In this article:
- What the Bible says about how we use our eyes and what it means in the world of Instagram.
- The way that social media heightens our ability to get caught in ‘the comparison trap.’
- How to shape what you see on your Instagram feed for better perspective on the world.
I spend a lot of time on social media. I remember when I realized my fingers had muscle memory for opening the Instagram app on my phone. It was a pretty sobering moment.
With all that time spent on social media, it’s worth asking the question: What narratives might my social media feeds be, well, feeding me?
As a society, we are coming to the realization that social media is affecting the way we think about ourselves, our peers and the wider world around us. In a world of Instagram influencers and YouTube personalities, we might even be seeing the advent of a new kind of prosperity gospel. We look up to Christians who seem to eat at all the trendy new spots, wear effortlessly curated wardrobes, hang out with all the right people and of course, never miss their morning quiet time, complete with a mug of coffee and a journal inscribed with an inspirational quote.
Lots has been said about why what we see online isn’t the reality, and just the highlight reel of pretty normal, mundane lives. And lots of recommendations have been made about how to remedy our collective highlight-reel social media addiction. We’re encouraged to post more authentically and take periodic social media fasts.
Those things are important. But when we return to our phones after our fasts, how can we avoid falling back into the rat race of endless content that tells us the world is perfect, and only our lives aren’t? Could there be a way to curate and interact with content that gives us healthy perspective on the world?
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23
If you’ve been around church or the Bible for a while, you’re probably familiar with these words of Jesus. But have you ever noticed that it is sandwiched between several verses about treasure and money?
The passage immediately before it is the one that tells us to “store up for [ourselves] treasures in heaven … for where [our] treasure is, there [our] heart will be also,” (v. 20-21) while the passage immediately after tells us that we “cannot serve both God and money” (v. 24). The rest of the passage then tells us not to worry about what we will eat or wear, but to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to [us] as well” (v. 33).
What might these surrounding verses tell us about what it looks like, practically, to have what Jesus calls “healthy” eyes? And how could we apply that to the way we follow or unfollow on social media?
Matthew 6 tells us that our eyes can fill us with light or with darkness. That sounds abstract and perhaps a bit scary, but maybe it’s a lot simpler than we think. Have you ever set down your phone, only to feel a sense of ick inside? Maybe that sense of ick is part of what Jesus was talking about in this passage.
Having our eyes on a constant stream of Insta-perfect tells us a very specific narrative about the world and starts to shape what we treasure. Through perfectly curated content streams, the narrative can so quickly turn to tell us that our purpose in life is to strive for the life portrayed to us by marketers. After all, we’re shown beautiful, joyful, good things—is it so wrong to appreciate them?
It’s not inherently wrong. But it is worth considering that the subtle messages we receive could quickly turn into the light that is darkness that Jesus warns us about in verse 23. As our eyes stay fixated on a seemingly brighter life, we can quickly lose sight of storing up treasure in heaven and begin worrying about what we’ll eat and wear—and whether or not our choices in those respects are worthy of an Instagram post of our own.
In the article The Comparison Trap, published by Psychology Today, Rebecca Weber describes social media as “a turbo-charged, precision instrument for social comparison unlike anything in human history.” She goes on to say that “social media is like kerosene poured on the flame of social comparison.”
Psychologists have a lot to say about the benefits and dangers of both upward and downward comparison. Downward comparison can boost self-esteem, but it can also strain relationships. Upward comparison can inspire and motivate, but it can also be discouraging and fuel envy.
But what if, in a world of heightened unhealthy comparison thanks to social media, we go against the grain and fill our social media feeds with content that gives us healthy perspective on the world around us? What if we follow accounts that remind us of the beauty of the planet we share, the vulnerability and power of our common humanity, and the rootedness we can find in Christ?
Weber goes on to argue that “it’s ultimately how we use social media, not how much time we spend on it, that has the greatest bearing on how it makes us feel.” So, how can our social media use lead us to change the world into a more joyful, peaceful and loving place, rather than make us feel like we need to change ourselves to be more Insta-perfect?
Fix your eyes
Our eyes are, indeed, very powerful. Where we look shapes and forms us.
We all know this from personal experience. After being caught in the hamster wheel of life—grades, work, achievement—seeing an inspiring film, reading a post about someone fighting to make it through difficult circumstances, or having a perspective-shaping experience can jolt us back to seeing the world through a healthier lens.
Choosing the lens
That’s a big reason why I follow the Compassion Instagram account. In the middle of a long day at school, seeing the smiling faces of children in Compassion’s programs around the world can help me reorient my gaze to what is really important.
It’s not because of the over-used narrative that seeing poverty helps us “count our blessings.” That kind of downward comparison can become problematic. Rather, it’s because seeing an inspiring story shared by an organization like Compassion, watching an inspirational video by a travel blogger or seeing a beautiful photo posted by a humanitarian photographer helps me see the bigger world around me. Those things also tell me a very specific narrative about the world: that relationships and people matter, that having compassion is life-giving and that Jesus invites us to join him in doing good works. Those kinds of posts in my feed tell me that my purpose in this world isn’t to strive for an Insta-perfect life, but to love God and love my neighbour.
Our social media feeds will always be telling us something about the world. By choosing who to follow, we can shape the story that our feeds tell us.
Who do you follow? What do they tell you about the world?
We’ve put together a list of 10 Instagram accounts to follow to help shift your perspective on the world.
External links do not reflect Compassion Canada’s endorsement of an organization or author.
All scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version (NIV).