It was shortly before church, Easter Sunday, 1993, and I was dressed to the nines. But I didn’t think so.
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror unamused, as I just couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me. Was it the uncomfortable dress socks suffocating my legs? Was it the renegade ‘Alfalfa’ pieces of hair coming apart from the intentional part in my hair? Maybe the color of my shirt? Maybe the fact that a smile eluded me upon seeing myself in the bathroom mirror? Regardless, I made it clear to my mom that this little man didn’t like what he saw looking back at him in that reflection.
As I left the bathroom, walking down the hallway frustrated, I remember hearing her in the kitchen say to my dad in a hurriedly, pleading hushed voice, “Please, tell him he looks good!”
Social media in culture today has instilled into many an alarmingly high level of self-absorption. Digital platforms provide men and women, young and old, rich and poor, the opportunity to advertise themselves. They do it most notably through words in comment threads, status updates, private messages and group messages. However, what has become the general consensus for communicating most clearly in these digital settings, is communicating through pictures.
Welcome to the Instagram age
No longer is the picture being taken solely for memory purposes, so much as it is being taken for self-promotion purposes. Many are experiencing life simply to get the right photo to post to their social media accounts in an effort to receive likes and comments to support their unconscious, egotistical agenda.
In other words, narcissism.
In this digital age of communication, many in society are focused too much on the self.
Posting pictures, status updates, comments, and tweets provide many the opportunity to set themselves on the pedestal of promotion. When they do this, they can tend to find their identities in likes and comments from those in their online social networks.
Their brains can then be physically conditioned to thrive on validation from likes and comments, so when they don’t receive likes and comments on particular days that reflect, say, the high amount of likes and comments from a previous day, they may begin to question their self-worth.
In turn, they become slaves to online validation, wearing chains in the form of smart-phones. Affirmation in and of itself is not the culprit. In fact, affirmation is a manner in which many receive love the best, including me.
However, validation is affirmation’s evil twin.
When we begin to rely on text messages, comment threads, private messages, tweets and other social media communication to validate our self worth, we can become easily addicted to the need to satisfy this validation need day and night by posting strategically taken self-photographs: whether they are solely of ourselves, ourselves with others, ourselves doing adventurous things, ourselves doing ideal things that paint us in a positive light, ourselves in just the right pose to show off our physical body just right, and so on.
This addiction is real.
Much addiction research is beginning to support that many people cannot be apart from their smartphones, which connects them to their ‘social’ network, for too long before exhibiting withdrawal symptoms similar to drug, alcohol and gambling withdrawal symptoms.
Additionally, a growing amount of research supports the notion that our cognitive processing, the ways in which our brain does this, is being harnessed by social media app developers, such as Facebook, in an effort to further prevent us from pulling ourselves away from those social networks. For instance, there exists social media smartphone app. algorithms that will withhold likes and comments for pictures that you post of yourself. At just the right moment, this algorithm that has been created just for you, based on your individual social media behavior, will disclose these likes and comments in order to stir the release of dopamine in your brain.
Social media and the gospel
A key element of the gospel is the laying down of the self—promotion, absorption, advertisement, esteem, advancement—and relying solely on Jesus Christ. The throne of Christ in our life has seating for one. But it’s incredibly easy to try at times to unconsciously find room on that throne with Jesus, and often even scooting to the center of that throne. Because social media has lied to you: It’s told us all that self-promotion is OK.
So, what should you do? Should you stop posting pictures to social media?The answer isn’t necessarily to get off social media. No, the answer is stewardship.
Here are a few steps you can take to help take focus off the self:
1. It takes work.
If you’re one who posts countless pictures to social media on a daily basis, it will take re-conditioning. That is, you’ve created in yourself a habitual routine. With any habit, you need to take a similar amount of time breaking that routine just as you did creating it. Try uninstalling social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram. Once done, you’ll have cravings to download them again, but don’t.
Give it time, as these withdrawal symptoms could last from a few weeks to a few months and beyond. Instead, download a Bible app or podcast apps from pastors you admire.
2. Take one week off from all social media.
Keep a daily journal, and log how you are thinking, feeling and acting, both within your own mind (self-communication) and with others. Make note of any struggles you are having staying away from posting pictures to social media. Make note of any successes you’ve had as well.
Most importantly, make notes or your relationship with Jesus; has it improved, grown, strengthened? What has changed? After one week, have an honest conversation with yourself. Make adjustments to your social media habits accordingly.
3. When hanging out with friends and family, do your best not to think about how you can take a picture just to post it to social media.
If you are going to take a picture, simply take it to save for memories (save to your phone, computer, or print it off). Otherwise, enjoy the company of your friends and family. Enjoy the moment.
4. Keep your phone in your pocket or purse when meeting with friends and family.
When that phone is laying on a restaurant dinner table or coffee table, you’re subconsciously telling those you are with that you do not value their company as much as you value the digital company in your phone. Regardless if you check your phone or not during your time with them, you are communicating yourself selfishly to them. Other than extenuating circumstances, you do not need to keep your phone visible to others.
5. When you are about to post a picture to social media, ask yourself why you are posting that particular image(s).
Is it for self-promotion? Are you trying in any way to boast when you post? This will require honesty on your part. What many people do by posting Scripture, a catchy quote, or simply a witty statement below a selfie is try to manipulate the viewer of that photograph; taking the attention off their self-absorption, and communicating false realities (e.g., after taking 15 photos in your dorm room in the morning, after you’ve had time to comb your hair and put on some nice clothes, only to include the caption, “Just woke up, I look a mess!”). You’re only fueling your need for validation, while communicating falsely to the people who follow you.
Social media picture posting is not in and of itself detrimental to self-growth. But, when not stewarded well, as with anything, it can be the destruction of our self and our relationships with others. We need to re-evaluate where our identity is being placed, whether in the validation from others on social media through pictures or through the affirmation given from Jesus Christ.
is an assistant professor of communication at Taylor University. His teaching and research efforts are conducted through the lens of social psychology. He focuses primarily on marriage fidelity, relationship development/management, the self, nonverbal communication, persuasion, social influence and social media. He lives in Indiana with his beautiful wife, Stacey.