We’ve been warned that social media can distract us, shorten our attention spans, disconnect us from real-life relationships. But what if our Facebook and Instagram are also making us miserable?
Journalist Libby Copeland wrote a few years ago that Facebook might “have a special power to make us sadder and lonelier.” How can this be, though, when Facebook is generally so, well, happy, brimming with smiling faces and beautiful families? Well, that’s just the point.
“By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature,” Copeland writes. “And women—an especially unhappy bunch of late—may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses.”
In other words, Facebook presents a highly edited, selective picture of life—one without the tears, struggles and tedium. Other writers have noticed that Instagram can have a similar effect, and that “social media envy” can be a powerful and afflicting emotion.
Now in one sense, what happens on Facebook and Instagram really doesn’t matter. If you find yourself absorbed in comparing yourselves to others in this way, the best option might be to turn off the iPhone and detox from the blue glow.
But, it seems to me, the very same phenomenon is present in the pews of our Christian churches.
Our worship songs are typically celebrative, in both lyrical content and musical expression. In the last generation, a mournful song about crucifixion was pepped up with a jingly-sounding chorus, “It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day!” This isn’t just a Greatest Generation revivalist problem either. Even those ubiquitous contemporary worship songs that come straight out of the Psalms tend to focus on psalms of ascent or psalms of joyful exuberance, not psalms of lament (and certainly not imprecatory psalms!).