Missionary Papers: The Cross & The Culture
The selfie generation:
“The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.” Psalm 94:11 KJV. Perpetual performance anxiety now dominates our world. The trouble is that we are not dealing with a reasonable form of performance (Public Speaking, Musical Performance, Sports Performance, etc.). Social media creates a form of performance anxiety in which individuals of the selfie-generation compete against themselves. With viral hope, one selfie after another is offered to the social media gods.
Maybe the first one goes viral, or even the first couple, but the trouble comes when the social media titans that so admired that perfect selfie no longer takes an interest. The competition begins and anxiety performance follows! The desire of the selfie generation is to gain victory over the vicious circle of self-deception leading them to believe they can regain the number of likes they once achieved. Just as a heroin addict seeks their fix, the social media addict seeks that flood of dopamine to temporarily relieve them of their depression or anxiety. This may seem like a silly proposition, but the reality is this routine dominates the lives of many. At times to the extent that it fully controls them, just as the drug of choice dominates the behavior of the addict.
The doctrine of self-esteem:
The selfie generation is a product of the self-esteem doctrine. Their entire lives they have been told if you would just “esteem yourself” or “believe in yourself” then all would be well. If you would just “believe in your heart” then one emotional trouble after the other would fall, never to rise again. Proponents of these foolish ideas often give me a perplexed look when I ask them: “Would you tell Charles Manson to “believe in his heart?” If only he had “esteemed himself” more highly, maybe he never would have turned out to be the sadistic leader of a death cult. Of course, we know such a philosophy does not work due to its unbiblical nature.
This doctrine fails primarily, of course, because it is unbiblical. But it is necessary to try and establish some specifics rather than just simply making a dogmatic statement. The idea of “esteeming self” at no point takes into account the person that has made no attempt whatsoever to establish any sense of character or morality. They live life subject to their impulses, freely given over to the lusts of their flesh. This, of course, leads to disastrous outcomes of which the consequences can be very serious. Rather than receiving proper instruction concerning the destructive nature of their choices, they are told to “believe in themselves.” As a result, the person never gets the help they need. Instead, the vicious circle that is their life turns into a cyclone of sorts leaving destruction in its path.
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” Philippians 2:3 KJV. Had Charles Manson esteemed the other people in his life higher than himself, then we may not have had those brutal murders stain American history. The self-esteem doctrine is a complete failure. Social media is overwhelming proof of this fact, the selfie generation does not suffer from low self-esteem but rather they highly esteem themselves. The term “selfie” alone exemplifies the fact that esteeming self is not the trouble. The exact opposite is true, they highly esteem themselves and social media is the canvas whereby they express that estimation.
From selfies to suicide:
This vicious cycle of vain activity is now proving to have very serious consequences. Studies are now showing that since 2010 the number of suicides in people from age 24 and under has increased by 31%. In these studies, social media is considered the reason or was at least related. Something as silly as a selfie, alongside a doctrine as presumably well-meaning as “self-esteem” is resulting in self-mutilation or even suicide. Social media platforms are intentionally created to exemplify vanity and envy. Rather than face the realities of life through the social support groups that could be physically encountered (family, real friends, school teachers, churches, etc), the individuals of the selfie generation remain isolated in an online fantasy world. This online world promotes participation in vain activity and pushes envious behavior. This keeps the individual isolated in and hooked on this digital world of self-absorption.
Social media platforms use envy as a weaponized tool to condition the user for addiction. As the vanity of their life is realized by seeing the success of others, envy begins to consume their thoughts. As envy builds it turns to aggression. Eventually, it will manifest itself in the form of an attack either on the person they have become envious of (negative rants online, threats of violence online, seeking the person out to actually harming them) or an attack on themselves (self-mutilation, deep depression, suicide).
This idea of social media being used to exploit negative human characteristics is now common knowledge. More than a few individuals involved in the creation of larger social media platforms openly admit they were created to manipulate and control users. Short term dopamine fixes produce social isolation, anti-social behavior, self-love, envious behavior, widespread misinformation, and so on. They use short term signals of valueless rewards to lead in certain directions of desired manipulation. Likes, comments and etc are used to conflate popularity and value. These short term rewards coupled with the idea of self-esteem further confuse the perceived self-value of individuals that were already frail.
