Social Media: Police State or Platform?
When I first delved into Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, I was highly skeptical. How could a book that challenges one’s daily interactions have any precedence or purpose in today’s growing technologically-driven society? However, I was reminded today why I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I won’t go into the details; however, let me just say that after being reamed out for an hour on private message and being told to filter my posts through this individual, I pressed the block button. Social media offers countless opportunities to delve into engaging discussions, understand diversified perspectives, and stretch your perception; however, it can also serve as a space for abuse, frustration and intolerance.
Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Evan Spiegel created a new world – a place that promises tolerance and delivers censorship. Social media has enabled all of society to understand the nuances and perspectives of varied cultures, genders, ages and religious voices, but it has also created a Marxist society of behavior and belief. The New Yorker recently published an article titled, How Facebook Makes us Unhappy. The author suggests, “In ongoing research, the psychologist Timothy Wilson has learned, as he put it to me, that college students start going “crazy” after just a few minutes in a room without their phones or a computer.” Social media is not simply an addiction to a community, but control. Without the ability to voice opinions, gain followers or measure one’s analytics, individuals feel as though they’re losing the ability to influence. Hence, they’re losing the ability to attain and retain power. “Smartphones have reshaped people’s experience of the world by providing an always-present connection to a humming matrix of chatter and distraction.” In essence, society has become socialistic in its pursuit of influence and communistic in its allowance of opinion.
Cal Newport, bestselling author of countless books and computer science professor at Georgetown University asserts: “The technology industry has become adept at exploiting this instinct for approval. Social media, in particular, is now carefully tuned to offer you a rich stream of information about how much (or how little) your friends are thinking about you at the moment.” It’s easy to see why cyberbullying has increased when you look at the influence that social media has on one’s self-esteem. If one is tied to the addiction of approval, then one is also dismantled by the sense of neglect.
Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University conducted a study and found, “Of the 150 Facebook friends the average user has, Dunbar found that only 15 could be counted as actual friends and only five as close friends.” In essence, millions of people are being shaped by the words and opinions of countless people they’ve never even met. How did we get here? When did we get so insecure?
Newport challenges his readers to embrace a philosophy of technology use and apply three principles. He asserts that clutter is costly, optimization is important, and intentionality is satisfying. Digital minimalism is not a cultish ideology that sees technology as the antithesis of progression but a balanced understanding of self-esteem and purpose. Newport encourages his readers to start with a detox from social media and explains, “This detox experience is important because it will help you make smarter decisions at the end of the declutter when you reintroduce some of these optional technologies to your life.” The author encourages this type of removal because he believes that digital minimalism is more than a correction of behavior, but also correction of belief. According to the author, it enables individuals to see social media as a tool of expression, instead of a crutch for affirmation.
Newport creates a great argument for digital minimalism; however, he also reveals, “Determining the impact of digital communication tools on our psychological well-being is complicated. There’s no shortage of scientific studies examining this topic, but different groups draw different conclusions.” Social media is not the causation of decline. It is the opportunity that presents the option of decline. However, not everyone is falling prey to the issues that Newport perpetuates. For instance, countless leaders are changing the experience and expression of social media and creating healthy and influential relationships.
Here are just two examples of influencers changing the landscape:
- Gabriel Paul Jackson
Gabriel is the founder and director of an incredible project called, United Hive. This app enables people from all around the world to share their testimonies and encourage Christians all over the world with amazing stories of faith and purpose. It’s a platform that reveals what God is doing globally. www.unitedhive.com
- Sam Eaton
Sam is the founder of Recklessly Alive and has reached over 1 million people with his online talks on suicide prevention and mental health. His story has impacted countless individuals because of his presence on social media. www.recklesslyalive.com
According to Forbes, “Smartphone use is pretty much ubiquitous in this generation and about half of them are connected online about 10 hours a day.” We can scoff at this data or figure out how to tap into this world and present Christ digitally. The choice is up to us. Are we willing to live in balance without forging digital opportunities?
Avery Hartmans and Madeline Stone, “The Life and Career Rise of Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, One of the Youngest Billionaires in the World,” www.businessinsider.com, July 30, 2018, https://www.businessinsider.com/fabulous-life-and-career-of-snap-ceo-evan-spiegel.
