So how do you feel after five minutes on Facebook? Informed? Connected? Thankful? Satisfied? Maybe. But that’s not the case with everyone. Many indicate that after spending time on Facebook they feel depressed.
May I suggest that this is not a fault of Facebook? It’s the airbrush.
Over two decades ago, Eugene Peterson wrote a book for pastors regarding the issue of their spiritual life as it’s affected by their position. I wore my copy out.
Written with the prophet Jonah in mind, Under the Unpredictable Plant is a study in vocational holiness. In it, Peterson makes an observation that immediately resonates with pastors who have been exposed to what was then called The Church Growth Movement.
Peterson suggests that, just as a man might view pornography, see the airbrushed images of near perfection, and thereafter look upon his wife with disappointment, so pastors can look at church growth material, see airbrushed presentations of churches like Willow Creek, North Point Community, and Saddleback, and feel something between frustration with and contempt for the church family he leads. Church growth material, at least in those days, didn’t talk much about failure, betrayal, lazy parishioners, and self-serving leadership. More often, it, like a centerfold of the day, was presented perfectly — airbrushed to be without spot, wrinkle, blemish, or bulge.
Peterson called this ecclesiastical pornography.
So you get the idea, right? If a husband looks at images that have been airbrushed to perfection, he may struggle with the ordinariness of his wife’s appearance. And if a pastor reads airbrushed accounts of ministries that grow by dozens and hundreds and thousands, he may struggle when those Five Key Measures to Guarantee Church Growth don’t work. He could become depressed — even resentful.
What does this have to do with Facebook? Well, when I look at the thousands of images my hundreds of friends have put on Facebook, generally what I see is airbrushed. Not literally. No, they aren’t even literally Photo-shopped. But what they are is carefully selected presentations of their lives, more often than not a product of image-management. I recently read that today’s smartphone users are less screen-addicts than they are brand-managers. They are working to present themselves in ways not unlike the ways Apple works to present itself.
I don’t like to talk badly about your friends, but the reality is that many of them are posting things on their Facebook to make themselves look good — like they are living the good life. Generally, there are no images of them hearing the doctor deliver the bad news. No videos of their children striking out with the bases loaded. No accounts of what they’re paying for their DUI conviction. No stories about their latest marital squabble. They’ve airbrushed those right out of their lives. When anything sad or difficult is presented, it’s usually to solicit prayer. Or sympathy. Beyond that, it’s a lot like brand-management.
Actually, it’s not just your friends who are presenting a one-sided image of life. It’s you. And it’s me.
So wait a minute. Maybe it’s not the airbrush that’s to blame. Maybe it’s not our friends. Maybe it’s our failure to see Facebook for what it is: A collection of advertisements that we create in order to share the good things in our life with other people — whether from good motives or bad.
If we could see Facebook this way, it might be less depressing.