Quite often I’ll come across an article about the dangers of screen-time and social media, and the egocentric, Me-First world that it exacerbates. I’ve read a lot of them, and I’m a little done with them. I know they’re right, and I’ll agree with them, but then I’ll go back to my phone or Facebook, and continue on my way.

Recently however, two things crossed my path that made me think a little more deeply on the subject. One of them was a 2016 music video from Moby, and the other was an article by Sue Palmer, a child psychologist.

The latter explains that we now have the first generation growing up who will never know a world without the internet, social media, or screen technology, which I was of course aware of, but not the extent of its impact in some areas. Anecdotal and academic evidence show that iPads are used as pacifiers, and children no longer know how to play by themselves. The positive risk-evaluating that comes with independent play in children is lost, with the added problem that they will grow up into adults who are less likely to make responsible choices or learn from failure.

Sue Palmer writes that:

If the neural pathways that control social and imaginative responses aren’t developed in early childhood, it’s difficult to revive them later. A whole generation could grow up without the mental ability to create their own fun, devise their own games and enjoy real friendships – all because of endless screen-time… By playing together, youngsters learn to get along with other people. They discover how others’ minds work, developing empathy. And, as real play is driven by an innate desire to understand how the world works, it provides the foundation for academic learning. Real play is evolution’s way of helping children develop minds of their own – curious, problem- solving, adaptable, human minds.”

She also writes that: “yet another problem with too much screen-gazing is that it doesn’t develop resilience,” and she shares the story of several 15 year old girls who were exhausted with running their own self-described “PR campaigns” in order to keep up with everyone else and ensure that their lives looked perfect.

I do know that many parents take extreme care with their children’s screen time, and I know that not every parent would use an iPad as a pacifier! But I think it’s worth adding that as adults, we may currently have the wherewithal to navigate the overwhelming world of social media, but I know from experience that it still has the ability to make anyone and everyone feel lonely and dissatisfied.

A few days after reading Sue Palmer’s writing, I came across the musician Moby’s collaboration project with the Void Pacific Choir. The video for their single “Are You Lost in the World Like Me?” portrays an exaggerated and dystopian society dictated by social media and technology. It’s not an answer to the whole problem, but I do think it would make an excellent jumping-off-point for a discussion about social media with a group of teenagers. Or indeed, anyone. But I think its cartoon style, its direct imagery and the catchy and clear message of its lyrics make it very well suited for a youth discussion group. It poignantly captures the loneliness that lies behind the lens, and the detachment that exists in an ever-connected society.

Both the article and the video have finally given me more cause to think about my own social media use and to make active changes to my habits. It has also caused me to consider on where I find validation and fulfillment, which is not at looking at myself and everything I can do to make my life look perfect, but rather, refocusing my life on God, and reigniting a sense of gratitude for all He has done for me. That is a million times better, and more truthful, than the dissatisfaction of trying to portray a perfect life online.

Finally, in the book “No Greater Love” Mother Teresa says:

“All over the world, people are hungry and thirsty for God’s love. We meet that hunger by spreading joy. Joy is one of the best safeguards against temptation. Jesus can take full possession of our soul only if it surrenders itself joyfully.”

This might initially feel unconnected to the subject at hand, but it is very relevant. Social media is often where people search for validation and affirmation, and it does provide that, but not always in lasting ways. We cannot surrender ourselves to the joy of God’s love if we are too busy busting a gut to perfectly present ourselves online. Only God’s love can give us what we long for, and only a heart empty of ego can receive it.   

 

Questions for Discussion: 

Why do you think social media gives us validation and affirmation? – i.e. Why does social media make us feel good?

Why does social media make us feel dissatisfied and unhappy?

How real is social media?

Where should we look for lasting happiness?

What practical steps can we take to tackle the dissatisfaction of social media?