
Over the years, we learn the requisite knowledge to turn the knobs of influence. We master the science of faultless profile pictures, those which glimmer with a laughing smile. We wrestle with mates who tag us in unreviewed photos. Here photo quality trumps reality, tight fits, and make-up amass followers; self-praise is customary, a symbol of radical self-love. No one uploads a picture of themselves that they don’t like. No one uploads a picture that they think others will not attend to, like or comment on.
Maybe in a strange way like the writer in Paulo Coelho’s book “The Zahir,” we share so that we can feel loved. Brittly satisfying our need for validation. We derive pleasure when our self-image is enhanced. We invite an audience to applaud our milestones. Our I do’s; four wheels and title deeds. Never paying mind to how others are left to lumber in the shadows “scrolling, searching, paging, refreshing.”
Instead, neat picking their failings, highlighting their incapacity to glow and grow.
In real life would you leave a sign outside your house “telling people that you are not home? That you will return after two weeks?”
Yet online we arrive and check-in telling the “entire world that we are not home, that we have gone for a holiday.” The tragedy is that we are less and less bothered by our vanity fair. We volunteer and tell forgetting the wisdom of the old: that when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
Are we searching to be found? Or are we looking to be seen? The danger is, we don’t know how far we will go to fill up this pernicious and bottomless cup? Worse of all how many more features, hooks and tricks will be built in to keep us plugged in. The invisible chains that bind us here are growing enslaving us to ideas of living and appearances of luxury. We’re losing the soul of godliness which is humbleness of spirit. The search for visibility journeys closely with pride.
At the turn of the road, when we finally log off and let our screens dim, it won’t be long before we pick-up the pernicious fruit of pride which feeds on this daily priming. This perpetual performance of life before an audience can puff up one’s sense of importance.
How then do we prune the pride of the flesh which seeks to rise like a flood in the age of social media? What will break the thickening carapace of self-indulgence cultivated by today’s culture? Where can we go to unearth humility in our souls? To scroll and search for something more real, more lasting. Closer to our deeper call where our lives are larger than our frames?
To refresh and open a new page, we may need to put a halt on our buzzing phones and make time to “cultivate an interiority of prayer, private thought, and contemplation, so we can prune pride and more intentionally engage the world.”