Maria Konnikova, “How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy,” www.newyorker.com, September 10, 2013, https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/how-facebook-makes-us-unhappy.
Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019), 4.
“About Cal Newport,” http://calnewport.com, accessed March 20, 2019, http://calnewport.com/about/.
Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019), 22.
Anthony Cuthbertson, “FACEBOOK FRIENDS ARE FAKE FRIENDS, STUDY FINDS,” www.newsweek.com, January 25, 2016, https://www.newsweek.com/facebook-friends-are-fake-friends-study-finds-419189.
Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019), xiv.
Nelson Granados, “Gen Z Media Consumption: It’s A Lifestyle, Not Just Entertainment,” ww.forbes.com, June 20, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/nelsongranados/2017/06/20/gen-z-media-consumption-its-a-lifestyle-not-just-entertainment/#6e5478b518c9.
7 responses to “Social Media: Police State or Platform?”
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Thanks for the FB reality check and introduction into this week’s digital diet book. What do you think about the use of FB, smartphones, social media, etc for the countries that successfully drew attention to their dictator’s power, control, and abuses that helped change their governments?
Thanks for the links to United Hive. I will check it out for sure. I agree, there is a lot of good to be gained with this type of connectivity, and there is. The Gospel is reaching more places faster than ever before. It is different, but for the One who created it all, it is easy for Him to connect the dots.
Excellent close! We are like minded on this matter.
Thanks so much, Mike!
Social media has been used to break down barriers, provide a voice to the voiceless and hold leadership accountable for their actions. For instance, Harvey Weinstein was brought up on countless charges of rape and sexual abuse scandals; however, it wasn’t until the #metoo movement, that voices around the world demanded justice and accountability. Social media has the power to inspire, insight and impact us in many ways; however, our awareness must be met with action.
One of the downsides I’ve seen of digital communication is that there are many verbal advocates that stand up for causes online but do nothing for them in real life. For instance, I’ve seen many pastors and leaders rave about their diversity, yet when you look inside the sanctuary, their staff and congregation is monocultural. What has been your experience? What have you found works best for living in balance?
great word Colleen. The digital opportunities are immense. it is easy to wag our finger and try and dismiss it all, even as millennials. I wonder if the next generation, those being born now, will struggle with this just as much, or will they be much better at rejecting it?
Thanks so much, Kyle!
I was thinking about all the people that signed up for your online course because of social media. It was incredible to watch the numbers climb at each posting and see more people investing in your course. This would not have been possible without social media.
I think the next generation will be more balanced. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which data from over 50 million Facebook profiles was secretly scraped and mined for voter insights, many Facebook users have decided to delete their accounts… The hashtag #DeleteFacebook appeared more than 10,000 times on Twitter within a two-hour period on Wednesday” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/21/technology/users-abandon-facebook.html). I think the next generations won’t be as tied to social media because they lack the patience to withstand annoyance. I think Millennials struggle with this the most because we didn’t grow up with social media, but we feel like living without it would leave us lacking. What do you think?
Your quote on the amount of true friend vs fb friends is at the root of the issue, your right on when you discuss the allowing of people we don’t even know to control ones self esteem. I think if one can focus on the close friends and tune out all others we would be so much better off.
Thanks so much, Jason!
It really stems from our perception and our own confidence. I understand Newport’s point about social media being a hub of comparison, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Lots of people have taken sabbaticals or left Facebook because they feel insecure when they look at pictures of friends. However, this makes me think of the verse that states, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15 NIV). Too many people are more comfortable mourning with others than rejoicing. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can serve as opportunities or obstacles, but it’s all determined by our motivations and our sense of self. What ways do people need to change their interactions with social media?
I am with you. I do not think we can turn back the clock to an age before smartphones so we must discern how we can best utilize them for genuine benefit rather than simply exploitation. That was the gist of my post this week too. I think it is pointless to decry the ubiquitousness of this technology. Rather, the Church needs to figure out a way to help emerging generations who feel that they have ‘lost some form of control’ to regain some balance and create space for them to engage in real material relationships. I think this is the best thing that the Church has to offer right now to this generation, a chance to connect and be real without fear. How do you think we can best draw young people into these types of communities?