On a not infrequent basis, I come face-to-face with my own hypocrisy. It generally leaves me feeling humbled; last week's encounter was no exception.
I was sitting in a coffee shop with a friend discussing the process of manufacturing an online identity. For those of us who blog and enjoy social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, there is a certain amount of identity creation that takes place. It isn't necessarily that we generate a completely fictional self online. But certainly, we put our best foot forward. The end product isn't bad. It's nice; it's shiny. But it's also limited; the online portrait is not the full picture.
It's easier to post stories and photos online that are humorous or flattering. Life's less-lovely aspects … the arguments, the insecurities, the disappointments … don't usually make the status update content cut.
The coffee shop talk transitioned to the photos we opt to post. I admitted, "Well, we all choose our best photos, right? Sometimes I even choose the ones that are so filtered that I don't even look quite like myself."
The danger in a sunshine-only approach to social media posting is that it's incomplete and therefore, false. It perpetuates the idea that some people have perfect lives filled with non-stop fun and wrinkle-free foreheads. And then there are the rest of us. So we compare ourselves to one another and feel bad that our actual reality seems to pale in comparison to someone else's virtual presentation.
As my friend and I took the last few swallows of our coffees, we concluded that we want our online presence to be a more accurate representation of our authentic selves. I expressed that in the near future, I aspire to invest more energy in direct interpersonal relationships and the nurturing of my spirit.
It only took a few hours to experience my own unintentional hypocrisy. I sat in a waiting room passing the time with my cell phone. The space was quiet and I sat in an empty row of chairs. Forgetting the entire aforementioned social media conversation, I suddenly had the bright idea to update my Twitter account profile photo to something more flattering. Since I was having a slightly above mediocre hair day, it seemed an appropriate occasion for selfie time. (A "selfie" is the name for a photo you take of yourself.)
Just then, before I could snap a photo, I overheard him: "It looks like she's taking a selfie. I just don't know … sometimes I feel like I'm living in another world." Glancing up, I saw the man behind the voice. He looked to be about 80 years old and wore a striped shirt and John Deere cap on his head. We made eye-contact across the room for a brief moment before my utter mortification set in.
I brought my phone close to my ear, assuming the position of a person who was about to make a call for important business. Something related to compassion or service or at the very least, something that wasn't as vain as a waiting room selfie.
Let it be known, I don't think there's anything wrong with taking selfies. I think they're fun. But the knot that formed instantly in my gut served as a reminder that I understood the sentiment at the heart of the man's words. Sometimes it really does feel like another world … a world in which there are so many ways we can become disconnected from ourselves and others. The allure of creating an always-happy, put together, in control online self is tempting. Too tempting.
I highly value technology. Social media is especially incredible for its power to connect us to resources, information, and other human beings. However, I don't want to lose my real self along the way — and I don't want you to lose your real self either.
There is no perfect recipe for a well-balanced online life. But I believe God is as present in our virtual communities as anywhere else. May the guidance of the Holy Spirit direct our use of technology and selfies and all the rest. And whether it's in the flesh or online, may we never lose touch with the beauty of our authentic, imperfect selves.