By Aaron Charles
You see the red circle and the number in the middle. Your finger is already moving to the screen as soon as you register the sight. A notification – someone commented or liked what you had to say or share. We’re all used to this. But what are we to make of it?
We’re quickly becoming more aware of the dangers that social media presents for us. In the early days, it was just a way to share photos or connect with friends. But now we know just how addictive the notifications and the sounds can be to us. We crave that affirmation. It’s a power that must be kept in moderation.
At the same time, there are inherent good qualities about social media. Haven’t we all needed that virtual connection over the last 12 months? Of course, it doesn’t replace human connection, but it does allow us to reach out to people we haven’t seen or heard from in a while. It allows us to communicate with those who live far away from us. It allows us to create new virtual communities around shared interests. These are not bad things.
The question becomes – how do we manage it? How do we make the good aspects of social media work for us while limiting the bad? How do we connect with people through social media while limiting the times when our staring at our phones to see those notifications disconnects us from the people right next to us?
Speaking for myself, I’ve noticed a couple things over the last few months. One – I get very used to scrolling when I first open my feed. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter – my engagement is often rather aimless. I open the feed and let the feed take me where it will. Is it my fault that the feeds and the timelines are designed to make me do exactly this? No. But it is my choice to open myself up to that? We must acknowledge the choices that we do have in this matter.
The other thing I’ve noticed – and this is especially true on Facebook and WhatsApp – is that it is easy for me to get into arguments. Especially around politics, I find myself thinking that I’m coming to a conversation attempting to reason with someone or communicate my point of view. In reality, I quickly devolve into argument. I might not say anything meanspirited or vulgar, but my posture in coming to the conversation is not healthy. Again, is it my fault that social media algorithms are built on generating rage and arguments? No. But it is my choice to play into that system.
One common response to this has been to remove oneself from social media completely. It’s become rather common to see someone post about taking a break from social media or deactivating their accounts entirely. I think we all need to consider when we need a break or a fast to keep social media usage in moderation. But I also wonder what happens if Christians are moved to pull away from social media completely. Then what happens to the conversations that remain?
I think Christians are called to engage culture, not remove themselves from it completely. There will absolutely be parts of culture in which Christians can’t engage. God doesn’t call us to engage in sin. But consider the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John about how we are to be in the world.
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” John 17:14-16
Consider, too, the writings of Paul in Romans chapter 12.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
I think we can bring our whole selves to social media. I think we can live as living sacrifices to God through social media. I think we can commit ourselves to not be conformed to the ways that social media algorithms try to mold us. That may mean stepping away from social media for a while. But I think we must continue our attempts to engage the culture around us. Not to force people to believe what we believe. Not to mold them into the image we want to see. But to hear them. To love them. To journey through life with them.
Social media gives us powerful opportunities to come alongside people in community and in collaboration. We are in the world. That is the truth of our state as human beings. We have to figure out a way to live as living sacrifices within that paradigm. We cannot allow ourselves to be controlled by social media. Instead, we must find ways to use social media for good.
I leave you with a parting thought from the Book of James. Maybe this posture can help us understand better how we can engage the culture around us, even on social media.
“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:27
Aaron Charles is a native son of South Bend and has lived in Michiana his entire life. He and his wife, Sarah, have been happily married since 2015. Aaron is a writer who believes that God has given each person a spark ofcreativity. In his occupation, Aaron works as a marketer for an advertising agency. You can engage with his writing further at his website. Watch for more of Aaron's writing on this blog, as well as future appearances on the We All Need Each Other pocast.
The next episode of We All Need Each Other features a conversation with Pastor Ryan Flemming of Gary, Ind., about how to use social media in good, healthy, God-honoring ways. That episode will be released on Monday, March 15.