Social Media is not Your Friend

Written by Josh Bianchi, philosophy and culture correspondent

In a dark dorm room, a sleep deprived student is busy speed writing an assignment that they should’ve started much earlier. In spite of their need for hurry, a small black box next to their laptop keeps crying for attention. It does this every few minutes.

When a moment has passed without interruption, the student looks down from the screen to the box, internally pleading for a reason to hold it. Their hand itches to pick it up. Suddenly the box shakes and cries out to them once more. Another train of thought is ruined, and the student is once again at the mercy of the box. It might hold them captive for one minute. It might hold them for ten. It will certainly ruin their prospects of finishing the project tonight. Thoughts of the box consume them; a thick fog drowning their creativity. The student does not realize it, but they have an addiction. They cannot focus on anything for more than a few minutes without their mind wandering back to the malicious box. This cell phone might as well be heroin.  

Aside from ruining productivity, this phone is causing another problem. One of the places that the student checks most is Instagram. Then Twitter. Their selfie got two new likes. Their joke got five. The results should be seen as positive. After all, three real people going about their day saw the selfie and thought to themselves that it looked good enough to like. The joke made five people laugh. There is cause for celebration. Yet their reaction is negative. ‘It isn’t enough’ They think. Maybe the next selfie might have a bit more skin. Maybe the next joke might be at someone else’s expense. Those always seem to do well. They should spend more time putting together an impressive resume.

In 2015, the World Health Organization released statistics showing that the United States was the most depressed nation in the world. In 2017, American psychologist Jean Twenge found that Generation Z (also called centennials, or people born between 1998 and 2008) is one of the most depressed generations on record.

Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones. (Twenge, Have Smartphones destroyed a generation?, 2017)

One explanation for this might be that modern culture is increasingly self-centered. Social media is one of the biggest examples of this. Few things are as narcissistically designed and executed. The most popular content is self-centered. Posting selfies is one surefire way to create an image. As a general rule, the raunchier the content, the better it takes off. Taking selfies, showing off rich lifestyles, and putting model-esque physiques online are all ways that a person can feed their ego while also gaining a following. The core message is what matters most: that they are the new popular, and you aren’t. Self image is the fuel that runs the unstoppable social media machine. Only a few can afford to shine above the rest, and these few are revered like minor deities. Screaming legions of adoring fans congregate for just a touch; a brush of a passing hand; a simple “hello” that acknowledges their existence; a quick selfie for evidence later: “I really did meet them.”

Unfortunately, blurring the lines between real life and social media has proven itself unhealthy over and over. Life is never clean cut and sterile like it seems from the carefully curated, painstakingly edited, thoughtfully captioned pictures and videos that social celebrities show.

Often times, self worth is so thoroughly injected into social media that an online insult becomes more weighty than a real one. Stories of teenagers self harming from cyberbullying abound, but are often dismissed as foolish teenagers doing dumb things.

What could drive a person to self harm or even commit suicide from anonymous, faceless, nearly nameless adversaries? When simply turning off the screen could fix the problem, dismissal as foolishness is not a reasonable conclusion. Perhaps one or two people might not have their priorities straight, but the cyberbullying trend is too large for that. Cyberbullying isn’t significant because teenagers are foolish. It is significant because everything around them encourages putting their self worth into others’ opinions. Social media is the vessel for them to receive their worth. Social media is no different to an enchanted youth than a block party might be to an older adult. Large groups of people gathered in one place to talk and mingle. The voices in the box might as well be standing in the room. Putting the phone down means disconnecting from an important source of self worth.

Why does social media makes us unhappy? Because keeping up an image for the sake of vanity is not fulfilling.

Christians ought to live according to principles which are clearly laid out for them. Virtuousness is a simple concept that can save an individual from later anguish. Looking towards the future of Generation Z, there are several important things that Christians must keep in mind to be separated from the depressed masses.

First and foremost, they must remember that narcissism is a dangerous thing to play with. To make a simple lesson more difficult, narcissism can come in several forms. The obvious narcissist will focus on image and lifestyle, but this isn’t always the case. Christian flavored narcissism might look like an overzealous demonstration of religion online. ‘Coffee shop religion.’ Posting aesthetically pleasing pictures of coffee and God’s word on instagram isn’t inherently wrong, but it can be destructive when social media becomes a contest of posting the most religiously saturated content. Being a beacon is a reasonable goal. Portraying an edited and false lifestyle is dangerous, to the author and viewers. As Christians, we should not put our identities into what others think of us. It is best to remember 1 Samuel 16:7,

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Our identities ought to be based first and foremost in Christ. This is the problem with putting on a ‘Christian lifestyle.’ In the end, it is still a shallow imitation. Showing off any ‘lifestyle’ isn’t genuine because more time is spent portraying it than living it. Instagram might call it a Christian lifestyle, but in the end it is simply an imitation lifestyle, just like all the others.

Putting value in Christ means accepting flaws, because we are perfected through Him. Editing out the mess and shortcomings takes away from what Christ intended and substitutes our own fake reality.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 6:6-7 NIV)

What a person believes has an effect on who they are and how they feel. A life of narcissism is tiring and cold. New generations are more depressed than ever before because Christian virtue has been uprooted and tossed aside.

As Christians, we must follow the calling to be in the world but not of it, and live a life according to the virtues that are outlined in scripture. If we live according to Christ, we need not be afraid.


Joshua Bianchi is a freshman business major from Chicago writing for the Triangle. He focuses on culture and philosophy topics and enjoys socratic discussion. He is also a member of the Bryan College Leadership Institute.