How many friendships have you come across where someone says that they are close friends with someone, yet they’ve only known each other through texting?
In today’s culture, so many millennials are so focused on who’s “following” them on Instagram and Twitter to even be concerned with real community. It seems as though millennials have a competitive element and also a lack of self-esteem. According to a study done by the American Press Institute, thirty-seven percent of Millennials say they will remove any content of themselves that is embarrassing or immature. Instead of social media being used as simply a means to communicate, it has become a way of self-promotion and self-expression. Constant updates are posted on “this is what I got to do, this is where I am.” Self-promotion cannot help lead to a flourishing life and ultimately a flourishing community if Millennials are so self-focused.
Instead of building community where we are presently, we strive to be in a handful of different places at once. Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, calls this the “Goldilocks’ Effect,” meaning people don’t wish for others to be too far, but they don’t wish for them to be too close either. It’s as if people want companionship, without intimate friendship. Social media has allowed individuals to control what they say, when they say it, and how they say it. Though social networking can give off the appearance to offer intimacy and community, it doesn’t lead to a flourishing substantive friendship.
Millennials are so focused on the results aspect of social media they miss the true picture of why it was created. They aim for the result of getting the most likes or the most “friends” that they begin to view results as community. Instead of building community physically in person, it has moved to where community no longer requires our bodies to be fully present.
Social media isn’t an entirely bad or evil thing. The ability to communicate with others and share stories of encouragement, vulnerability, and hope are precious gifts. Author J. Martin Bailey says, “Jesus is both the model of communication and the subject of communication.” When we reflect the spirit of Christ in our postings and time on the Internet, our social interactions become more authentic. As disciples, our calling is to be who Christ created us to be and have that as our reflection when we use social networking. Media needs to be redeemed. Christian community needs to learn how to best express values through media, as well as bringing light to it by diving into how culture uses it.