“I WAS miserable. I ‘had it all’ and I was miserable.”* These are the words of Australian 19-year old Essena O’Neill. She was one of many people made famous through Instagram, with half a million followers, brand sponsorships and a modelling deal. In November last year, she caused a stir when she quit the social media platform and released a video, claiming her ‘perfect’ online life wasn’t real.
More than one billion people are now active on Facebook. More than 100 million people use Instagram every month. As of the first quarter of 2016, Twitter averaged at 310 million monthly active users. It’s become part of the landscape of our lives, especially for young people that have grown up with Google at the click of a mouse.
Most of us may pass it off as a light-hearted way to pass the time, but the rise of social media has had a serious impact on how we live. A 2015 study* by the Office of National Statistics has found that children who go on social networking sites for more than three hours a day are more likely to have mental health problems.
The internet has given us many wonderful things; information is more accessible than ever before, it’s possible to connect with people all over the world and to discuss and explore things that matter to you. But, like magazines and advertising over the years, social media can end up skewing people’s perceptions.
Scroll through the feed of any popular or attractive ‘online personality’ and you’ll undoubtedly see hundreds of comments from young people, heaping praise and in the same breath, longing for the same adoration themselves. A particular phrase has developed – “Goals” – meaning this is something to aim for, whether that be someone’s body, friendship circle, relationship, style, or their whole lifestyle in general. There is an intense pressure to always appear interesting and beautiful online, and this success is measured in likes and followers. Never has there been such an instant way of measuring so-called popularity.
In her final YouTube video, Essena O’Neill talks about the desire she had as a 12 year-old girl to become “this perfect person online”, like all the others she looked up to. Even when she reached half a million followers, years down the line, it never seemed enough.
This is a growing problem of the age we live in, but of course it’s not a completely new problem. We are made to love and to be loved, and when we miss out on the deeper love that Jesus can give us, we look to anything else to find our validation.
People can go to the very top in terms of success, wealth and achievement, and still feel empty inside, no matter how many followers or likes they have. We were made for more than that. In the bible, it says “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart.” (Ecc 3:11) Jesus came to give us life abundantly (John 10:10) and His love fills every need and longing inside us.
Jesus doesn’t only rescue us from our sin, He also brings us into a family and community of people that live for Him. In deep relationships and community, where our flaws float to the surface, we can find a freedom from the pressure of a ‘perfect’ life.
Christian theologian and author C.S Lewis says this: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
* Essena O’Neill quits Instagram claiming social media ‘is not real life’ from The Guardian
** Insights into children’s mental health and well-being from Office for National Statistics