A few years ago when I was a career counselor, I went to a national conference in career development and heard one of the expert panelists (I don’t recall which one, I just wrote it down) say something to the effect of “theory without practice is meaningless and practice without theory is blind.” This little statement has stuck with me since then and I think it is relevant to many aspects of life, especially for followers of Christ. I think about this a lot in regard to studying theology, since application/the practical is more my natural bent: Theology without application is meaningless and application without theology is blind.
In the past few months, I have realized the blind path I have followed in a lot of things. One of those things is how I engage with social media. I exited Facebook almost two years ago because I was having too many triggers with my OCD. With the frequent posting of fear-mongering articles about things- I was almost always extremely anxious after getting on Facebook. So, I decided to sign out for a while. After leaving, I found, I didn’t miss it.
This summer I took a couple of week break from Instagram. To my shame, I frequently find myself tempted by things that others post. OCD also plays into this temptation in that I can sometimes become unconscientiously compulsive about checking Instagram and waste a lot of time. This is why I often delete the app of my phone and add it back only to post something. Since I don’t want that to be the main way I fill my free time, I decided to take a break from it for a while. During that Instabreak, at first refraining was hard, but after a little while, I didn’t miss it. Upon returning after a two-week hiatus, I found that it took me zero time to fall into my old patterns. I looked at a bunch of old posts from people and I found myself getting jealous about a party I wasn’t at, which happened four days earlier, in a town I no longer live in. Why do I care? I also found I was holding feelings of unforgiveness toward some people and little pictures of friends of friends of friends triggered these feelings. It was because of these things that I began to realize that my practice of using Instagram was blind. I was just doing my thing, influenced by others and my own whims. The blind leading the blind, so to speak.
The past Sunday my husband preached a sermon called “The Irony of Religion.” In it, he went on a little former English teacher rant about the misuse of the word Irony. But he used the example of Instagram as a modern day example of the word ironic- how on Instagram things often seem different than they really are. On Instagram you can edit the junk out of your pictures and make yourself or your surroundings look different with a filter (or photo editing app/software). He referenced this humorous blog post about how mothers can use certain filters to hide their parenting tears, as well as the recent story of a young woman from Australia who was “Instagram famous,” exited Instagram, and revealed some of the irony of her own posts.
In an effort to avoid blind irony, I decided to think through and brainstorm a bunch of questions to ask myself about my use of Instagram- to figure out the “why and how” and if I should consider giving it up entirely. To ask myself, does the gospel have anything to do with my use of this platform? I’m working through these questions now, and I’m sharing the questions with you, should you want to develop a personal philosophy for using Instagram or if you have any important questions to add to the mix.
Some may ask if it is actually necessary to go through all of this. To which I say: yes, it is for someone like me. I must have a personal philosophy for almost every activity I engage it. That’s just the blessing and curse of having OCD. From the way I cook dinner to the way I brush my teeth, it all has to be done intentionally and with faith, otherwise it’s ruled by fear. But, you don’t have to have OCD to be controlled by Instagram. Google “best time to post on Instagram for likes” and you will actually find articles to read. It’s a business after-all and you are both the product and the customer. We are raising a generation of kids that are obviously obsessed with likes, and yet, we participate in it all without thinking about it.
With ALL of that said, here are 20 sets of questions to consider…
- Why am I using this social media platform?
- How does being a Christian affect the way that I use this?
- What are my images and/or captions depicting?
- What is the overarching tone of my images/ captions? Step back and look at the big picture-are my posts all positive, all negative, hopeful, funny…what is the theme?
- If someone were to describe my interests, personality, friends solely from viewing me from this platform posts, what would they say?
- What sort of emotions do I feel when using this platform? Do these emotions ever become sinful?
- If I experience sinful emotions frequently while using this platform, what particular images or captions tempt me? What sinful emotions to a need to work through?
- How am I interpreting the images and captions I read about others? Am I making them about me or are they about them?
- How do I want others to interpret the images and captions I display? Do I think about this when you post?
- If I think about others when I post, am I trying to justify myself, make myself appear different, or validate myself? Do I post for likes?
- Could I intentionally (or unintentionally) be causing others to stumble with my images or captions? Does that matter?
- Do my in-person relationships know as much or more about my life as my on-line followers?
- Do I have friends and relationships that are 3-D, not solely online?
- Am I using openness and/or connectivity on-line as a substitute for in-person connection and/or vulnerability?
- Do I ever present myself different from reality? If so, why? If not, is my reality always presented positively or negatively and is that okay?
- Could I fast this platform or give it up completely? (Sidenote: fasting for a while may help you answer some of these questions).
- Do I look/search but not post? Why? What am I seeking?
- How much time do I spend using this platform? Is it getting in the way of my other priorities?
- How can I use this platform to show/display the work God has done in my life? (ie can I use this missionally or for God’s glory?)
- Finally, How could/should the gospel impact the answers to these questions?
Beginning to answer these questions has revealed a lot about my heart- how I present my life and how I view others. True, the world will urge you to use Instagram in an ironic way (just like religion), but it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why question 20 is important. By the power of the Spirit, you can engage in the activities of our current culture through the filter of the Gospel. It’s the most powerful, life-giving filter you could use.
The filter of the Gospel gives us freedom to: display reality in a hopeful way, be okay with the process and journey, see a photo filter as a means of seeking and highlighting beauty and not a way of making myself or surroundings look better than they are, look at others joys knowing that a moment in a picture isn’t all of their life but praise God it’s some of it, be patient with others messes, and finally, remember that other people’s pictures are not about me because I am not the center of the universe, God is. Yes, the motives for all it of it will be both good and bad, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, but God is in the process of redeeming and using it all for His purposes and glory. We can trust that He writes stories for all of us that are somehow intertwined, often illustrated in the pictures that we take. So here’s to a medium that can be a means to display that ordinary life with gospel intentionality.