In a recent episode of The Word on Fire Show (episode 263), Brandon Vogt and Bishop Barron had a conversation about a new Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma. The film is about the darker side of social media, as explained by Silicon Valley innovators behind the new technology and former employees of ‘Big Tech’ companies. These are people who have either left the industry for good or added their weight behind the push for ethics to create a more humane technology.
In one scene from the movie, a young girl is on some social-media platform where she has uploaded a picture of herself. Soon after posting it, a number of ‘likes’ come flowing in. The reaction on her face shows her gratification for the instant approval. But, then, a negative comment arrives about her appearance. Her reaction this time is one of deep concern. She has a sudden loss of confidence and begins to question her own body by turning immediately to look in a mirror. You can see the worry in her face as she appears to ask herself: Is this person right? Do I really have this imperfection in my appearance? And, if so, how can I fix it?
The scene is disturbing, for it shows how some people, especially the young, are vulnerable to making their self-worth dependent on the approval of others. As the scene in the film shows, all seems well when the approval flows, but when it stops or when a criticism comes our way, suddenly we are in a deep crisis. This dependency on the approval of others for our sense of self-worth is not good, and the problem is made worse by this darker side of social media and the virtual world. Thankfully, this Sunday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord offers us an antidote and a way out of our addiction to approval and fear of criticism.