Does Social Media Deny my Physical Body?
“Are you angry, Dad?”
That’s what my 10-year old son asked me early one morning as I forcibly prepared his breakfast. I had not said anything in particular. In fact, I hadn’t really said anything at all. It was early. Too early for my son to be up. He was interrupting my morning routine of quiet time.
And the truth is, I WAS angry. I was angry but I wasn’t speaking. And my son received the communication. He could sense from my body language what I was communicating.
God Made the Body, and Bodily Communication
God has made the body to communicate: In word and action. We communicate in so many ways. Our physical bodies really are incredible. We have throat muscles and vocal cords that can form words that communicate thoughts, ideas, emotions, and more.
We also have physical bodies that say a great deal: Facial expressions, the way we stand, what we do with our arms; gesticulations (talking with our hands); and more. God made us to communicate in and with our bodies.
As we think about all the bodily actions we undertake on a daily basis—eating, sleeping, walking, exercise, dressing, etc— communicating is right there among the rest. As we’ve noted, communication takes on a variety of forms, and this variety of forms is God’s gift to humanity to use and steward for His glory and for our own good.
To be careless with our communication, then, is not only a failure to recognize the dignity of God’s gift, but is also destructive both to our own selves and to others. Communication is a full-body activity, and we are called to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). Therefore, we must think carefully about how we steward the gift of communication and its daily use.
Social Media, the Body, and Communication
There is a lot we could explore here, but I mainly want to highlight one thing: Social media reduces our ability to communicate; and thereby reduces our humanity. Social media denies my physical body and makes me less human. It does this by removing our bodies from our communication, and/or over emphasizing our bodies, which ultimately reduces our ability to communicate at all.
Facebook limits our communication to photos/videos, typed words or “likes”; twitter requires 160 characters or less; instagram reduces communication to pictures and videos; the same with TikTok and other newer platforms.
Something that Christians must give serious thought to is the effects of these limitations on our humanity. For many, social media is a place to either get angry or depressed. Angry because you see people posting their uninformed opinions (so we think), or depressed because we see that our lives do not and cannot match up to the lives of others (again, so we think).
These issues are becoming exceptionally pronounced among younger generations. The IGen generation (those born since 1995), are spending an average of 9+ hours on social media per day and they are developing some incredibly negative side-effects from it.
Mental health professionals are noting that many teenagers today are experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) because of what they are seeing on social media.
The National Center for Research is reporting that as many as 32% of adolescents are experiencing mental health issues stemming from their usage of social media. And this is only going to get worse as time goes on.
Teen depression, anxiety, and suicide is on the rise, and these all have distinct nad verifiable connections to social media usage.
These are real bodily issues that stem from social media usage.
Why is Social Media So Destructive to the Body?
Social media does one of two things: It overemphasizes the body, or it under-emphasizes the body.
Overemphasizing the body is being seen more and more among younger generations, although its not limited to them. The cultural and sexual revolutions are teaching our children more and more that the physical body is cheap. The sexual revolution is pushing this particularly hard: If your body is out of step with your inner sense of self, fix it by whatever means necessary.
This overemphasizing of the body is also why more and more teenagers (especially girls) are posting inappropriate pictures and videos, sharing their bodies freely with the world in hopes of receiving “likes;” which are then interpreted as validation and self-worth. We should also see that this overemphasizing also results in an under-emphasizing of true bodily worth.
Under-emphasizing the body is seen more so across all generational lines in that people are limited to typed words and thoughts. How many arguments do we see unfolding online because a post or comment was misunderstood. How many keyboard warriors spend hours going back and forth at one-another on a thread? And because these conversations are happening via keyboard and impersonal screen, most people will type things that they would never say in-person, face-to-face, body-to-body. So, social media under-emphasizes the importance of the body in human communication and takes it to a place that is unhealthy and destructive.
So, while social media is not essentially bad, we must recognize that, by its nature, it limits our abilities to communicate, and that often results in negative outcomes.
Jesus, the Body, and Real Communication.
But the Bible helps us to understand and think holistically about human communication. Speech is a bodily act, just as much as eating, drinking, and sleeping. We talk and communicate in our bodies.
So, reducing human communication in the way social media often does would be similar to reducing eating to consuming only 1 food or to just “talking” about eating. Either way, food is involved, but the body is going to suffer.
Kleining offers some helpful clarification here: “To be sure, we use words to communicate with each other. Yet this is always done with the body. The body does not just use words to say what we want it to say; [the body] accompanies and clarifies what we say by our body language, the language of gesture and posture, tone of voice and physical expression, action and reaction. In fact, body language determines the power of spoken words; [the body] is an essential part of effective, and affective communication.” (73)
So, as I noted earlier, my body language was communicating something to my son that morning even though I wasn’t saying anything.
My wife told me just yesterday that she can sense my affection for her just by how I wave at her across a room.
The body is not just an important part of our communication, but, as Kleining points out, it is essential because it helps to clarify what we are trying to communicate. Therefore, when we remove our bodies from our communication, we are effectively removing our ability to communicate fully.
That doesn’t mean that the written word is ineffective. I hope this blog is proof positive to the contrary, as are the very many books that men and women have produced throughout history. But any professional communicator (author or speaker) will tell you how hard it is to make sure you are properly understood. Public speaking is far easier in this regard than writing because the body is involved.
Jesus Himself offers some helpful clarification on the matter, for not only did Jesus communicate with His Words, He communicated with His body.
His teachings and miracles were almost always accompanied by physical touch.
When the leper came requesting healing, He touched Him (Mark 1).
Before healing the deaf man, Jesus touched the man’s ears and tongue, communicating to him what He was about to do (Mark 7).
The woman who suffered from the issue of blood found healing in touching Jesus (Luke 8).
When preparing His disciples for the cross, Jesus physically washed their feet, broke the bread, and poured the wine (John 13).
In accomplishing salvation, Jesus not only taught the truth of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5-7), He also bore the sins of His people in His body on the cross and physically died (1 Peter 2:24).
So, the Son of God, the Creator of mankind, Jesus Christ Himself shows us how true communication happens, and how it is supposed to work. Human communication is a bodily exercise.
For more on this, see here.
So, What does this Mean for Christians?
Primarily, it means that we need to think well and holistically about our communication. We need to listen to what the Bible tells us about how we communicate and what our communication means.
Specifically, with social media, I think we can observe several things…
Social media immediately limits our abilities to communicate fully; therefore, we should do all we can to be as clear as we can when we use it.
Because of this limitation, we should always be careful in how we use it.
We should fully consider what we’re saying, and how it might be perceived before we ever post something.
We should note the tone and tenor of our comments, asking if it truly communicates the heart of what we’re trying to say.
We should ask ourselves, “Do I really need to say this?”
We should also note how social media tends to over and under emphasize the human body.
We must note how social media, by its very nature, detracts from the body by limiting our ability to communicate.
We must recognize how social media is negatively affecting our children.
It is teaching and selling a picture of humanity and the human body that is utterly destroying the lives of young people before they ever reach adulthood.
We must take steps now to guard our children from the negative impacts of social media usage by limiting their access and exposure to it.
Having our heads in the sand will not do.
In many ways, social media can make us into frankensteins of sort if we're not careful. We'll give the appearance of being human, but in reality, we're more like monsters.