why I love RELEVANT

two fantastic articles I felt were definitely worth sharing. -SRL


Is Facebook Killing Our Souls?: Shane Hipps examines how social networking affects us.

For a person who writes about how technology shapes us, I’m embarrassed to admit I ended up on Facebook by accident. I received an email from an acquaintance requesting we become “friends.” To be polite, I said yes. I clicked a few buttons and agreed to a few things without paying much attention. For the next three days, my inbox was flooded with email notifications from a large number of my real-life friends who were also apparently now my virtual friends. They were thrilled. They congratulated me on joining Facebook—an achievement I didn’t consider worthy of accolade. I was also a bit mortified. Not just at how invasive Facebook was, but how excited these people were. What was wrong with them? [Editor’s note: For a different perspective on social media, check out Caleb Gardner’s article]

I’ll admit I found some appeal. There is a certain thrill in looking at pictures of high school friends from long ago without them knowing. It’s like being a fly on the wall at your high school reunion. I was instantly connected to long-lost friends. People I would never go searching for, but would love to know what they are doing. And all at once I was not only updated on their life, I was also introduced to their moment-by-moment mental fidgets in the form of status updates. What a simple joy.

There are times when I felt a bit like a voyeur must feel. However, this is not voyeurism. Voyeurism assumes the people you are watching don’t want you to see them. Voyeurism is what happens when you steal glimpses into people’s lives they don’t intend for you to see. The people I’m looking at want me to see everything I’m seeing. They want me to know what they’re eating, wearing, feeling and thinking in each moment. They are actually exhibitionists. So while there is a little voyeurism, there is a lot of exhibitionism on Facebook.

Such exhibitionism has an unusual effect on us. We not only want others to see us, we like to see us. We are able to inspect and tweak what others are seeing about us. We become fascinated by the image we project. It’s like having a mirror on your desk or in your pocket. And every so often, you pull it out to gaze upon your own image. Perhaps you want to adjust your hair or find postures of the head to smooth out the double chin. This kind of regular self-inspection eventually gives rise to a subtle narcissism.

The narcissism created by these technologies is unique. It encourages not just self-absorption, but, more accurately, self-consumption. We become creators and consumers of our own brand. We become enamored by a particular kind of self, a pseudo-self. A self-image controlled in much the same way corporate brands are controlled. Complete with pictures, videos, songs and, most of all, metrics—the number of friends we have, the kinds of friends we have and the kind of associations we have. We endlessly refine, create and consume a digital projection we want others to see. However, we are rarely what we project. This image approximates reality, but it is not reality.

This heavily edited and carefully controlled self easily hides certain parts of ourselves we don’t want others to see. This is hardly new, of course. In any social situation, we seek to control the impression we give. The problem is that in real social settings, there are limits to what we can hide. At a certain point, people intuitively see through us. Eventually they get a sense of who we really are. And in this way, real friendships can function as a healthy mirror. They become an honest mirror that loves but doesn’t flatter us. Facebook is more like a funhouse mirror. Feeling short and squatty, no problem, just bend the mirror and presto! You are who you wish you were.

Over enough time, this subtle effect creates a minor split in us. A split between who we are, and who we think we are. This tiny fracture may seem insignificant, but if we remain unconscious, it leads us away from a life of wholeness and integration.

Stunted growth
Narcissism is a rather exquisite vice. It is very difficult to detect in oneself. And when something is hard to identify it makes it hard to dissolve. The real buzzkill, though, is how it affects relationships. Studies indicate narcissists have trouble forming meaningful relationships, tend to be materialistic and are prone to higher levels of infidelity, substance abuse and violence.

So while Facebook and other social media connect us to more digital relationships, at the same time, they deteriorate our ability to maintain healthy relationships in real life.
Our social technologies are increasingly serving as an obstacle to this process in young people. If certain kinds of social media are introduced prematurely in the lives of teens, they may inadvertently short-circuit basic developmental milestones crucial for establishing healthy relationships later in life.

Facebook is the perfect cocktail: a medium that focuses much of our attention on ourselves, while appearing to focus our attention on relationship with others. It is a mirror masquerading as a window.

Just because this developmental hiccup is acute in adolescents doesn’t mean adults are immune from the narcotic effects of social media. It’s true that most adults have stabilized basic ego structures, but the human psyche is anything but static; it remains profoundly plastic throughout life. As a result, human development never really ends and regression is always possible.

If we persist in consuming these or any technologies without conscious awareness, we will be formed in ways we don’t intend. But I must be clear on this point. The problem is not using the technology. The problem is using it unconsciously.

How then do we become conscious? One of the most powerful ways is by practicing a technology fast. Don’t look at your Facebook account for one week and see what you notice about yourself. See what you miss. See what you gain. If nothing happened in a week, try two. The point is not the time—it’s the distance. Find ways to gain enough distance to perceive. You will reap the benefits.

