The other day, one of my students acknowledged that he doesn’t use the ‘Messages’ app on his phone for texts anymore, he only connects and chats to friends through the social media messenger services. He primarily spends his time on Instagram, and so he finds it unnecessary to use a different app just for messaging. As I had this brief conversation, it again confirmed the power of social media and its influence on thought, action, and worldview in the lives of teenagers (and all of us).
This power and influence of social media upon our world is highlighted in the recent Netflix documentary film, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. It’s a fascinating story. A story of deception and criminal activity on one hand, but also one that reflects more about humanity than we’d like to think.
Fyre was to be THE festival of the year in 2017. It was designed to be a luxury music festival, held on its own island in the Bahamas, full of wealthy and ‘beautiful’ people, top class music acts, and mint accommodation and food. Soon enough, Fyre became the talk of those in the know because of its slick advertising, and promotion through ‘social media influencers.’
With interviews, footage, commentary, and reflections about what really occurred and why this festival became no festival at all, ‘Fyre’ describes the saga behind its failure. As the documentary unfolds, so does the disaster that led thousands of people out of pocket, with no accommodation, a salad sandwich for dinner, and no music to listen to.
It really is a fascinating story, particularly because of the way social media was used to influence and impact the lives of people. In my post-watch analysis, I’ve been amazed in two ways, which both reflect our heart’s inclinations for something other than what God has given to us for the now.
First, I’m amazed at the lengths people go to live what is perceived as a successful life.
Throughout the interviews, there is a continued undercurrent about how luxurious this festival would be. This wasn’t a festival aimed at the masses. This was an exclusive festival. It was only for those who could afford it, someone who could easily dispose of $2000-4000.
And because it was pitched as such, a number of festival-goers interviewed revealed how much they wanted to be part of something so exclusive. For those who bought into it there was something appealing about being part of the select group. Social media promotion is to thank for selling the vision, and it is evident that people wanted to be part of this vision because it was limited to a few. And this effect happens regularly, whether it is the type of phone you have, the handbag you carry, or the shoes you wear. Exclusivity plays on our minds as something of benefit to us, something that can portray our unique success in life.
It’s interesting how the Christian faith and worldview turns what worldly success looks like upside down.
The opening words of the Book of Psalms highlight this:
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
The Psalmist opens the whole book of Psalms with words that highlight the need to be delighting and meditating on God and his Word. It is those that do so who will have success and happiness in God. They will be “blessed.”
This doesn’t mean everything in life is cushy; no way. What it does reflect though is a recognition that our self is secondary to that of God. God and his words are what keep us on the path of rightness, and give us nourishment for whatever we have before us.
Second, I am amazed at the lengths people will go in order to keep up appearances.
From a long way out, everyone knew the festival wasn’t going to happen. Yet, with the encouragement of the visionary leader, employees and volunteers tried to keep it all together. They sought to portray an image that they knew was false. Caterers and musicians were cancelled, the infrastructure wasn’t there, the transport wasn’t enough, the accommodations were unsuitable, yet they continued to display through their website and social media posts that all was on track for a successful festival. But, pull aside the curtain and behind it we find an ugly mess, a disaster, that would affect people and their livelihoods in the days beyond.
Often this is the case with our hearts, is it not?
Take that curtain away and what do we really see? We’re often keeping up appearances, particularly through our social media platforms.
In the marketing of the event, a number of the world’s top supermodels were used to promote Fyre and its campaign. Through their social media platforms the event went viral and made it a possible reality. Yet, it was all a facade. It was all fake. There was the appearance of reality but it was not reality. There was no substance behind it.
This reminds me of the short parable Jesus tells about the man who built his house on the sand rather than on the rock. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says,
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matt 7:24-27).
So often we seek to build our lives on things that can easily disappear or be washed away. But when we rest on the words of God, we find stability; we are standing on substance.
In our world, both we and our teenagers tend to strive to the point of exhaustion to show our best selves. We are constantly pressured to reveal the side of ourselves we think will be loved and accepted. Heck, why else would Instagram be so popular!? We’ve got to show off that great breakfast, that great dress, those great shoes, that great holiday. It will not only mean we’re living a successful life, but it’ll give us a dopamine boost to encourage us to post again. The unmade bed, the bed hair, the Corn Flakes for breakfast, and the hour-long commute to work won’t really cut it. Reflecting reality behind that curtain that is our hearts and lives is not as satisfying as the curtain itself.
Thankfully, the God of the scriptures does not expect the luxurious, the perfect, the manicured, the cultured, the wealth, and the appearance. Instead, God expects us to come to him with the mess. He wants the mess. He wants what is behind that curtain. Despite the truth that our hearts and lives are more ordinary than extraordinary, more mundane than marvellous, his grace awaits us, his comfort is for us, and his faithfulness holds us.
This is the word our students need to hear day in and day out.
Through the Lord Jesus we can stop believing we’re better than we really are. We can pull down the curtain. Instead we can come to him, rest in him, and find a true love and true acceptance built upon a cross that is everlasting.