Facebook: Voyeurism or Exhibitionism?

I’m endlessly fascinated by the ways that our devices shape us in ways that we often do not notice. I do not claim to be immune to this phenomenon. I say this as someone who feels the lure of technology. I have an iPhone. I’m typing on a MacBook Pro. I use a myriad of social media platforms. Most of us can agree that technology is a gift and I suspect most of us are now slowly realizing the shadow side of our technologies as well.

293217Shane Hipps writes in his book Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith,

“Every day we are entranced by a mosaic of flickering pixels. These little dots of light are practically invisible so minuscule that we often ignore them.

Never the less they change us.

These pixels compose the screens of life, from televisions to smart phones to computers. These screens regardless of their content, change our brains, alter our lives, and shape our faith, all without our permission or knowledge.”

One of the most interesting things I’m discovering, thanks in part to Hipps’ book, is the way we think about Facebook. Often we think of it as a window into the lives of others. We’ve all been there. I know you have to, so don’t lie to me! We’ve used it to ‘stalk’ people we are interested in. Our curiosities get the best of us and it’s just so easy. In a less creepy way we peer into the lives of our friends. We see their images, read their latest political diatribes, we can see what their listening to, where they are, and what they are doing. If they want to, they can share it all with us.

But for Hipps, Facebook functions more like exhibitionism. Let’s look at what this means.

Voyeurism is what happens when you are unaware you’re being watched.
Exhibitionism is what happens when you know you’re being watched.

Back to Facebook. Let’s use your profile picture as a test case. Choosing a profile picture is never as simple as we might think. It’s clear that our first criteria is how we view ourselves in the photograph. Am I attractive? Do I like good? Well-dressed? It not well dressed am I trying to communicate that I’m fun or wild or adventurous? Our minds run through a list of filters before landing on an image, which we feel will paint us in a positive light.

Now, of course this is normal. It’s natural to want to give off a positive image of ourselves. But what subtly happens here is that everything we share becomes a subconsciously obsessive game with portraying the image or brand of ourselves we want everyone to buy into. This self-branding is sometimes accurate, but most of the time our brands are distant from the reality of our real selves. This is because we are complex. We are at one moment kind, smart, loving and in the next, mean, selfish, and foolish. And it’s important to recognize that we are both. The direction towards healthiness should always be the goal, but it’s more important to be honest with who we are than live in a fantasy that honestly, we can never live up to.

Part of the Christian tradition is the radical forgiveness and call to community. When we are – through social media like Facebook – reinforcing the idea that we must be attractive, intelligent, cultured, etc., in order to be desired by others we lose sight of the honest and compassionate teachings of the Christian message. Real Christian community (and real community in general) requires us to be honest with others about who we are and when know about who others are, failures and all, we are called to be gracious and compassionate.

I am no luddite. I love technology and am always a proponent for the real benefits it can bring. However, when left unchecked our technologies can end up using us, rather than us using them.

Simply being aware of the ways our technologies shape us is a step in the right direction to healthy use of these mediums.

After all, our technological diet shapes our souls as much as our food diet shapes our body.


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