As a youth leader, I interact with teenagers on a regular basis. They are almost all on social media in one form or another. They tweet, snap, gram, etc. There are some platforms that they use that I’ve never even heard of. But, what I’ve found is how absolutely dedicated they are to the high that comes from social media.
For example, we were in D.C. last year on a trip and I told them that they wouldn’t have their phones for the last day. One girl said, “How am I going to take pictures?” Totally fair… but that’s why the adults will have their phones. Then someone said, “But, I’ll lose my snap-streak on Snapchat!” And they were dead serious about it.
One night, I made a claim that the teens couldn’t go a few days without social media, especially Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. I said that they were completely and utterly consumed by their desire to be relevant and be liked. One girl’s simple, very Gen-Z response: “Bet!” So, I called her bluff and watched her delete the apps in front of me. Then, she began to get anxious and made all these excuses why she needed to download the apps again.
Obviously, social media is part of teen culture.
But, what about adults? I know some adults who live on Facebook. Many have friends or family out of town and that is how they keep in touch. I think that’s a very beautiful thing. But, what happens when we spend all our time staring at a screen.
I have to watch myself as well. I spend WAY too much time on Twitter and it affects the rest of my life. I get so upset, anxious, and jaded by perceived injustices and moronic tweets and bad takes. And it made me wonder… is social media a good thing.
Of course, it can be a good thing. Social media connects us with people we may not have otherwise interacted with. I love following certain priests and lay people on Twitter and find it a lot of fun.
But, I wonder sometime if it’s compromising my ability to think critically. I know that it affected quite a few people this past Saturday. A story circulated of these terrible teens who viciously harrassed a Native American Veteran who was just minding his own business. Then, the story flipped entirely. The teens were the ones who were just having a good time and the Native American man was pushing into their midst and banging a drum in a kid’s face. Then, there was news of a possible third group that was almost certainly the true antagonizers.
Regardless of what the truth is, the social media blow up and outrage on January 19 was palpable. And it was entirely taken out of the realm of fact and reality. The “news” and “journalism” was mob rule. There was little to no benefit of the doubt being given. In fact, the school of these teens and even the Diocese were quick to release public statements to throw these teens under the bus. And numerous high-profile Catholics did likewise.
The whole affair was enough to shake me fairly deeply. Is social media a good thing? Yes, we are able to be connected in a new way. Yes, we can see pictures of friends and family from far away. But, what have we lost as a result of social media? Social media is powerful and dangerous. It can lift people up, but it can so easily enable bullying and doxing.
This is supposedly the loneliest generation of pre-teens and teens in history. They spend more time at home than any previous generation, but everyone is so immersed in the fake world of social media, that real relationships are degrading around them. Personal relationships are suffering. One-on-one conversations are nigh impossible. Even counseling services in some colleges are being done over text message rather than in person.
I will not be deleting my social media, because I do find it helpful from time to time. But I think I will be peeling back a bit. I may only log in occasionally, or just post my thoughts through the website to be shared on social media. If you like what I have to say or have a comment to begin a frutiful discussion, always feel free to leave a comment.
But, more than anything, let’s all dive a bit more into the people around us. Let’s focus on true social relationships and not the virtual counterfeit. And, please, for the love of all that is holy… do not immediately believe everything you read on the internet. Or, in today’s world, do not necessarily trust the news media either.
Pursue truth. Pursue real relationships.