I thought it strikingly ridiculous, during my morning “scroll” the other day, when I came across two hundred pictures of an acquaintances’ acquaintance and her debaucherous evening out. Two hundred pictures taken in about four hours? What is that, a little less than one picture per minute? (I’m strikingly bad at math…) It seems to me that there are more pictures being taken on any given night than there is actual fun being had. Am I missing something? Is the night out the reason for the pictures or are the pictures the reason for the night out? Because that’s an incredible amount of “cheese.” I mean, why would any intelligent person want to document the heck out of every boringly mundane minute of a boringly mundane life?
I can’t imagine it’s to keep others abreast of their lives—all of their friends are with them, in their pictures. And besides, nobody wants THAT much of a look into any but her own life, thank you very much.
It’s possible it stems from the desire to be famous, greedily licking up every bit of airtime. “I have the world’s most fascinating life—watch me while I puke in this toilet.” Excuse me, but I believe that the world’s most fascinating people have neither the time nor the inclination to update their social media accounts 25 times an hour or post a thousand pictures of themselves—if they ascribe to social media at all. Their lives are too interesting (and busy) for all that nonsense.
Or worse, perhaps this is an attempt to justify the individuals’ string of bad decisions—to drink excessively, carouse with all manner of strange men and/or women and then to cause havoc amongst the general public, sometimes going so far as rioting or looting. Because, you know, everyone else is doing it. Well, I hate to be Captain Obvious here, but posting pictures of yourself in the act of doing something illegal (drunk or not) makes it astonishingly easy for law enforcement to find and arrest you…and everyone else who was doing it. Not the sharpest thing to do, if you asked me.
The whole question perplexed me. So I went to my “people”—the students I work with—to get their opinions. And what surfaced was incredibly heartbreaking. “They do those things and post the pics for the attention, an attempt to feel accepted, popular and loved—especially if they don’t feel loved at home. And online attention is so easy to get these days.” I knew that things weren’t great, but I had no idea they were this bad.
It seems to me that posting these kinds of pictures, or rather excessively posting anything personal on social media, is an attempt to fill a fundamental void somewhere deep inside the psyche of young people these days—the longing (not just the want, but the need) to be seen, to be known, and to be sought after; to be found to be enough, just as they are. Teens are growing up these days without strong, stable families, without genuine and admirable role models, and especially without the rock solid foundation in the person of Christ who speaks to them of their incomparable beauty and who loves them beyond all comprehension. When those around them don’t step up to give them what they require to be stable and strong, they go after what they instinctively know they need, wherever they can find it. Enter ten thousand clothes-optional online pictures, readily available for anyone and everyone to build me up. It doesn’t take a doctorate in psychology to see that seeking love and acceptance like this online is a very bad idea, and often leads to devastating results.
But it’s not all doom and gloom—there is always hope. Teenagers and young adults are just as idealistic and have just as much zest for life as they have always had and if they are acting this way online, it means they are on the universal journey seeking truth, beauty and goodness. I can’t say I know of any failsafe way to get through to teenagers and young adults these days, but I do know that they recognize and respond to beauty, truth, and goodness, just like St. Peter did when he saw the Lord standing on the shore and recklessly launched himself into the water with all his clothes on. They are aching to know their own worth and the meaning of life, despite their sometimes rough (okay, sometimes rude and abrasive) exteriors and we might be able to help them find the answers to the un-asked questions of their hearts. Am I beautiful? Am I enough? Do I have what it takes?
First and foremost, we can help by lots and lots of prayer (wearing out your knees, as my mother says) and secondly, by bringing Christ to them in any way we know how. For parents it might mean dragging them to church every Sunday and orchestrating good friendships for them. (God bless you parents!) For others, it might mean simply being an understanding and trusted confidante and the voice of reason in a life chock full of confusion and misery. I had a pal in high school that confessed to me shortly before graduation that she had struggled with suicidal ideas throughout our years in school together. She told me the only reason she didn’t go through with any real plan was because of my friendship with her. I was aghast—I’d had no idea such dark forces were at work in her. I was the same cheerful person with her as I was with my other friends and, thank God, that was just enough for her to keep moving on in life.
Benedict XVI wrote in his Apostolic Letter written for the Year of the Faith, “The ‘door of faith’ (Acts 14:27) is always open for us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church.” Christ sees down into the depths of our souls; he knows us and longs for us to walk through that door of faith, unhindered, into wholeness and communion with Him. May we each have the courage to do just that—and maybe post some pics along the way.