Years ago, a study showed that people who watch too much television had a skewed view of how many friends in life they have. Something about watching TV made people mistakenly believe they had more real-life friends than they actually did.
These days, there’s another type of media skewing people’s perceptions. I’m talking about social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others beckon for our attention span daily, each offering a glimpse into other people’s lives and the world around us.
A clinical psychologist named Ali Jazayeri made several observations about the impact of social media. “The world that we see on Facebook and other social media sites is not a true and real world,” Jazayeri explains. “It’s a creation of people.
“Among other dangers that Facebook might possibly pose in our lives, such as lack of privacy, is this habit of always comparing ourselves to others,” he continued. “People, when they are happy, post a lot of happy things. But when I’m not happy I will consciously, or unconsciously, compare myself to others. As a result, I create a world that is not a true world because I imagine that everybody is happy in that world, except me.”
Social media, in many ways, can be compared to stepping into a funhouse at the state fair to look at the mirrors. Some of the stretched and skewed images in the mirrors make us laugh, cry or cringe. Yet none of them offers a true picture of reality.
Social media and other modern media have fractured the way we see others and see ourselves. Instead of hearing a full telling of a news event, we get only a snippet. Instead of hearing a pastor’s whole sermon, we get a soundbite, often pulled out of context. Rather than seeing a person at their best and worst moments, we only see the happy, healthy posts and moments.
This fractured, disintegrated phenomenon is doing grave damage to people and relationships. Unfortunately, pastors and people in the church are not immune to this. Too often our daily lives are filled with images and posts about people living their best life, leaving us disheartened.
What is the cure? The Apostle Paul, whose life was far from “Instagram perfect,” has some helpful words for us.
In Col. 2:3-5, Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”
The next time you are on social media and feeling discouraged, remember you are seeing only a partial view of life, a distorted picture of reality. When you do remember that, use it as an occasion not to look down on others, but rather to look up and look around, with the eyes of Jesus.
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:2-3).
Seeing with the eyes of Jesus will help each of us avoid the follies of the social-media funhouse.