An example of planking
As thing in the world get worse and worse, the overworked and distracted people of the middle class seek to escape the ugly realities in more and more bizarre ways. Drunken tourism is an actual term for the phenomenon of people traveling for the sole purpose of getting smashed in a place far from home where the climate is kinder, the watchful eyes of family are far away, and the drinks are cheaper.
A related phenomenon is narcissistic tourism, where people take selfies with famous (or infamous) places as a backdrop—often in places where photography is forbidden. Sometimes people will do stupid and dangerous things as they or a friend shoots video of the moment. What started as mere stupidity—planking has evolved into something far more dangerous—balconing. Planking is defined as laying your body horizontally, face-down across any object or the ground with arms by the side, aiming for daring or unusual situations while a friend takes a picture. Balconing is when people (usually under the influence of alcohol) jump from balcony to balcony or from a balcony into a swimming pool (you can google balconing death and see many examples—myself, I cannot watch such things). It’s as if the world has gone insane for the sake (and hope!) of going viral. Doing virtually anything for the sake of fame, however fleeting.
Some people do acts of violence, sex, or suicide—announcing their intentions before the act either openly (as the Ferguson revenge killer did) or in a veiled reference (as the Columbine killers and the Sandy Hook killer did). Young girls—preteen girls, and even boys—take naked pictures of themselves with their phones and send them to someone they’re interested in. This phenomenon has a name: sexting and the sender doesn’t realize that the receiver will probably show it to all his friends. He may even post it on social media, and there is no stopping him or getting it away from him. Worse, the recipient may actually be a grown man that has gone on the internet looking for underage girls (or boys) to have sex with. Social media can influence and even encourage suicide—especially in the case of bullying.
All of these activities done on the virtual stage is a form of narcissism. Social media definitely fuels narcissism, where people post their exploits in hopes of it going viral. Almost everyone is on at least one social media network (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), and some are on several of them. They post periodically throughout the week—or even throughout the day—pictures and/or videos of themselves and family members. Social media is probably not a cause of narcissism (certainly not in the pathological sense), but rather a vehicle for the existing condition, and may actually cause existing narcissism to worsen. There is evidence that the more often that a person posts selfies and the more social media “friends” a person has, the more likely they are to be narcissistic.
Social media has increased the number of friendships a person is likely to have, never mind that they are shallow friendships, and often comprised of people one has never actually met before. Many people unfriend those who have inadvertently offended them, rather than ask about the comment, the photo, or whatever it was that caused offense. This brings to mind what Jesus said: “Then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another,” (Matthew 24:10). And in verse 12: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,” (all in the context of the End Times). Sometimes the exchanges on Facebook seem to me like people posting for no other reason than to hear the sound of their own voice or see their name/likeness published in cyberspace. It takes effort and courage to ask someone that has offended you, “Why did you say that?” or “Why did you do that?” You might find out that your offender has had a rotten day, miswrote, or simply wasn’t thinking through the remark.
I was recently asked for a donation by someone using the Facebook page of a famous pastor. The person said that the Lord had called him to go minister in Nigeria. Then he asked for a donation. I was suspicious, and said that I would pray about it, and perhaps make the donation to his website. Then he said that the Lord told him not to handle any money, but to have all donations go directly to the church in Nigeria. So I contacted the pastor’s website and told them about the Facebook fraud. They told me what I already knew—that the pastor never asks for money on Facebook.
Another person had asked friendship, and I saw that he seemed to be a nice looking young man who was friends with several other friends of mine. Within minutes of accepting his friendship, he sent me a message, asking for money, claiming that it was for his father’s church in India.
My Facebook page was hacked back in December, and I had to shut down the page before the virus spread to my computer and possibly to my friends’ pages and their computers. Later I opened a new Facebook page, and learned that there had been gossip about me, that I had unfriended certain people because I was no longer following Christ—and this was started by one of those “friends” who has never actually met me. Honestly! What’s a person to do?
I’m not saying that social media is a bad thing in itself. But just like money or television, good and bad is all in how you use it. The majority of my friends on Facebook are people that I actually know. Sometimes I accept a friendship request from the friend of a friend. The majority of my friends post things like prayer requests, media stories that we should all know about and be praying about, or thoughts and quotes that encourage others. Do my friends post silly stuff? Of course they did! So do I sometimes. But mostly we post the other things that encourage each other. If Jesus had said it today, He might have put it this way: “out of the abundance of the heart the person posts to his page,” (Matthew 12:34, NKJV, paraphrasing and emphasis mine). So let this be a warning to use social media with caution and wisdom, remembering that not only are your friends and family watching, but so is God. God is good!