Several speakers at the October 2017 LDS general conference mentioned the use of social media. They spoke about the incomparable potential for both good and bad. Used effectively, social media can be a great way to communicate and share goodness. But overused or used inappropriately, it can be negative or even dangerous.
Below are excerpts from two conference talks that were particularly meaningful to me.
“The Needs before Us,” by Bonnie L. Oscarson
We live in a culture where more and more we are focused on the small, little screen in our hands than we are on the people around us. We have substituted texting and tweeting for actually looking someone in the eye and smiling or, even rarer, having a face-to-face conversation. We are often more concerned with how many followers and likes we have than with putting an arm around a friend and showing love, concern, and tangible interest. As amazing as modern technology can be for spreading the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ and helping us stay connected to family and friends, if we are not vigilant in how we use our personal devices, we too can begin to turn inward and forget that the essence of living the gospel is service.
“Spiritual Eclipse,” by Elder Gary E. Stevenson
…technology, including social media, facilitates spreading “the knowledge of a Savior … throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” These technologies include Church websites like LDS.org and Mormon.org; mobile apps such as Gospel Library, Mormon Channel, LDS Tools, and Family Tree; and social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. These modalities have generated hundreds of millions of likes, shares, views, retweets, and pins and have become very effective and efficient in sharing the gospel with family, friends, and associates.
All of the virtues and appropriate use of these technologies notwithstanding, there are risks associated with them that, when drawn too close, can put us in a spiritual eclipse and potentially block the brightness and warmth of the gospel.
The use of social media, mobile apps, and games can be inordinately time-consuming and can reduce face-to-face interaction. This loss of personal conversation can affect marriages, take the place of valuable spiritual practices, and stifle the development of social skills, especially among youth.
Two additional risks related to social media are idealized reality and debilitating comparisons.
Many (if not most) of the pictures posted on social media tend to portray life at its very best—often unrealistically. We have all seen beautiful images of home decor, wonderful vacation spots, smiling selfies, elaborate food preparation, and seemingly unattainable body images.
Here, for example, is an image that you might see on someone’s social media account. However, it doesn’t quite capture the full picture of what is actually going on in real life.
Comparing our own seemingly average existence with others’ well-edited, perfectly crafted lives as represented on social media may leave us with feelings of discouragement, envy, and even failure.
One person who has shared numerous posts of her own said, perhaps only partly in jest, “What’s the point of being happy if you’re not going to post it?”
As Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson reminded us this morning, success in life doesn’t come down to how many likes we get or how many social media friends or followers we have. It does, however, have something to do with meaningfully connecting with others and adding light to their lives.
Hopefully, we can learn to be more real, find more humor, and experience less discouragement when confronted with images that may portray idealized reality and that too often lead to debilitating comparisons.
Comparison apparently is not just a sign of our times but was in times past as well. The Apostle Paul warned the people of his day that “they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”
With so many appropriate and inspired uses of technology, let us use it to teach, inspire, and lift ourselves and to encourage others to become their finest—rather than to portray our idealized virtual selves. Let us also teach and demonstrate the righteous use of technology to the rising generation and warn against the associated hazards and destructive use of it. Viewing social media through the lens of the gospel can prevent it from becoming a spiritual eclipse in our lives.
Mormon leaders also cautioned about the pitfalls of social media, where the carefully crafted images of an altered reality lead people to end up envious and discouraged and in constant search of more followers and likes.