Life Mediated Through a Screen
In her January 18, 2014, New York Times column, former indie rocker and creator of Portlandia, Carrie Brownstein, makes this prescient observation:
When all of our information — images, art, news, modes of communication — is mediated through the same screen, the notion of value, of what is important and unimportant, even in a subjective, personal sense, becomes murky.
Brownstein is right on so many levels, but in particular I believe she is right about the way social media above all has made us forget the old cliche, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It seems that every week, there are one or two instances of manufactured outrage that creep up in popular culture. Someone famous (or maybe not so famous) says something that offends others publicly (often on social media or television) and it gets shared again and again and again on social media until the original remarks go viral. Outrage and self-righteousness prevail. Calls for resignation or termination of employment begin. The original speaker apologizes for offending people and goes into treatment or rallies his or her followers and launches a #hashtag on Twitter: #Istandwith____.
In the midst of all of this tweeting and sharing and liking and #standingwith_____, we begin to lose our bearings. We begin to think we are actually doing something by way of all this manufactured outrage on social media. We begin to believe that we are making our contribution to the world. As Brownstein observes, all of the elements of our lives are being mediated through the same screen. They all feel equally important.
Clicking vs. Serving
But aren’t the most important things in life not mediated through a screen at all? Can I serve a hungry person a meal through a screen? Can I hug my child through a screen? Can I care for my spouse in time of sickness through a screen? Screens are a huge part of my life and they help me to accomplish many of these things, but they are no substitute for the actual relationships and meaningful acts of service that I can perform. Sometimes our internet activity tricks us into thinking we are actually accomplishing something. I finish a level in my Bakery Story app and I feel I am actually accomplishing something. I post a picture of myself at the latest business that shares my social values and I feel I have stood up for Christ. I post a picture of a hungry child and I convince myself I have actually fed them. I post status updates about how important it is to witness to our faith and I convince myself that this actually constitutes witnessing.
For My Neighbor–Or Me?
Manufactured outrage does none of us any good. No matter our position on different issues, there will always be people out there who tick us off. Words do matter, but we have lost all sense of proportion when it comes to understanding how much they matter in relation to our actions. Not only this, but when we live in a constant state of outrage, we lose sight of the fact that we are only one dumb comment away from being shunned as well. What if we could manage a little more grace to each other, knowing that being human means sometimes saying dumb things? Maybe we could be forgiving of those who offend us. Won’t we continue to rotate around the the merry-go-round of outrage unless we make a conscious decision to get off? And can we save our outrage for the sake of our neighbor instead of angrily coming to the defense of our own interests? Can we be outraged by the things that outrage God–including our own sin?
Of course what we say matters. Sharing ideas is important and worthy, if we can do it respectfully. A social media campaign that seeks to love and care for our neighbor can sometimes be effective in bringing about change. (Such as the recent #ForMeriam campaign seeks to do.)
However, Jesus didn’t say it was what we talk about doing in His name that matters most; it is what we do. Sometimes what we can do to reach out to a hurting and broken world seems so small and insignificant, but doing something is always preferable to doing nothing. Humble actions may not be something we scream about on Facebook, but they are the heart of genuine faith.
Photo credit: Nate Embrey via Death to the Stock Photo.