Wake up
Now it will be tempting to conclude after all this ranting that I am simply a Luddite, a technophobe bent on the dismantling of all digital technologies. This is not the case. Admittedly, I was hardly even-handed in my observations. However, to herald the virtues of our technology is mostly redundant, it would be like trying to argue the importance of breathing. It’s already here, and the value it adds is self-evident. This is why the technologies are so prevalent: we automatically know their benefits, otherwise we wouldn’t use them. My concern is that our culture seems only capable of seeing the benefit and utterly blind to the liabilities, the inevitable losses certain technologies bring. I have no interest in trying to end or stop such technological innovations; to do so is like trying to resist the wind or the tides. Instead, I want us to understand them with depth. Not with naïve embrace, or fearful rejection.

If we learn to wake up and understand, perhaps we will be able to use them rather than be used by them.

Shane Hipps is a pastor and author of Flickering Pixels (Zondervan). This article is excerpted from a longer article that appeared in RELEVANT.


In Defense of Dating:Why it’s OK to let go of the courtship myth.
Stephen W. Simpson

Ten or 15 years ago, “courtship” became a buzzword in Evangelical culture. Books like Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye* and Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity popularized the notion of replacing dating with antiquated courtship rituals. It started a lot of conversations and sold a lot of books, but the concept was more popular than the practice. Dating behavior didn’t change much. Courtship mini-movements still surface from time to time. Someone recently directed me to an article hearkening us to a better time when women were wooed and men weren’t metrosexual. Yet modern courtship remains mostly a myth … and I’m glad. Below the niceties and the hands-off approach to premarital romance, courtship has an ugly history.

Marrying for love became popular a little more than 200 years ago. Before that, a woman’s parents would arrange her marriage to a man who could provide for her financially. Courtship didn’t have anything to do with love—it was transaction between two families that would ensure financial stability and the continuation of family bloodlines.

In Western culture, the stiff march to matrimony started to loosen up around the 11th century when “courtly love” emerged among French nobility. A man “courted” a woman by wooing her at social events held in a royal court. In the courtly love tradition, romantic love was transcendent, the greatest good. There was just one catch: you had to commit adultery. Marriage was so devoid of passion that people started committing adultery so they could fall in love. The good news is that the courtly love movement changed the way people thought about relationships. People began wanting love and marriage to go together.

Colonial settlers in America were among the first to give courtship short shrift. They needed families to work the land and set up communities, so parents gave their sons and daughters more independence. Leave it to the U.S. of A. to put the kibosh on centuries of tradition. When schools became coeducational in the 19th century, courtship rituals started to fade.

Then the 1960s arrived and everyone went nuts.

The sexual revolution and the feminist movement annihilated courtship. Dating was no longer expected to lead to marriage. The traditional roles of man as the pursuer and woman as the reactor came under heavy fire for the first time in history. Sexual prohibitions fell, opening a whole realm of physical intimacy to couples with no intention of marrying each other.

Advocates of modern courtship intend it as a correction to the sexual revolution. It’s hard to argue against their motivation. Popular culture treats sex as the starting point of the relationship instead of the final consummation of love and commitment. Though courtship corrals the sex problem, its historical roots in the objectification of women disqualify it as a biblical alternative to the sexual revolution. Instead, we need to figure out what pre-marriage romance looks like for a man and woman with equal power.

Women have a lot more options and control then they did in courtship’s heyday. Courtship is rooted in a model that treats women like childbearing pieces of property. Men fumble around with antiquated practices that don’t correspond to modern female power. Respecting a woman means more than being polite; it means respecting her goals and gifts. In the past, marriage required a woman to follow a man on his journey. Now, a man and a woman go on the journey together. Courtship rituals haven’t caught up with this change. We need a new model. This leaves us with dating.

I admit that it’s not an attractive option. It’s messier than courtship and more cumbersome than a casual hookup. Nobody knows how to do it very well. Dating is scary, but maybe that’s OK. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Dating is risky. Getting close to someone can be terrifying without the rituals of courtship or the fleeting comforts of casual sex. Healthy intimacy involves living in the tension of authenticity and uncertainty. Being honest and open with no guarantee of a positive outcome is intimidating and sometimes crazy-making. It’s easy to get hurt. That’s the sort of risk healthy dating involves. Courtship rituals reduce ambivalence and uncertainty. Cheap sex does the same thing. Dating requires courage. It means trusting God not to drag you toward a mate, but to keep you anchored to your First Love during the journey.

You might be aggravated that I haven’t specified what distinguishes dating from courtship. How far is too far when it comes to physical intimacy (always question numero uno)? Is it OK for a woman to ask a man out (people fight to the death about this one)? There aren’t universal answers to these questions. Dating is about two people figuring out what it means for them to grow closer to each other while remaining close to God. I have some ideas about how that works. So do Lauren Winner, Joshua Harris, Neil Clark Warren, Harville Hendrix, Henry Cloud, Chap Clark and Donald Miller. But nobody can give you a formula that eliminates risk. I guess God didn’t want it to be easy, and He probably has good reasons.

* This book catches too much crap (mostly from people who haven’t read it) because of its opposition to kissing during courtship. Harris has important insights about identity formation and faith before looking for love. Don’t dismiss the book just because you like making out.

Stephen W. Simpson, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of What Women Wish You Knew about Dating: A Single Guy’s Guide to Romance (Baker Books) and Assaulted by Joy: The Redemption of a Cynic (Zondervan).


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