Competition and reward:
Social media, by design, intentionally encourages controversy. This is done through a reward system that promotes aggressive and controversial posts. There is little to no reward on these platforms whatsoever for moral or intellectual content. Clickbait will always run away with the numbers, which of course encourages fake, shallow, aggressive or controversial behavior online. The result has been mass psychological illness in societies that heavily use social media. There are reportedly two-billion social media users in the world, all of whom will to some extent be caught up in the illness of the selfie mentality. Recent studies are showing that social media is facilitating this sickness, to some extent intentionally.
Under this manipulative use of social media, the lines between truth and popularity have intentionally become blurred. An idea presented on a social media platform may quickly become popular, though it may clearly be false. In like manner, the truth may be presented, but because it is an unpopular truth it gains no reward nor grounds for influence. In our shallow self-esteem driven society popularity then becomes desired over truth. Therefore that which is popular becomes the social media world’s truth. It does not need to actually be true, it only needs to be popular or controversial enough to become popular. This, of course, is motivational for shallow people with no biblical foundation.
This is proving to be an epidemic of sorts that will have dire consequences on a larger scale than we have already seen. Selfies compose some 60% of all interaction on social media platforms to date. As my wife and I travel on deputation we often notice a car next to us awkwardly encroaching into our lane. As we move closer to the driver we stare into the window of their car hoping to gain the satisfaction of knowing why they are driving so erratically. When we learn the driver put lives on the line for a selfie, our curiosity turns to frustration. I’m sure we have no real need for concern, airbags work great at seventy miles-per-hour.
Six out of every ten interactions on social media exists for self-indulgence, this is a serious problem. My warning to you reading this is to either cancel all social media use or greatly reduce it. My wife and I have turned off all social media update notifications to our phones and computers. We will limit checking any form of social media to once per day, no more than five to ten minutes. Make certain you are interacting within the real world, not a false sense of reality built on shallow internet terms. Relationships are, in a sense, networks of protection around us. For instance, boys that desire to know a girl should also get to know her family, friends, church, etc.
Too often perverse members of the selfie generation lure a girl into recluse online chats through social media. She may be in a state of depression, her selfies are not performing well. The predatory male lures her into a chat where he tells her everything her depressed heart desires. He is able to use the secret chat to manipulate her. This is a digital trap that can easily become a physical nightmare, all readily facilitated by social media platforms. Navigating living social networks that come with each individual person protect those involved from being too seriously manipulated. Digital or physical, we should be wary of individuals that need us alone to get to know us.
The selfie generation antidote:
The antidote to the shallow self-indulged world of fake social media relationships is real relationships, with real people! People that you have met and actually interact with on a regular basis. Of course, the answer to the internal emptiness that regularly haunts you is Jesus Christ. “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24 KJV.
Relationships come with responsibility, you must be willing to put in the effort necessary to maintain their health. Quick fly-by-night relationships are often predatory and destructive, offering no fulfillment. Jesus Christ loves you so much that he chose to die for you. You will find no greater love than his love for your soul. There is no greater offer for a real relationship than his sacrificial death in your place. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 KJV.
The antidote to the destructive doctrine of self-esteem is to follow the biblical prescription of esteeming others above yourself. The world around us encourages itself continually to esteem themselves higher. In the end, they find “self” keeps letting them down. A proper biblical estimation of man is necessary. Job 5:7 KJV “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” – man’s natural disposition is toward trouble. Job 14:1 KJV “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” Psalm 144:4 KJV “Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.”
The Bible is very clear, there is none that doeth good! We are all in need of the help of the Saviour Jesus Christ. We need the fruit of the Holy Spirit and we need the great foundational teachings of the word of God. I beseech you, escape the shallow emptiness of the selfie generation! Enjoin yourself to a life of great meaning and duty in Jesus Christ!