Social media is a really convenient tool. Some say its magic is in the fact that it allows for transparency like never before. Politicians use Twitter to stay connected with their constituents. Parents can spy on their teenyboppers' online lives. Bosses can get a glimpse of their employees' true character out of the office.
While these are noble uses, I say the true advantage of these websites is their cloak-and-dagger aspect, the fact that we can hide our real selves behind the idealistic versions we post online.
It's really brilliant if you think about it. Other than people's comments, we control every part of our profiles. Want to be a jazz lover? Put it on your profile. Think it would up your coolness factor to show off the fried green tomatoes you cooked for dinner? Put it on your profile. Want to seem really spiritual and/or philosophical before meeting your girlfriend's parents? A few C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton quotes can go a long way. Heck, just put 'em both on there. Who's going to have the guts to ask if you really like British Christian authors from the early-to-mid-20th century, or if you were just using them to burnish your Bible-bearing reputation?
And the clandestine cover-up can even go beyond our likes and dislikes. It covers our interactions with other virtual selves as well. We can post glowing status updates about our spouses when they do something nice for us while totally redacting the bumpy parts of our relationship. We can have a knock-down, drag-out debate on someone's comment stream, and all we have to do is press the caps lock key to "raise our voice."
Seriously, though, I've been thinking about my Twitter profile. Setting aside the fact that it's tough to learn anything about someone in 140 characters, I've been evaluating whether I did a good job encapsulating myself. As I was looking at the list of attributes, all meant to draw eyeballs to my own radiant little twittersphere, I realized that while many of them are true of me currently, some are true to who I once was, who I think I am, or who I wish to be. They're not actually me. Take a look:
Global business reporter, writer, missions enthusiast, musician, blogger, China lover and wanna-be world traveler looking to share the Good News.
Take "blogger," for example. I've written two posts in the seven months of 2010, and I have no paid blogging gigs. You tell me if I'm really a blogger or if I just have a website on Blogger.com.
Take "musician." Do I play guitar and sing? Yes. Do I play guitar and sing where people (besides my upstairs neighbors) can hear me? Not since I last led worship at church. And I've never consistently played public shows featuring my own music. You tell me if I'm really a musician or simply someone with a guitar and a hobby.
I could go on ripping myself, but the point is that we're not always who we think or say we are, and we can easily trick ourselves into believing that who we intend to be really matches the person we see in the mirror. I can disseminate missions information online; I can read books of God's exploits in foreign lands and call myself a "missions enthusiast." But if I'm not sharing the Gospel with people and helping others reach the ends of the globe, it's not really a part of my identity. It's a pretty feather in my cap, not a raging fire in my bones that spurs me to action.
We are predisposed to see ourselves better than we actually are, and ironically this problem seems to become more acute the less confident we are about ourselves. Evolutionists probably link this phenomenon to our survival instincts. Christians might say it's a vestige of the pride still ingrained in us by original sin.
Either way, the solution is the same: test yourself by what you do, not what you intend. (Other people are quite helpful with this exercise, especially spouses.)
Here's an example: I realized last year that I was telling people that I was learning Chinese even though I wasn't practicing regularly. Turns out I really just wanted to impress people, especially those I met through work. To fix the problem, I started studying again, and in so doing made good on my desire.
If you want to do something, don't leave it there. Act in a way that gives legs to your intention. If you can't or won't, question whether it's a true desire, or just something you use to give yourself some cachet at social gatherings or through social media.
Most importantly, apply these principles to your faith. Call ourselves Christians and say we love God though we might, the fruit speaks for itself. I'll spare you the litany of passages featuring smug "believers" who thought well of themselves while they were actually acting against God. It will suffice to leave with a word from James 2:18:
But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
We are not who we think or say we are. We are the person, and the Christian, our actions prove us to be.