Is Your Social Media Persona Making You Less Human?

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If we are all being honest, we are overwhelmed with information. We are overwhelmed in our inboxes, newsfeeds, and timelines. There is more content there than we even come close to having time to read, and (frankly) most of it isn’t worth our time. That doesn’t mean it’s all “bad.” But it does mean that very little of it ranks with the important things in our individual lives that deserve priority, and it does mean that much of it is not making us more whole human beings. Given the environment of social media overload, I think Catholic communities need to consider how we are contributing to it.

I say this as a blogger and aspiring book author who utilizes social media to share my writing. Writers and speakers like myself feel a lot of pressure (from publishers, ourselves, others) to promote our writing, and by extension ourselves, through social media. It’s the publicist of the 21st century. While it is necessary for us to use it, I’m concerned with the typical use I see. I fear that a significant amount of the content I read, often by highly-followed Catholics and Christians, is contributing to the excess social media “noise.” I call it noise because, while the more substantive writing and speaking of these individuals is highly edifying, the social media content often presents a different persona.

As a Communication scholar and media critic, I’m trained to ask not only how do we use media, but more importantly, how does that use change us? Truthfully, the “social media persona” is predisposed to make us less human, due simply to the fact that its ultimate and primary goal is self-promotion. So what happens when other values of the user conflict with this goal? How often do other goals/values (edification, humility, respect, civility, dialogue) lose out to the snarky post we know has a good chance of getting “liked” or re-posted? Too often, from what I’ve seen.

I don’t think this happens because we mean for to, but we are not honest with ourselves about the tremendous force (dare I say addiction) of maintaining the social media persona. Because of this, we don’t set standards or boundaries for ourselves. We uncritically post content (sometimes stream of conscious) and unrestrictedly check back for responses. What we need to come to grips with is the fact that our pride and vanity are always at risk of being stroked by social media’s innate end of self-promotion. We can’t just float along with the current of cultural social media use and think that it won’t impact who we are; the undertow will pull us down and ultimately compromise our message and our humanity.

So we have to impose boundaries and standards for our social media use as safeguards — to keep us from becoming less human, less attune to the religious sense in our lives. This might mean simply asking yourself some critical questions before you hit “post.” I compiled a short list of social media self-checks, based on some common pitfalls and missteps I have observed:

Self-Check #1

How many times have I posted today? This hour? How many of those posts have been about me?

Self-Check #2

Is what I’m about to post going to edify anyone who reads it? Might it injure anyone? Might it simply add to the noise? Am I posting something snarky to appear clever or witty, at the expense of losing an opportunity for dialogue?

Self-Check #3

Is my post about the litany of “good” things in my {#blessed} life a masked boast? Might it (though unintentionally) have an elitist, first-world tone that is totally oblivious to other socio-economic groups?

Self-Check #4

Is my post calling attention to my holiness or putting my spiritual devotion on display? Do I sound like the man praying out on the street corner for all to see in Matt. 6? Is the spiritual insight I’m about to share meant to be kept in my interior life with God, rather than being gushed about exteriorly to others?

Self-Check #5

Is my first reaction in daily life experiences to post about them on social media or to actually participate in and enjoy the moment-by-moment experiences of my life?

Self-Check #6

Does my post reduce something sacred or turn elements of my faith into kitschy items for consumption?

There are probably many other questions we could add to this list, but starting here would undoubtedly curb some of our smartphone trigger fingers and decrease much of our mindless and uncritical social media activity. We must be intentional. The world of social media is designed to keep us in the world of social media and our own self-centered universe. If unchecked, it will steal our joy and compromise our voices of faith, hope, and love to the world.

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Copyright 2017 Jessica Ptomey 

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About Author

Jessica is a wife, mom, writer, Communications scholar, and adjunct professor. She blogs on topics that include: Christian living, Catholicism, and culture. As a Catholic convert and former Evangelical Protestant, Jessica promotes ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Catholics in both her writing and academic scholarship. She lives in the DC suburbs with her husband and three sons. Follow her at http://www.jessicaptomey.com.

6 Comments

  1. So true! I’ve always said the same thing that we are missing the special moments by not being present in them if we are always posting about them!

  2. Joanna Railing on

    This article is a great comfirmation of the choice I made a long time ago – not to get involved in social media at all. No good can really come out of it except maybe if you use it for business purposes. It’s too self consuming for personal use and these days everyone is way to focused on themselves. We don’t need social media’s unending encouragement of our pride. It’s mostly a waste of time and our time here on earth is too precious to waste.

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